SALT LAKE CITY — Harmons is a family business — a chain of 13 stores run by the Harmon family as a business.
Toward that end, Harmons hires the best executives for all positions, including the top jobs, regardless of whether they are members of the family or not, Bob Harmon told SN.
As a result, the president, chief financial officer and executive vice president are not family members, and it isn't clear if or when someone with the family name will hold any of those positions, he added. Harmon's father, Terry, was president and chief executive officer prior to his death in 2007.
Harmon, 49, is vice president for the customer, and his brother Randy, 50, is vice president, consumer affairs. They, along with a sister who is not in the business, represent the third generation of the Harmon family.
“We want the right people running the company,” he explained. “We understand the strength and power of quality people, and if we can find someone with the capabilities, the background, the drive, the energy and the commitment we have who can do a better job, we're willing to put them in those roles.
“It's worked for us over and over again. If the family gives them the support to lead and grow the company and do the job right, then exceptional things happen.
“As the fourth generation begins to decide whether to enter the business, we make it clear what their opportunities are — and their obligations. We've tried to provide a good structure and an understanding that, if any of them are to become leaders of this company, they will have to really give it all they've got because people will be watching them and be critical of them,” Harmon explained. “And we let them know they have the opportunity to advance if they do a great job and are committed to providing whatever energy and expertise they can. We encourage them to get an education and to pursue whatever roles in life suits them best and for which they have a passion, whether that's in or out of the company.”
There are 11 children in the family's fourth generation, ranging from age 16 to 32, and although nine are working for Harmons in some capacity, not all are likely to stay with the business as they determine their own passions, Harmon told SN.
When he joined the company at age 16, Harmon went through a rigorous but relatively unstructured learning program to enabled him to work in all departments of the family's single store.
“My grandfather” — Jake Harmon, who founded the company in 1932 — “was very strict with my father Terry, and he made it clear he would be let go if he didn't perform, and that's the message my father passed on to me and my brother,” Bob Harmon recalled.
Each brother spent up to two years working at each department of the store, he said. “We weren't given any special treatment in terms of shifts — we worked graveyard, early morning and swings — and Dad left it to each manager to provide support or reprimands, as needed. But we found mentors in each department to help us stay out of trouble and to develop the people skills we were going to need as well as the operational skills.”
Based on the training regimen Bob and Randy Harmon went through, Harmons developed a more structured leadership program called “Star” that enables those who excel to test their abilities in various areas of the operation. So far, two members of the fourth generation of Harmons have started the program, though both opted to pursue other options at present, Harmon said.
There are other ways into the business for family members, he added, noting that one of his daughters who majored in environmental studies is writing a proposal to improve sustainability and environmental practices at the company.
Only two of five family members play an active role on the company's board of directors, with seven non-family members filling out the board, Bob Harmon noted. Asked what happens if the family disagrees with a board decision, he replied, “Everyone knows who owns the company. But so far, everything has been handled calmly.”
Asked about potential problems when the fourth generation, with 11 cousins, joins the board, Bob Harmon said the family has developed a structure where each family, rather than each individual, will have a single voice.
“It's up to us today to foster those people who will speak for each family so they will be able to reach a consensus in the future,” he explained.