Over the past 26 years, Greg High has learned a lot about business in general and family business in particular.
On the business side of the family business — a family owned, Lancaster-based conglomerate named the High companies — he has leased out its apartments and marketed its steel fabricating business.
High has handled marketing, development and acquisitions for its hotels, and served on its boards for over 20 years as well.
Most recently, High was vice president of corporate culture for the High companies, which collectively have about 1,300 employees in Lancaster County.
On the family side of the family business, High has had a prominent role too.
The third-generation executive chaired The High Family Council, which represents the family’s majority ownership of the High companies — High Industries and High Real Estate Group — for 15 years.
As council chair, he devoted much of his time to helping to improve the High companies’ governance. Governance refers to the way a company is set up, directed and controlled.
At the instigation of his father, who saw a Washington D.C. family business unravel when its founder died in a plane crash, High led a two-year process of researching, discussing and selecting a new governance structure.
The results began to be implemented in 2011. They gave the High companies a single CEO, gave their boards the same members and shifted their focus to vision and strategy.
To review the nitty-gritty details of the companies’ proposed projects — work previously done by the boards — a new committee was formed. High chaired that panel, the investment committee, too.
Now that the governance has been successfully retooled, he’s shifting his focus from governance of the High companies to sharing his experiences and knowledge with other family businesses.
Effective Monday, High will make his two-year-old consulting business, GH Family Business Consulting Group, his full-time job. His clients are family businesses with revenues from $25 million to $5 billion. The consulting business is not affiliated with the High companies.
The business is the latest in a series of entrepreneurial ventures in the High family.
His late grandfather, Sanford High, started the family business by founding High Welding in 1931. His father, S. Dale High, chair emeritus of the High companies, was the catalyst for decades of diversification, growth and philanthropy. And his brother Steve started High Environmental Health & Safety Consulting.
High, age 50, is a graduate of Manheim Township High School and Lebanon Valley College. High and his wife April, who reside in Lancaster, have five children.
What prompted you to start the consulting business?
As I was working on the items with my own family for many years and had learned a lot about family-business governance and what items were really effective for our family and for our business, other families started seeing what we were doing and asking me, “What are you guys doing and why does it seem to be working so well?”
I started to really enjoy sharing that knowledge with other family businesses. As I was doing that, I realized there’s a lot of need out there for best practices.
Why did you decide to make this your full-time job?
As I was doing more and more of this, I saw more of that need. It made me want to move further in that direction, to be helpful to other families, to improve their family alignment, which then would help improve their business as well.
It pushed me more in that direction. As I got more calls and got more interest, I thought, wow, I should be doing this full time.
How helpful is your High companies’ experience to your consulting business?
There are so many unique challenges within a family business. If you aren’t in a family business yourself, it’s really hard to understand what those are and appreciate them and be supportive.
The consultants we’ve worked with in the past did not have that kind of background. They didn’t come out of a family business. While they were effective in helping us, they did not have that kind of background experience. So it was hard for them to relate to the situation completely.
That was another reason why I starting moving in this direction. I saw that as a competitive advantage. It was something I could offer that a lot of other consultants are not able to offer.
What issues are unique to family businesses?
One of the most common ones is family businesses not realizing the importance of family-business governance and that side of things, how important it is to have the family aligned and working together.
Some of them do realize how important it is but they haven’t addressed it yet. Others don’t realize how important it is.
Does your consulting business compete with the High Center at Elizabethtown College (formerly named S. Dale High Center for Family Business)?
They do focus on governance as well, but they tend to be smaller companies. I’m focused on larger regional companies. ... They face the same challenges and issues that our family business has faced. So I feel like I can be really helpful. Plus, they tend to have more time and resources to devote to this kind of work.
What sparked your interest in family-business governance?
As I was attending a lot of conferences and reading a lot of books, I started to realize that our family governance structure needed to change in order to be more effective for the future, not only for our generation but for future generations.
That’s what drove it — that and a combination of my father saying to me, my brother (Steve) and my sister (Suzanne), “OK, now that you’re getting more involved here, what do you see are the needs for our family and for our business?”
You led the development of The S. Dale High Leadership Center, which you and your siblings built to honor your father, tell the story of the High companies, and formalize the family’s philanthropy and other activities. What was the process like?
That was a lot of fun to do the research, see how others have done it, then pick and choose what I liked to create ours. It doesn’t quite look like anyone else’s. It’s our own.
It’s fun to help other families with that (kind of project) as well — to help them think through it, what kind of elements they want to have in their center, who’s it going to serve and those kinds of things.