Clockwise, top left: Drs. Mike Carter and Catherine Carter Sledge of Carter Sledge Family Dentistry; Corey and Don Ravenstein of Juniker Jewelry; Bill and Brannon Aden of Mississippi Vision; Walker and Bill Tann of Nix-Tann and Associates Realtors. / Photos: Susan Margaret Barrett and Ellen Bourdeaux
When Catherine Carter Sledge told her father, Dr. Mike Carter, she wanted to study dentistry just as he had, his reaction was not what she’d expected. As Catherine tells it, she had always been interested in pursuing a career in a medical field, but hadn’t really considered following in her father’s footsteps until she worked for oral surgeon Dr. George May, one summer.
“Even though I’d spent a lot of time in Dad’s office as a child, I just never gave it serious thought,” says Catherine. “After I worked for Dr. May, I looked at my dad and saw how he was able to be really present for me as I was growing up. It just clicked; dentistry is such a family-friendly profession.”
Fast forward to that day in Oxford, when Catherine announced to her father that she’d chosen a career. Mike picks up the story. “We were walking one morning, and she tells me she wants to go to dental school. And I said, ‘What? Are you crazy? It’s awful, it’s hard, and it’s extremely stressful. You don’t need to do this!’ “Well, about four months into dental school, she calls me and said ‘Dad, you were right!’ I told her to drop out if she did not like it, but she persisted and did very well. And I couldn’t be more proud.”
After graduating from dental school last year, Catherine joined her father to form Carter Sledge Family Dentistry. From the onset, it has been a professional business arrangement. As with any new partnership, there are contractual and performance expectations. Both agree that their shared values for the practice — especially compassionate care for their patients — make it easy to manage their business as partners.
Mike admits that Catherine has added new energy to the practice. They’ve recently moved to new, larger offices on Lake Harbour Drive, complete with state of the art equipment. He credits Catherine with driving the move and the expansion, and he couldn’t be happier to be in business with his daughter.
“We are a good balance, and we’re a lot alike. She grounds me.” Mike pauses for a moment. "When she says, ‘Dad, would you come look at this with me?’ it’s pretty special. When your child needs you, it’s great.”
When asked what they’ve learned from each other, Catherine is quick to say that it’s an ongoing process that she’s learning to wear a lot of hats — from dentist to manager to business owner. Mike confesses that he sometimes has a short temper. Not so much anymore. He marvels, "She’s taught me patience. I’ve apologized more in the last twelve months to my staff than ever. She’s helped me be a better person.”
Working with your father in a family business has a lot of advantages. Certainly there’s an inherent sense of trust and the feeling that you’re working with someone who has your best interest at heart. And of course, fathers can be great mentors.
Don Ravenstein knows both sides of the coin. As young men fresh out of high school, brothers John and Don started working for their father Ted Ravenstein full-time at Juniker Jewelry in 1976 and 1978, respectively. Some 30-odd years later, Don’s son Corey has joined the family business. Remarkably, all three never considered doing anything else.
Don’s eyes light up when he talks about his father. “I loved working with my father; he was a great mentor. He started off at 14 working as a watchmaker for his uncle John Juniker, only taking time off over the years to go serve in Korea.”
According to Don, his father would still be at the store every day if his health permitted. “He loves this place. He calls me every day and bugs me, wants to know everything that’s going on.”
Don and Corey both say they never considered any other career path, probably because both have fond childhood memories of time spent at Juniker Jewelry.
Don recalls, “John and I both remember when we would bring our pallets and sleep behind the counter. We’ve grown up in this place.” Corey echoes that thought, noting that he loved coming to the store when he was eight or nine, often accepting the important charge of cleaning the glass display cases.
All agree they’ve always known what they wanted to do, that they wanted to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. They consider themselves lucky, glad to come to work every day, noting they get to see people at the happiest points in their lives – for birthdays, engagements, and anniversaries.
While Don went straight to work, Corey’s path took him to Ole Miss for a business degree and then to the Gemological Institute of America in New York. Currently a graduate gemologist, he will receive certification as a CGA — Certified Gemologist Appraiser — in December. The latter is a distinction fewer than 450 people in the country hold. And in a nod to a more tech-savvy generation, Don notes that Corey is responsible for the Juniker website and social media marketing.
Don laughs when asked what his son has taught him, "Patience! He’s responsible for all of these gray hairs on my head.”
Then turning serious for a moment, Don makes it clear how important family is to the business. As he says, it’s good to get up and come into a job that you love doing —with people you love. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’d be lost. This is the only thing I’ve ever known.”
