Remain Vocal — One of the strongest qualities a Family business has is the fact that as a family, you should be able to be open about your thoughts and experience in the business and work together to constantly develop it to make it better for yourselves and your employees.
As a part of our series about 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Evans St. Fort.
From humble beginnings, Evans St. Fort was born in Florida, growing up in Miami with strong ties to his Haitian roots. It has always been his vision to further develop what his Father had started back in his home of Haiti in the funeral home business. Today Evan’s is an industry leader, innovating a traditional business amidst a global pandemic, I believe he would be a perfect candidate to interview for your blog, speaking on his journey and experience gathered on his way to the top.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I would say the story of my career starts with my father. Growing up, he lived in a low-income household and as the successor of the family, worked hard to establish himself, getting his start as a teacher before branching off and working for cruise ships. Making a name for himself in the industry, he began his own entrepreneurship venture helping people from Haiti get their visas when traveling, and with the money he made there, he expanded into multiple different industries opening an import/export cargo company, body shops, laundromats, and apartment complexes. Several years into building up his empire, a close family friend suggested to him that he should look into getting into the funeral business and following that advice he opened one in his hometown of Leogane, Haiti. Through word of mouth and being well known at home, the business blew up to be a huge success. After seeing and working in the space myself growing up, I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps. I attended St. Thomas University for my undergraduate degree and afterward went to Lynn University to study in Mortuary Science, securing a good internship after I graduated. A year later, I happened to find what I believed to be an amazing location, and at the young age of 25 decided to open up my very own funeral home, continuing the family business.
Can you tell us a bit about your family business and your role in it?
My family business is within the funeral and cremation services industry, where we handle every aspect of the funeral, from making arrangements, to selling caskets and flowers, catering, traditional funeral services, and limousine service. With its roots stemming from my father’s business that began in Haiti, we became international operating not only the multiple funeral homes we have in Haiti but the branch I opened myself in North Miami Beach, Florida. For my branch, I serve as the CEO, effectively running my business for over 17 years.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
To be honest, it all seems so interesting because to me death is so interesting. In life, there are a lot of things you can experience multiple times, but at the end of the day, you only die once. No one knows what it is like, no one can speak on what it feels like and after being in this business for so long, I still find myself not only fascinated by death but humbled by it, knowing to not take anything for granted before life is so fragile and can end in the blink of an eye.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In my business, there often isn’t much room for funny mistakes as you’re dealing with death and the gravity of people grieving, but starting my business so early on in my career, it felt like many people found it funny that a 25-year-old man was the one running the show. When I started, I was so young that people found it hard to believe I could successfully run a business, and as a result of that, they didn’t want to support me. Everything from securing new business to hiring staff became difficult because of that obstacle, but from it all, I do think a valuable lesson came from that. I had to learn very early on to be ready for whatever obstacle or challenge came my way. I think as people we have a lot of control over what happens to us through the decisions we make and each and every decision and either set us up for success or for failure. Preparation is key, and as such you need to be ready for whatever comes your way.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
With any business that you frequent, you want to believe you’re in the hands of an expert or professional, someone you can trust to do the job right the first time. My company stands out because I believe I’m one of the only people to have been involved with the funeral industry for their entire lives, learning the ins and outs of the business from when I was a kid. Because of that, I can confidently say that if you’re looking for someone who deals and specializes in the funeral industry, there is no better person to go to. On top of that you have the added luxury of knowing that when you deal with us, you’re not dealing with a corporation or some type of well-oiled machine, but a family, one that truly cares for you and would treat you as if you’re one of their own.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now expansion is the goal for us and I’m proud to announce that we’re moving into new territory in Fort Pierce, Florida sometime within the next couple of months. Of course with branching out, we can continue to serve our communities and help people get the funeral care and service that they truly deserve.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It isn’t one particular person, but I am grateful to my entire family for helping me get to where I am today. Growing up, I was an athlete and shared an athlete’s mentality with my siblings. We all possessed a high competitive drive and, above all else, hated to lose. This drive pushed us to constantly challenge ourselves, and each other, and I do believe a lot of the character I developed to become the man I am today stems from that. My family always challenged me, pushed me with everything I did to be better, and alongside that, they were always in my corner. They were always behind me to support and encourage me when I failed and when I succeeded.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As a company we support a lot of organizations in our local community, striving to always help improve whatever local we settle in. As an individual, I often give my time to mentor others, whether it be helping with business or finance-related questions, or giving advice on how they could get involved in the funeral industry.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main parts of our interview. How do you define a family business? How is a family business different from a regular business?
