G&G, Costeaux share differences in their experiences
NORTH BAY – In the same class at Cardinal Newman, raised in Sonoma County, Teejay Lowe and Will Seppi have both taken the reins of their family businesses, G&G Market and Costeaux Bakery, respectively. While the mechanics of the transfers may have some similarities, the two stories of the families' succession planning show two very different experiences.
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G&G supermarket was founded in 1963 when Gee Kai Gong and Robert Gong formed a partnership. With the help of their spouses Fong and Carrie Gong and Gee Kai Gong's children Betty, Dick, Lee, Don, and Dorothy, the foundation was set for the future of G&G Supermarket.
“My father and grandfather on my mother’s side started the store, and when my uncles returned from the navy and national guard, they became partners,” said Mr. Lowe, now the chief executive officer and a managing partner and director.
He said back at that time, if you wanted to be part of the company you could be.
“They all had equal shares at that point, and as a first-generation business, that is not too big of an issue,” he said. “As it grows you start experiencing the growing pains and you have in-laws and cousins, some are not sharing the moral fabric. You have to start making decisions.”
The original owners started that succession plan about 15 years ago, he said.
“The conversation started with a blend of what is business and what are the core principles of family life," said Mr. Lowe.
“The thing about our business is that we all have our job and title, but you go where the needs are,” he said. “We pick up what needs to be picked up when it needs to be picked up.”
With the succession plan, he said there were two separate issues, the management and the ownership. He said they decided the management would not always be internally in the family.
“We just formalized what we have always been doing and developed clear outcomes and a clear vision for the future of the business. And we have real transparency because without transparency there is anxiety of what happens next.”
The owners/shareholders are Robert Gong, Betty Gong, Dick Gong, Lee Gong and Don Gong. The managing partners/board of directors are Betty Gong, Dick Gong, Lee Gong, Don Gong and Mr. Lowe, and the executive officers are Mr. Lowe, Carol Drake and Betty Gong.
They have worked with financial planners, business consultants, accountants and attorneys to put together a plan that works for the family.
“We set up on a quarterly basis a family meeting composed of the cousins, kids and spouses that are not working in the business, and we share what is going on in our lives. We try to keep the business out of it.”
The succession plan itself is a constantly changing thing. He said they try to keep it somewhat fluid because a rigid plan that can’t be improved makes no sense.