Toby Taylor (right) works alongside his father, Larry, at Air Rite Air Conditioning in Fort Worth, Texas.
Many men love their jobs and wish their sons would follow in their footsteps. But do Norman Rockwell-like visions of strong father-son bonds forged by shared endeavors mesh with the reality of working alongside one's offspring day after day, year after year?

Yes, says Ray Isaac, president of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in Rochester, N. Y. "Sure, it can be challenging at times," he said. But he, his cousin Chris, and three brothers Ken, David, and Mike are all doing what they want to do - working for their father and uncle's company.

Ray began working full time in 1988 after graduating from college with a degree in business administration, though he, his cousin, and brothers would "work" in the sheet metal shop as kids. "Mom would check our fingers when we got home to make sure they were all there," he joked.

They are not the only fathers and sons at Isaac Air. "We've got plenty of family here," said Ray, who estimates that upwards of 25 percent of the 150 employees are related to someone else in the company. "We've not only got fathers and sons but fathers and daughters, cousins, in-laws. It's like one big camping trip here."

This father and son have been working at Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning in Rochester, N. Y., for 26 and 16 years, respectively. Richard Knaak (left) is a field supervisor for commercial installation, while his son, Eric Knaak, is vice president of service.

Personal Knowledge Aids Communication

One such father-son pair is Richard and Eric Knaak. Richard has been with Isaac Air for 26 years, beginning as a commercial installer and working up to a field supervisor. His son Eric, vice president of service, has been with the company for 16 years.

Richard's son Keith worked as an Isaac residential installer for 13 years, then took a job as a supervisor at an HVAC firm closer to home. Richard's son Garrett worked summers but opted for a sales position for a large paint manufacturer. So at one time or another Richard has worked with all of his sons.

Eric said it helps that he knows how his dad does things and how he likes things done. "I can cut to the chase with him," he said.

Eric's wife works part time for Isaac Air, while his aunt retired from the residential service department and his cousin Joey currently works for him. Eric pointed out two technician brothers and other employees who are related by marriage. Eric has a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. "I'm sure at some point they'll both be involved in the business," he said.

Positive Results At Home

Field supervisor Tom Neery, an Isaac employee for 16 years, works side by side with his son Cory.

"He'll ask for a hand unloading a truck," said Tom. "And while we're doing that, we talk. Just like anyone else you work with, you don't just talk about work. You get a chance to communicate about personal matters that you might not have talked about otherwise."

Nineteen-year-old Cory, a commercial and residential deliveryman, lives with Tom and used to resent it when Tom asked for his help around the house. "Often when an adult tells another adult what to do, there's conflict about who's in charge," said Tom.

"But now that he's working here, he can see that I don't just tell him what to do, I tell other people what to do too. He sees that it's necessary for someone to take charge in order to get things done."

It's Good For Business

"Everything that makes for a good business relationship makes for a good father-son relationship," said Ray. "You have to communicate and you have to earn respect through your performance."

What's good for the family is good for the business, he maintains: "Your professionalism and your ethics don't just affect things on the inside of the company. Everyone on the outside can see it, too."

Sidebar: Family Comes First In This Business

"The main reason I'm here is because my family is here," said Toby Taylor, general manager of Air Rite in Fort Worth, Texas. "If my father sold the business or retired, I probably wouldn't continue."

Though Toby worked at his father Larry's company during the summers while attending college, he started on a full-time basis in 1996. He misses some phases of architecture - the career he practiced for four years following college graduation - but in a big company, "you have your thing to do and you don't have much of an understanding of the whole picture. Here I'm involved in all aspects of the company.

"The things that go into running a business, the things I'm looking at on my desk - vehicle insurance, building maintenance, payroll taxes - take place in any business. Air conditioning just happens to be our product."

Toby's parents bought Air Rite in 1990. Toby said he's "never had any problem" working alongside his dad - perhaps an easy task, given that Larry is someone who feels "every day is a holiday and every meal's a feast."

"We think along the same lines," said Toby, "so it's been pretty easy joining forces. We have common goals: make a profit and keep our employees happy."

Larry appreciates the fact that, when he is out of town, someone with a vested interest in the business is "keeping watch."

Toby doesn't have any kids yet, but when he does, he said he hopes they'll work with him, if not at Air Rite, then maybe at the home-building company Toby has founded.

- Heidi Nye

Publication date: 06/13/2005