By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Photo Credit : Willie J. Rice Photography

The thought of holidays and dealing with family sometimes can be a stressful experience that makes most people cringe. Including a business into the mix only adds elements of tension that only the strong can survive. The old saying, that blood, and business should never mix, was probably spoken by someone who tried and failed at a family business. Owning and running a business is difficult enough without involving personality and birth order “baggage” that relatives bring. When a conflict arises, they can become long-lasting, even detrimental to the overall family structure.

As with any good business, the strength of the business model is the key to success. Personalities, sensitivity and emotions have no place in the workplace. What does belong is, a firm desire to involve multi-generational family members who share a common commitment to the family and the success of the business. It might be considered a rare combination, but when the business begins with a foundation of commonality at its core and the desire to achieve specific goals, the results can be incredible.  Just ask the families that started Wal-Mart, Comcast, Ford and Motorola.         

If you weren’t already aware, Hilton Head Island is the home to several successful multi-generational family-owned businesses.  The Gullah Heritage Tours is a family-owned business that’s been in existence since 1996, preserving and educating the public about the island’s rich Gullah heritage, traditions and its significant place in America’s history. The company consists of roughly fifteen family members that span over three generations who are furthering Gullah culture as a family.

The Campbell Family
Photo Credit: Willie Rice Photography

The initial business concept grew out of C & W Connection, an island tour company that operated back in 1971, by the parents of the Campbell siblings that run the company as it exists today; “C” for Reginald Campbell and “W” for Sarah Williams.

The Gullah Heritage Tours is a well-structured business that is run by 1st generation members at its helm; Dr. Emory Campbell, Operations Manager, David Campbell, President, and Melvin Campbell, Partner. Their business, at its core, begins with a strong focus, organizational foundation and the involvement of the younger generations in their area of interest.

Each generation is represented in the daily operations; by the time the children enter middle school, they begin internships that give them “on the job training” and experience. As they get older, working on administrative tasks and ultimately as narrators and drivers, creates an investment in the business, their knowledge base, and a solid sense of inclusion. According to second-generation family member, DeAnna Holmes, receptionist and potential tour guide, we all work hard to make sure that they are “doing all that they can to get it right. It’s important because it’s what our Uncles lived.”

Sidrowe Jackson, also in the 2nd generation and serving as the Marketing Committee Chairman, “we are here to be job creators, not job workers. Our work is significant to sharing our history. We began promoting heritage tourism before it even had a name. It’s important to let people know that we were around before all of that developed. You can’t tell America’s story without telling the Gullah story.”

DeAnna goes on to say, “everything is a collaborative effort. If one succeeds, then we all succeed.” And that success is accomplished by being thorough, providing consistent service, monthly meetings, bi-monthly retreats, and annual meetings.

Maintaining the family business is important, not only because of the financial benefits that it provides, but because it’s a vital part of the preservation of the island and the family’s Gullah culture.

Deahn Holmes, 15 years old and from the 3rd generation, has been working for 3 years as an intern in tour operations and learning about her Gullah culture so that she can eventually become the Tour Operations Manager.

Running a business is difficult, whether family is involved or not. Adding the personal elements of family, however, can be a strong positive, especially when educating the public and preserving a culture is at its core. DeAnna said it best saying, “as a child, I didn’t realize how special being on the island was.  Being able to work for the family business and to share our history is a joy.” As the saying goes, finding work that you enjoy coupled with it being for the greater good, means that the work is hardly work at all.    

For more information about the Gullah Heritage Trail Tours, click here.

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