Dr. Robert Smith used to say to his children that harmony breeds harmony and always do what’s right.
Though Dr. Smith has since passed on, the core values that he founded his company on are carried on by his two adult sons who now lead Tec Laboratories in Albany.
“We’re very intentional about planting harmony in the company,” says Steve Smith, President and CEO of Tec Laboratories. “It makes it a great place to work.”
Recognition in Family Harmony by the Excellence in Family Business Awards validates what Tec Laboratories has done from the start. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Tec Laboratories has been recognized for 15 years as an Oregon Top 100 Employer, was inducted into Oregon Business Magazine’s Hall of Fame, is a certified Great Place to Work® and is ranked by The Scientist Magazine as a Best Place to Work.
A family-like culture is at the forefront of the business that manufactures innovative pharmaceutical products, including Tecnu, which famously removes the rash-causing oil from poison oak plants.
In the digital age, it’s important for a business to be perceived as good. But Tec Laboratories didn’t have to change to achieve its reputation.
“We’re the same this year, this decade, for the last 40 years,” Steve says.
The Smith family came to Oregon from the Midwest, where they farmed for generations. Vern Smith, vice president of research and development at Tec Laboratories, and Steve’s brother, says their grandfather set an example by caring for his Belgium horses that did the plowing before he came in each night. At Tec Laboratories, they refer to this value as “share in the harvest.”
“It allows employees to share in the success at Tec Labs,” Vern says.
Company treasurer Tonya Smith, Steve’s wife, says part of Tec Laboratories’s corporate goals is creating the right culture, not just growth and revenue.
“Trust, loyalty and commitment. You can accomplish so much with those three core values,” Tonya says. “We all feel the harmony within our family and that transcends to the harmony of the business.”
The consistency and alignment of family values with company values makes it easy for the third generation to join the family business, says Stephen Grantham, Tonya’s son, who works as a general manager for Tec Laboratories.
Callie Smith, Steve and Tonya’s daughter, is in high school, and works at Tec Laboratories as an intern. She’s helped her parents with marketing projects and participates in company leadership meetings. The Smiths also have a family business advisor who is helping with development and training of the next generation.
Callie says her family’s approach has been helpful and meaningful.
“It’s allowed me to figure out what I like and what I don’t like,” Callie says. “It’s allowed me to figure out what my strengths are, but also where my weaknesses are.”
Her words nearly match those that her grandpa used to say to his sons: A youngster’s responsibility is to find out what they love to do, but also to find out what they don’t love to do.
Also, Dr. Smith insisted that education should not get in the way of learning. When Vern and Steve were growing up, they would go on family road trips in the station wagon. Steve remembers being 8 years old and walking around trade shows.
“I just assumed everybody on vacation would visit orange juice plants or coal mines or chemical factories,” Steve says.
Now he provides his children and grandchildren the same opportunities to travel with him on business.
“From an early age, the youngsters have learned how to meet and greet,” Steve says. “It’s just natural for us to do that.”
Vern likens the training process to owning a classic airplane, which is one of his hobbies away from work.
“During the time you own it, you’ll take care of it. You’ll improve it. But there’s a really good chance that it’s going to outlast you,” he says.
The same thing applies to a family business. He, Steve and Tonya are the stewards.
“We’ll do the best we can, but the next owner is going to have to be able to run it, operate it and improve it as well,” he says.
Recently, he had the opportunity to work with his nephew, Stephen, on the process for a new market. Vern created the process, then handed it off to Stephen.
“Take it. Run with it. Do the best you can,” he said. “Because you’re the next steward.”