One Hell of a Story - Family Buyout, Acquisitions, ESOP, Leadership Issues, Sale to a PE and Finding a Life After.

June 27, 2019

Buckle up for a long episode this time. I promise though you will walk away from this one reflecting on your personal situation and maybe it will help you make some decisions. My guest is Steve Harlamert, at the age of 24, Steve’s father died suddenly, leaving the family business to both Steve and his sister.
The business was a grocery supplier and there was no clear roadmap for the company. Steve decided to stick with the business but his sister wanted out. After she left, Steve set about learning everything he could and humbled himself to be mentored by the more experienced people in the business.
Steve grew the business successfully and built something he could be proud of. That story is inspirational in itself, but then Steve sold his company to a private equity firm and changed the lives of many of his employees. We discuss the emotional fallout of leaving a company and how Steve has coped with that loss. He also has insight into what his experience has taught him about people, business, and life in general.

What you will learn:


  • Inheriting a business at 24 and coping with unexpected death.
  • How Steve moved on even without a roadmap from his father.
  • The lessons he learned from the company’s more established leaders.
  • Why Steve’s sister left the business and the buyout.
  • The common problems within a family business.
  • The employees become family.
  • Steve’s advice about how to avoid building a dictatorship.
  • How to better serve your customer.
  • Why Steve made an acquisition to grow the company.
  • So many executives rush to restructure, that’s a bad idea.
  • How to have diversity in your feedback but still be respectful.
  • Things that CEOs should do.
  • Steve’s tips to success.
  • The ESOP (Employee Stock Option Plan) that changed everything.
  • Mistakes Steve made with his successor.
  • The pros and cons of the ESOP.
  • The 2 ½ years Steve took structuring a private equity deal.
  • His experience with the firm.
  • The hard transition to life after the business.
  • The hurt feelings and reconnections that have made the experience worthwhile for Steve.


What do you want? What's important? Is it a combination of money, legacy? What kind of exit will line-up with those wants?

Links and Resources:

GEXP Collaborative
Steve on LinkedIn
Steve’s email

About Steve:

Steve began his career at the age of 18, the second generation to work for the family business, Harlow Marketing, Inc., a food brokerage company that sourced, marketed, and distributed products to The Kroger Co. Shortly after he earned his BA degree in marketing from the University of Dayton, the untimely death of his father resulted in an accelerated learning curve when Steve stepped into leadership, assuming the role of vice president. In 1997 Steve became the president of Harlow Marketing, where he began to oversee all operations of the company. On the company’s 25th anniversary, Steve purchased HRK Sales & Marketing, Inc., which led to a merger of the two businesses, re-named Harlow-HRK Sales & Marketing, Inc. Under Steve’s leadership, the company grew from 60 employees to over 300 employees in 24 states. Steve sold the company in 2014 to his employees via an ESOP and then again in 2016 to a Private Equity Firm, fully retiring early to focus on raising his young family.

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