John Stachnik: The Family Business and the Future

John Stachnik is the president and co-owner—with his wife, Mary—of Mayflower Tours, in Downers Grove, Illinois. He and his family have made the company a success, and they want to keep it that way.

John Stachnik's parents, his wife, Mary, and his son and daughter have been a part of Mayflower Tours, which celebrates its thirty-fifth anniversary this year. Looking back and looking forward, John ponders whether the next generation will take over the family business—and whether it would carry over into another generation.

John has been in the travel business since 1970. His first company had two other partners. One partner sold his third to the other two, and eventually John sold his half on a Friday—and started Mayflower Tours on a Monday. "It wasn't meant to be a family business, but from the standpoint of going forward, I knew my wife could be a remarkable salesperson and told her she should be a part of this." Early on, John and Mary became business partners. John's retired parents were already working with him.

Molly and John Jr squareDaughter Molly and son John Jr. became involved as youngsters; the office wasn't far from their elementary school, and they'd come to Mayflower afterward, working in the mailroom and so on. "It became the quintessential family business." As the years passed, John's parents retired in earnest, and his now-adult children stated they would never live in Downers Grove and never get into the family business. They both returned. John Jr. worked in the call center while in college; Molly, who studied hotel administration at Michigan State University, later joined the business and spent ten years in sales.

"Family has always been an integral part of what we do," John said. The dynamics between Mary and John are also important: "We've always kept to our own departments, never overshadowing each other's areas of responsibility." In other words, "We stay out of each other's hair." Their methodologies differ, but their goals are the same—"and that's really the key to what makes it successful."

Many years ago, World Cup Soccer came to America and the Stachniks wanted to be involved. "We could bring in people from different countries, take them on trips throughout U.S. ..." They bought plenty of tickets, only to realize their business model wasn't what soccer fans wanted. They ran an ad in Crain's and sold the tickets to corporations that wanted meals, transportation, and more. "We found ourselves in a receptive operator business we knew nothing about." This led to starting Chicago Unlimited, an event planning company.

Another company, On The Scene, was being sold by founder Eleanor Woods. Chicago Unlimited purchased On The Scene, yet the Mayflower office was running things. On The Scene and Chicago Unlimited continued to grow, and more help was needed. "John Jr. had worked for us and would work well here." Two years later, John Jr. was doing the operational and office work; later, he ended up in the lead position. Eventually, Inc. magazine named On The Scene one of the fastest growing hospitality companies in America. John and Mary have given a "good percentage" of company stock to John Jr. and its other leader, Jay Weidner. On The Scene and Mayflower are thirty miles apart, but work together more on a board basis, meeting monthly to talk about business, goals, and strategy. "You can have independence and still have the family business. It works well with our business styles." The future is now.

In terms of succession, John said, "This is a tough one. Molly, who was in the business for ten years, is married, has kids, and lives in Florida. She's not going to be re-involved, as much as she loves the business. Any thoughts of moving John Jr. to Mayflower Tours when he's doing so well at On The Scene probably isn't in the cards. So, will this always remain a family business? That's the $64,000 question."

Mayflower Tours has several employee stakeholders. "Should we sell the company or continue to run it? It's even possible that employees will buy the business. These are things we have to think about." Passing along the reins has to become important; then, it becomes critical. "It's difficult to find time to think strategically as opposed to operationally—and what about three years from now? It's incumbent upon us to make decisions and think about how we envision the future of Mayflower Tours."

That Mayflower Tours is family-oriented has much to do with its success. "Along with great employees, we've made the company a success. We want to keep it that way. The singularity of the goal of the family is what makes it work—that's probably the No. 1 thing. If someone could put that into place, their family business has a greater chance to work."

Written by Amy L Charles, the editorial director for Groups Today. Click here for the digital magazine version of the article.


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