Sons learn from their fathers. Whether it’s how to throw a ball, ride a bike, shave or tie a tie, the lessons fathers teach can last a lifetime. But how do those lessons change when a son joins his father in business?
Hilton Head Monthly met with three local father-son teams about how their relationships moved from the family circle to the daily grind. Our subjects were Mike and Robert Rivers of Low Country Shelving and Glass, Charlie and Andy Reed of Charter One Realty and Mike and Nick Kristoff of The Mortgage Network.
A crystal-clear partnership
It is readily apparent by the easy smiles and relaxed manners that Mike and son Robert Rivers enjoy being together.
Mike started Low County Shelving and Glass in Bluffton’s Plantation Park 21 years ago.
When Robert graduated from Clemson University in 2008 with a degree in financial management, he came back and joined his father’s business.
“I love the area. I knew the trade. My dad’s my best friend and I enjoyed working with him,” said Robert, who worked in the business every summer growing up. “A lot of people thought this was only a temporary thing. This is what I want to do.”
Even though he knew he would go to college and get a degree, Robert always planned on coming back.
It is an opportunity Mike did not have with his own father, who died when Mike was in high school.
“I have the joys of having my own business with my son,” he said.
A native of Ridgeland, Mike moved to Hilton Head Island in 1972. After working in the business for several years, he saw an opportunity to have his own company. His work ethic was an inspiration to his son.
“I knew Dad worked hard and there was growth potential for me,” Robert said. “And I like working with my hands. I’m not one to sit in the office all day. Seeing the finished product is very rewarding.”
The long hours both Rivers put in could conceivably put a strain on the father-son dynamic. The Rivers say it’s quite the opposite, very much like their clients.
“It’s all about developing relationships with the custom builders,” Mike said. “You spend so much time together, you end up being friends with the people you build for.”
As if on cue, both men say, “We’ve been very fortunate.”
Robert said the two men complement each other and are very much a team.
“We don’t really butt heads much, but if we get mad, we’re over it in 10 seconds,” he added.
“We want to be here another 21 years,” Mike said.
Neither take anything for granted, including each other. When asked what makes them a success, both men answer in synch, “The drive.”
“The goal is to be the best,” Mike said. “Knowing we’ve got each other’s backs, that’s huge.”
The two obviously enjoy what they do working together.
“Being able to work with your dad and your best friend – that’s precious in itself,” Robert said. “And we try to have fun in it.”
Building family ties
When Charlie Reed came to Hilton Head in 1980, he thought he was only on a furlough as pilot for Braniff Airlines.
“My brother said, ‘Come work in real estate with me,’” Charlie said. “I’d had some sales experience so I said, ‘Why not?’”
After working for Lighthouse Realty for five years, Charlie realized he was not going to leave so he decided to start his own company. That was the birth of CharterOne Realty on Park Lane in Hilton Head.
“I never intended it to be a big company, just a good company,” he said.
The business grew and soon he had more business than he imagined and he began hiring. One of his hires was his son, Andy.
“I never thought I’d work with my dad,” Andy said. “I thought it was pretty cool to be able to work with your dad. But as you go through it, you realize it can be a challenge at times. The thing about working with family is you will take liberties with them that you wouldn’t with others and vice versa.”
That family also includes Andy’s two cousins, Tom and Richard Reed, who are more like brothers and work at CharterOne.
“What I’d found was it was nearly impossible to find a good realtor,” Charlie said. “We needed to start a mentoring program.”
He broached the possibilities on a visit to his son, Andy, who then lived in Blacksburg, Va.
“I had no intention of coming back here, but not because I didn’t like it,” Andy said.
He’d graduated from Virginia Tech in 1994 and moved to North Carolina to work in a stock brokerage firm. A couple of years later, he married and returned to Blacksburg to work in banking.
“One of the reasons I wanted him to come back was to see if mentoring would work,” Charlie said. “It’s very difficult to start out as a realtor because you start with zero.”
Andy decided to give it a shot, thinking if it did not work out he could always go back to banking.
“I went after it pretty hard and did quite well,” Andy said.
The training program is working out for new realtors. Each one is an individual company under the CharterOne umbrella, Charlie said, and the training gives younger people an opportunity to learn the business, “without starving to death.”
“At some point you’re not going to be selling anymore,” Charlie said.
The two men admit at times they have locked horns but wouldn’t trade the opportunity to work together.
Andy found there are unforeseen bonuses to changing careers and coming back home.
“We’ve had a lot of really good times,” Andy said. “And once you move away, you realize how wonderful Hilton Head is. To me, I count it a blessing to work and be with my father and two cousins. Having that family around each day is a great blessing and makes the job more enjoyable.”
Mike and Nick Kristoff are a team at The Mortgage Network on Hilton Head Island.
They’ve worked together since April 2007 when Nick joined his father at Coastal States Bank.
“It’s the comfort of knowing you always have someone you can trust unconditionally, not that you don’t trust your other employees but it’s a special kind of trust,” Mike said. “It’s special to have that in a business setting. He’s such a bright kid.”
Mike, whose career involved opening banks, moved his family 24 years ago from Columbus, Ohio, to Hilton Head to help start Atlantic Savings Bank.
He then opened Lighthouse Community Bank in 1994 followed by Coastal States Bank in 2004. In 2009, he decided to get out of the banking side and into the mortgage side.
It was a field Nick knew to some extent from working summers at Coastal and Lighthouse banks on the service side, although it was not his first career choice. Upon graduating from the University of Virginia with a systems engineering degree, Nick went to work in Washington, D.C.
After a year of long hours, heavy workload and commuting, it did not take much for dad to persuade him to come back.
“I had an opportunity to bring him on board at Coastal in 2007 and learn the business, so we’ve been working together since then,” Mike said.
“I enjoy it. He’s a wealth of knowledge,” Nick said. “I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s got 30-some years of experience so that’s a huge advantage. And aside from the business, it’s just fun working with your dad.”
Nick was somewhat prepared for the transition into banking, having taken a second college major in economics with the thought he might one day go into finance. That day came sooner than he thought.
“I had a chance to come back to Hilton Head and the water,” he said. “I was having withdrawal. And it’s been a wonderful time to learn about mortgages.”
With the economic challenges the past few years, both men have had to keep up with changing regulations. It’s given Nick a whole new perspective on the mortgage business.
“I’ve learned it during very difficult times,” he said. “It will help me in understanding what is important.”
He can look to his father for some of that understanding.
“He’s seen it for 30 years, so I can ask him what it was like,” Nick said.
“The one thing we’ve both learned from my father is the persistence and character of doing business,” Mike said. “Say what you mean, mean what you say and do what you say you’re going to do. Integrity is vitally important in dealing with your clients and how you get them to the finish line.”
Despite paperwork, regulations and never-ending details, Mike and Nick both say it’s a lot of fun when they finally put people in their homes.
While work may focus on the father-son team, Mike says there is more to it than that.
“There are spouses who need to be on board with that, too, because at family functions we may talk general business issues, though not specific clients,” Mike said. “We are very fortunate to have extremely supportive spouses. To have that support is huge.”