From a young age Michele Hagans worked for her father – her first job was working the switch board at the Dunbar Hotel in Washington D.C., at age twelve. Even then, it was not lost on Michele that her pay for that work was not in line with her co-workers or her brother who was mowing the hotel’s grass. She was not shy, not then or ever, about expressing her feelings to her big personality father who had provided the opportunity. Was he testing her business acumen or being sexist or, perhaps, both?
It would be too easy to point to those early roots of tension as having never eased as she came back to work in his business. She returned four years prior to his sudden death, after many years away at school, including several degrees, and working elsewhere far from home. This, however, is not a story strictly of tension between a father and daughter in business. In this interview, Michele helps the listener understand her early experience with her father in business, the growth of his business enterprises, the decision points she dealt with in deciding to work with him again after establishing her own credentials and credibility. The listener will also appreciate and understand why her father identified in Michele, through her questioning of him, a person with the capacity to help him grow his business, and why he eventually sold her on coming to work for him again in 1980, four years before he died in a tragic helicopter crash, which also killed his only son, and Michele’s brother, also working in the business.
The Holleman Business Succession Forumsm interview series is about hearing real stories first hand and learning the lessons our guests have learned through their experiences. Michele’s experience of becoming, as she describes, the person in charge “by default” on the Monday after her father and brother died, helps the listener understand the dynamics of such a sudden tragedy, what she faced that first Monday, the first things she determined, the keys to her ability to succeed with such a hand, the few true friends that helped, and her decisions for continuing on in the business. Michele also drives home the importance of having adult dialogs within the family about the business and the issues at heart; she stresses communication as vitally key to success, even though that was a missing ingredient in her experience.
Michele is ordained as a minister in the Episcopal Church. This is not something that occurred overnight, of course, and she describes in the interview the feelings that drove this decision, which she ignored for many years, as well as how she balances work and faith (she did not stop working to pursue this).
Life is full of curve balls and pain. Losing a father and a brother suddenly, both of whom you are professionally working with, is too much for most to handle, but especially so when you are expected to carry on the business without forewarning. Although the interview does not delve deeply into the emotional trauma and personal grief of that moment, it is clear that a significant inner strength allowed Michele to handle the myriad of issues that accompany such a circumstance. Hearing firsthand about how the Fort Lincoln New Town Corporation survived will better prepare business owners, and their family members (both in and out of the family business) to understand the key communication and continuity issues for success beyond the current leadership. This interview also answers key questions about preparing the business owner for what to do beyond the working years, something that is often a real challenge.
Notable Discussion Topics:
Among other topics, Michele discusses the following issues with Vernon Holleman III, CLU:
- Following a Father – A Daughter’s Perspective
- Sexism in a Family Business
- Sudden Death of the Founder
- Protecting the Family Business from Outsiders
- Friends or Foes?
- Key Decision Points
- Continuity of the Work
- Protecting the Family Business from Outsiders
- Importance of Communication – Adult Dialogs
- Brother-Sister relationships in a family business
- Timing and Vulnerability Issues before entering a Family Business
- Integrating Faith and Business
- Beyond Work – What to Do?
A native Washingtonian, Michele is the President of Fort Lincoln Realty Company, a property management company, Fort Lincoln New Town Corporation, developer of the 360-acre community in Northeast DC, and Hagans Development Company, which helped construct Metro Center. She is deeply involved in civic and community organizations throughout Washington, DC. She sits on the Boards of numerous organizations including Adams National Bank, regional initiatives such as the Washington Airports Task Force and Federal City Council, George Washington University and Board of Visitors for the Howard University College of Engineering Architecture and Computer Sciences. She also has served on the Boards of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, HEROES, Inc., and YMCA of Metropolitan Washington.
Her long-time commitment to civic and volunteer organizations and her success as an entrepreneur have earned her honors and awards from many organizations such as the DC Chamber of Commerce, Family and Child Services of Washington, DC, Commercial Real Estate Women, the United Cerebral Palsy Association of DC and Northern Virginia. and was recognized as Leader of the Year in 1993 by the Board of Trade. Michele holds undergraduate and masters degrees from Howard University and an MBA from George Washington University. After graduating from Howard, Michele joined the corporate audit staff at General Electric Co. Later she completed a stint as general manager of public parking facilities at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport before coming to the Fort Lincoln New Town Corp. to work with her father.