One of the characteristics of family businesses — particularly multi-generational ones — is that family members tend to care deeply about the business, committed to preserving it and helping it grow. And they’re often guided by the same core values. Not a bad thing for customers.
When she was in the first grade, Brannon Aden announced that she was going to become a doctor.
During her final year at Tulane University Medical School, she accompanied her father, Dr. Bill Aden, to an ophthalmology conference, and his friends invariably asked her which type of medicine she would practice. Without missing a beat, her response was, “Anything but ophthalmology.”
Brannon kept a List of Nevers: I will never live in Jackson again; I will never practice ophthalmology; I will never practice with Dad.
Bill Aden said, "I never encouraged or discouraged her from becoming a doctor or an ophthalmologist, but my friends at that conference set her down that path. I just wanted her to do whatever made her happy.”
“My parents set the foundation for me so that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and they have supported me throughout,” Brannon explained.
Nearing the end of her training at Tulane and Charity Hospital, she began to ponder where she would practice, and Bill began to consider retirement.
Twelve years ago, her List of Nevers came true . . . but in reverse. She lives in Jackson; she is an ophthalmologist; she practices with her father.
“We have an excellent working relationship, and by the end of her second year, she was in charge of everything here. In fact, she became my boss,” said Bill.
“Working together has been great,” Brannon said, “we’ve always had an easy relationship, and we have similar philosophic principles and goals. Every decision we make is with the comfort, convenience and other needs of our patients in mind. It is all about the patients.”
Part of that decision-making involved leaving Jackson and building their now seven-year-old, state-of-the-art office and eye surgery facility, Mississippi Vision, in Flowood.
“We really wanted to stay in Jackson, but we couldn’t find enough land on which to build. Our patients need a one-story facility, especially those who have surgery here, and we found the space in Flowood.”
Their practice has grown exponentially, too, since Brannon’s arrival. When she began, Bill had seven employees. Now, they employ 30 full- and part-time workers, and she has led this exponential growth.
Back in 1974, when Bill began to practice, he proved himself to be a technological pioneer. He was the first physician in Mississippi to use the small-incision — phacoemulsification — surgery on cataracts. This surgery did not become standard treatment until the mid-1980s.
Similarly, three months ago, Brannon became the first doctor in the state to perform LenSx®, a brand new laser cataract surgery.
Bill said, “Because Brannon came back, I have extended my time in ophthalmology.” He paused. “When she came back, work became fun again.”
Walker Tann is a third generation realtor with Nix-Tann and Associates, who followed his parents, Bill and Becky, into the family business and now counts his wife Candace as a co-worker as well. Says Walker, “It’s nice getting to stay involved in each other’s lives. A lot of times when you grow up, you also grow apart from your family, whether geographically or just the fact that we all get busy. By working together, we get to see each other a good bit.
“Of course,” he laughs, œwhen people ask me what it’s like to work with both my parents and my wife, I always tell them ‘it is not too hard when your dad, mom, and wife are all on opposite sides of the building!’”
Walker describes his father Bill as a very patient person who is unwaveringly fair. One of the core values of the company is to live by the golden rule — to treat others as you wish to be treated. Ethics and integrity are guiding values as well. When asked what he’s learned from his father, Walker says, œThe thing that he has really helped me understand is that you cannot put a price on happiness, and that experiences help you grow.”
Walker vividly remembers growing up when there were only around six or so people working out of one small office. œI remember riding around with my mom in her big khaki van and her yelling at me not to step on the MLS book! At that time they didn’t have the internet, so everyone carried these big books with all the houses for sale. We actually have kept a few around for old times’ sake.”
He never thought he would join the business, until giving it a try after college. œI really didn’t know what to expect, other than it was an easy business to get into, but it’s not the easiest business to make it in.” Walker hounded a buddy from college and convinced the friend to accept his help buying a home. The rest is history.
The Tanns do their best to respect the boundary between family and business. Every effort is made to keep family get-togethers purely social. Once a year, there is an annual corporate dinner held to discuss business, but other than that they try to leave work at the office. Still, they clearly love what they do, and watching the family company grow into a multi-generational one has been its own reward.
There’s plenty of evidence that fathers whose children join them in business often form a stronger bond with each other. Trust and mutual respect go hand-in-hand, and shared values and goals are a common thread.
And by their nature, family businesses tend to be family-friendly. With two soon-to-be new moms in his midst, Mike Carter is planning ahead. Waving at a spacious room, he explains, “Both my dental assistant and my daughter are expecting, so I’m going to convert that staff lounge to a nursery. I know they’ll have daycare as well, but we can keep a child here, too.”
“There are plenty of people around here who will want to go check on the baby.” A grandfather perhaps?