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Modern Management Lessons From a Hundred-Year-Old Family Business with Doug Young of Behler-Young HVAC

Episode: 123

Not many privately-held wholesale distributorships last long enough to welcome a fourth generation into the fold. Doug Young, CEO and chairman of Behler-Young, an HVAC distributor based in Grand Rapids, MI, doesn’t take that longevity or the organization’s future for granted. He’s landed on a formula to translate century-old core values into a roadmap for 21st-century excellence. Jason caught up with Doug to discuss his passion for encouraging employee development, the benefits of an outside board of directors, and the transformative power of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).

My grandfather and his best friend started the company in 1926. That’s 97 years ago, Doug says before launching into a tally of socioeconomic challenges that have sunk many unsinkable organizations. We survived The Depression. We made it through World War II when there wasn’t anything to sell. Today we are 20 branches in Michigan. A quick timeline check reveals that Behler-Young has thrived through the intervening decades of boom and bust on the strength of its company culture.

Several factors differentiate Behler-Young from other privately-held companies, which can–and should!–be replicated by others. First, the formation of a board of outside directors. My father was ahead of his time back in the 70s. We had outside directors, people that were [ ] not necessarily HVAC, says Doug. I can’t over speak to the benefits of having an outside board.

Second, a willingness to recalibrate. One other thing that has been significant to our success in the last four years is utilizing EOS, says Doug of the strategic planning tool. It’s improved the transparency of our operation and keeps everybody focused on what’s critical for the company on a short-term basis.

Last but not least, Behler-Young implements a policy requiring family members to log at least five years of outside work experience before joining the company. The organization focuses on internal talent development alongside the family experience stipulation. We have outside salesmen [and] branch managers who started in the warehouse, says Doug. It’s phenomenal that you can see these people grow from having absolutely no experience to becoming significant contributors.

Doug’s passion for planning, promoting, and providing support ensures that Behler-Young will flourish under future generations.


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We do utilize an outside board of directors with independent directors, which I think is a really, really strong positive for our business.

Getting experience someplace other than the family business really gives you the ability to get some experience, but you also don’t come in with a silver spoon in your mouth; you’re valued for what you’re bringing in terms of skills.

Our people are our greatest asset. We compete against a lot of companies that have similar products and doing similar kinds of things. The quality of our people and how well they function together as a team is what stands above and is truly our competitive advantage.

I’ll speak to our core values: we care for others, we do the right thing, we seek great, not good, we do whatever it takes. And those core values are the basis for our hiring, our promotions, [and] terminating if necessary. Everybody in the company knows all about that.

When I look at what HARDI has become today, I’m just so proud of having been a little bit involved with it. But the people that are there are just doing a phenomenal job, both the volunteer members and the professionals.

I can’t say enough about getting involved in your business, your industry, your community, and you will find that you will get 10-fold, 20-fold more back in gratitude [and] personal development than what you put in. So well worth it.






Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.

This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.

Special thanks to our sponsor for this episode: HMI Performance Incentives, providing innovative, data-driven B2B incentive solutions.

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