I’d say a family business isn’t all that different from a standard good business, the main difference is as a unit, your team dynamic is unlike any other. When you work with a family business, there’s a feeling of unity and cohesion that other businesses try to imitate with their own models, but it will never be as close to the real thing. When working with a family business there’s also the added fact that you know there’s an added pressure to provide quality customer service because usually, it isn’t just a random name or slogan on the wall, but the family name.
In your opinion or experience, what are the unique advantages that family owned businesses have?
Probably the most unique advantage that family-owned businesses have is the fact that they can build trust with clients that a standard business might not be able to. When we’re dealing with clients, they know they’re dealing with a family, one that cares and gives them special attention. Our communication skills are unmatched as a unit and a client knows if their work is ever passed on, it isn’t just going to a random person, but a trusted family member that will give them the same care as the person who spoke with them.
What are the unique drawbacks or blindspots that family owned businesses have?
Sadly when you work with your family, you risk the chance of everything going home with you, the good with the bad. In my opinion, that is the only unique drawback a family-owned business can have, and it’s important to learn how to separate the two early on because it can lead to disaster.
What are some of the common mistakes you have seen family businesses make? What would you recommend to avoid those errors?
In the beginning, one of the roughest patches we had, as we were establishing our business, was learning what our dynamic was and how best to work with each other. We had to quickly establish a system that properly utilized everyone’s strengths and assign roles and responsibilities matching them. Once we did that and established a hierarchy amongst ourselves, the business began to move more seamlessly. I would also say money management is often mishandled which can lead to issues down to round, so bringing in someone from the outside like an accountant to handle the funds would be another piece of advice I’d offer.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders of family businesses to help their employees to thrive?
Ego can sometimes be a problem for people who have the title CEO or Founder as it’s easy to lose yourself as you continue to grow and develop your business. The best advice I can give is don’t pretend like you know everything and don’t be afraid to get personally involved and ask for advice when needed. Remember that you’re human, and if you can share that with your employees and grow with them, they’d be much more likely to thrive with you and your business.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean with a story or example?
Leadership is about being the center pillar that keeps everything running. A leader should be able to motivate their employees, creating good synergy, systems, and workspace for their employees. Considering my profession, for my employees, I make it a point to check in on their mental health. Our company offers counseling for our clients as well as our employees, so if they are dealing with issues or stress, they know they have our support as they try to resolve it.
Here is our main question. What are the “5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Not everyone can be the Chief — Ego is a thing that can destroy every business, and when working with family or anyone in general, it’s important to know when to lead and when to follow.
- Create roles for each one of the family members — As mentioned before, the best way to run a business seamlessly is to assign specific roles and responsibilities for each family member so everyone has something catered to their skillset and has their own responsibilities that they are in charge of.
- Make sure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities — Once the roles are created, make sure they are clearly defined for not only the person assigned but everyone else as well.
- Keep Work and Home Separate — Learn to keep what happens at work at work, and what happens at home, at home. When running a successful business there is no room for unprofessionalism.
- Remain Vocal — One of the strongest qualities a Family business has is the fact that as a family, you should be able to be open about your thoughts and experience in the business and work together to constantly develop it to make it better for yourselves and your employees.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can only die once, so make the most of every day you have because you don’t know when that last day will be.”
As I mentioned before, being constantly surrounded by death, you’re humbled to the fragility of life, and you come to realize it’s up to you to make sure you live your life to the fullest.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
There isn’t a person I’d personally want to speak with, but if I could speak to anyone, I’d want it to be God. If I had the opportunity, I’d like to ask him why he created life and death.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Lately, we’ve been dealing with a lot of political issues and racial tension so I’d like to start a movement for everyone to understand that whatever you’ve experienced in the past, you can’t let that dictate how you treat people in the future. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re prejudging individuals and learn to let go.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow my work on my website https://www.stfortsfuneralhome.com/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.