June 6, 2011 | last updated March 25, 2012 11:07 am
2011 Central Mass. Family Business Awards

Rocheleau Tool & Die: Preparing For The Fourth Generation

PHOTO/EDD COTE
Pictured, from left to right, are: Rob Hastings, Jeffrey Rocheleau, Cathy Rocheleau, Daniel Rocheleau, Lisa Rocheleau, Steven Rocheleau and Kevin Hastings.

For many family businesses, figuring out how not to take the work home with them is the biggest challenge.

But for the seven members of the Rocheleau family that work full-time at Rocheleau Tool & Die in Fitchburg, the bigger problem is not bringing home to work.

"That's a harder balance," said Lisa Rocheleau, the company's treasurer, who is a third-generation member of the Rocheleau family. She works alongside all three of her siblings, several cousins and lots of nieces and nephews, depending on whether school is in session. In fact, her younger brother Steven is currently the company's president and so even though Lisa may be calling the shots at family birthday parties and barbeques, her brother is the undisputed head of the pack in the workplace. "I might not agree, but his say is the final say."

But by all accounts, Steven's gentle leaderships skills - which Lisa is the first to tell you are quite a natural part of his personality and have been since childhood - make melding the family dynamic and the organizational goals easy.

"You need to remember that you are family, but you can't take advantage of the fact that you're family," Steven said. "It's important to still act professional, and you can't take liberties when it comes to that."

Younger sister Kathy, who is vice president of international sales, agrees.

"Sometimes in a meeting you open your mouth to say something, but you have to think twice - you have to really remember where you are," she said.

REMEMBERING THE PAST

Walking through the door, both family members and the other two dozen employees are reminded of the lineage that has brought them to Rocheleau Tool & Die that day. The serious face of Leopold A. Rocheleau, known to all simply as "LA," represented by a pencil drawing, watches over those reporting to work. Beneath his framed likeness sits a large oak desk that belonged to LA and served as his work station as he founded his own company, widowed with seven children to raise, in the early 1930s.

In the years leading up to his passing, LA's daughter Irene and four of his sons - including Lisa's father Roland - became involved in the business. Both Irene and Roland, who have since retired after 50 years in the family business, still stop by from time to time and see what's new.

"We've grown the company quite a bit in the last 10 years," said Lisa, adding that under Steven's leadership, they not only tripled the company's sales but also significantly added to its international presence. "Toward the end of their careers, my dad and uncles were in their late 50s and 60s and they weren't interested in taking risks - they were comfortable where they were at."

But the shift toward the third generation brought with it a whole new philosophy for the company. Along with the desire to take less for themselves and put more back into the company, the new tier of leaders had the drive and the willingness to put in the hours necessary to get through the growing pains.

"We all do the things that are best for the company, not for each of us individually," said Kathy. "We do whatever needs to get done to make the big picture work."

IN THE FUTURE

One of the changes that is most pleasing to current Rocheleau staffers is one that was made by Roland prior to his retirement.

Previously, ownership was more based on family name and everyone was eligible for a piece of the pie. But as the family grew and the company expanded, Roland was steadfast in his belief that in order to have any ownership in the company, you must work there.

And it makes sense - there's quite a bit at stake. The fourth generation is only a few steps behind and while the dozens of cousins may or may not intend to enter into the family business, the plan is most certainly for it to be an option.

"We want there to be something here for them when they're grown," said Lisa.

And while some of the current Rocheleaus, like Lisa and Kathy, sort of stumbled into their positions (which they did, indeed, have to interview for - as will every future Rochelau), some built their life around the fate that awaited them.

"I don't think there was ever a time when I didn't plan on doing exactly this," Steven said. "When things are good, there is nothing better than working side by side with people you love so much."

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