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Family business legacy: Hitting the strike zone for 138 years

Meet the Burghardts, a remarkable example of a successful family business legacy. I have had the pleasure of knowing the family for over 20 years. Fourth generation family owner, Chip Burghardt and three of his children own and operate Burghardt Sporting Goods, which has two locations in the Milwaukee area. In an environment where only three percent of family businesses at the fourth-generation level and beyond survive, they have beaten the odds.1 In fact, they continue to grow amid the continued onslaught of national big box competition and online giants.

They recently shared some personal insights about their company culture and family dynamics. With 138 years of success behind them, I thought it was worth passing on.

Set the succession plan early – then get back to business

When Chip entered the business in 1964 fresh out of business school, his father was direct with him: “See what you can do; it’s yours.” Chip appreciated the opportunity to drive the business early on – and that’s what he is now allowing his children to do. The biggest mistake of senior owners is holding onto the controls for too long, according to Chip. Then it’s too late for the next generation to make their own entrepreneurial mark. Defining the succession plan early and clearly has allowed Brian, Carl and Lynn to put their own stamp on the future of Burghardts and venture into new opportunities.

All for one and one for all

It helps when siblings get along, as is the case with the Burghardts. Mutual respect for each other drives their ability to work together for the good of the company, family, employees and customers. They recognize that each brings unique skills, which fill gaps and create opportunity. Demonstrating a genuine spirit of teamwork, they even acknowledge that their best efforts count more than the end result. When competition is tough, as it is in the retail industry, why add to it from the inside? Not sweating the small stuff helps them stay focused on the things that matter most.

Retain talent through empowerment

When Brian joined the family business in 1995, the business was in a growth phase, and retaining motivated employees was important. Beginning with the eight employees then, growing to more than 80 employees today, team building is a focus. The Burghardts have built a family-like culture where every employee has a voice and decisions are not finalized without their input. Chip learned this lesson early on when he bought an expensive silk-screening machine to expand the business that no one liked. This willingness to listen has created an environment where employees feel empowered and openly make suggestions worthy of implementation.

The fifth-generation team of Brian, Carl and Lynn enthusiastically embraces the opportunity to carry on the family legacy. With fresh ideas and plans, they are well prepared and grounded in the principles and values passed on to them by Chip and the three generations before him.


  1. Family Business Alliance. Retrieved June 2014. 

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