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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 4 years ago

Follow Your Passion

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John Yodzis never felt pressured to be part of the family business. But just like his dad, he realized it was the right spot for him.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Business: DOW Electronics, DRS Solutions

Generations: Three generations work or have worked for the firm. Philip Decker bought the business in the 1970s. In 1980, Decker's son-in-law, Chip Yodzis, and his daughter, Carol Yodzis, joined the business. Now the Yodzis' children, John and Sarah, work at DOW.

Family Ties: John Yodzis was hesitant to join the family business. He always wanted to be an entrepreneur, just like his grandfather.

“I wanted to start something on my own,” John says. Although his parents didn't pressure him, his dad did weigh in to say, “We'd love to have you, and at the end of the day, you'll realize business is business, regardless of whose business you're working for.”

The conversation was all too familiar. Chip Yodzis had the same conversation with his father-in-law, Philip Decker, more than 28 years earlier. Decker would call Chip, who was working in distribution at Procter and Gamble, and say, “Come help me run our business.”

The soft pressure didn't work, until one day when Decker said, “I promise this is the last time I'll ask.” That's when Chip and his wife, Carol, decided to make the move from Huntsville to work at the first DOW Electronics store in Sarasota in 1980.

Together, Decker and the Yodzis grew the store from a one-shop operation in Sarasota to multiple stores in Florida, to five locations servicing nine Southeast states, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The business has evolved with the generations. DOW started as an electronic components store, then moved to the satellite dish business, and eventually became Dish Network's sole distributor for the Southeast. Now the $88 million business with 150 employees has morphed into three segments - 40% satellite television and voice over IP, 20% car stereo and car integration, and 40% custom integrations such as home theaters. The sister company DRS Solutions, also owned by the Yodzis, is a Dish Network installation company with 400 technicians.

John Yodzis, 29, says his parents helped him and his sister understand that “you don't have to start something from scratch to be entrepreneurial.” In 2008, when John Yodzis finished his graduate degree in entrepreneurship from the University of Florida, he officially decided to join DOW full time.

John Yodzis grew up “surrounded” by the business. He worked every summer and every vacation in the warehouse and did almost every job, including installing Dish Network in customers' homes. His parents were big believers “that you need to learn all facets if you want to run the business,” he says.

John Yodzis, now the executive vice president of Dow Electronics and DRS Solutions, oversees marketing, purchasing and sales. “To be the boss, you have to earn people's respect,” John says, which is why he, like other leaders, had to work his way up the ranks. Before he started managing the sales team, he was just another salesman on the road.

Chip remains the company's president and CEO, and Carol is the company's owner and managing partner. John's sister, Sarah, is a project analyst and a number of uncles and cousins work in the business.

The dynamics can be interesting at times because family “discussions” can be quite passionate, John Yodzis says, “It's the same in business, it just amplifies it.”

“The benefit at the end of the day is no matter how passionate the conversations get, you know they're out for your best interest,” John Yodzis adds. “No one watches your back like your family watches your back.”

Though John and Sarah are pegged to run the business once Chip and Carol retire, John Yodzis says he doesn't see his parents slowing down anytime soon. The family stresses exposure to all areas of the business to determine where each family member feels most passionate. Unlike his dad, who enjoys the details and numbers side of the business, John Yodzis likes the adrenaline side, which is why he's in sales and marketing.

John Yodzis believes the passion is also how they are able to win most of their business. “We eat, breathe and live this not because it is work, but because we love what we do.”

Family Office
To assist in succession planning, estate planning and finding new business opportunities, the Yodzis opened a third family business — a family office and private equity fund. The family is using the fund to purchase and help other companies grow in the distribution and service space. They recently invested in a startup energy distribution company, Simpson Energy, which distributes energy items such as automobile batteries to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

The family isn't worried about creating a succession plan for the next generation, but rather looking long term, determining what will happen to the business if there's not a generation that wants to run the company. “It sounds weird, but you're almost having to think 100 years down the road, instead of 10, 15, 20,” John Yodzis says.

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