Craig Snyder calls his company a “laboratory of human development.”
He says it everywhere from new-hire orientations to executive committee meetings and all-staff trainings.
Including to his children.
Snyder, CEO of VIKOR, has built a family business from the ground up – all the way up, to thousands of feet off the ground, where its tower-climbing team has led the company to become a national leader in wireless infrastructure.
Snyder founded the business as Sioux Falls Tower & Communications in 1989.
“My philosophy is that we are not just in the teleconstruction business but in the people business,” he said.
“I’ve set up the company so that both my children and all the employees can grow and have the opportunity to become something more than when they walked in the door. I could have sold my company many times over the years and get inquiries regularly to sell or invite in equity partners. But if I did that, I’d lose control of the laboratory, and the laboratory is as important to my family legacy as money.”
We caught up with Snyder for a look inside the “laboratory” and found a family business committed to setting itself up for future success.
As you put it, you feel your business has become an ideal laboratory for both your family and other employees to learn, create, work and steward together. Was that always the vision?
I didn’t think this 33 years ago when I started VIKOR as Sioux Falls Tower, but as my children came of age and decided they wanted to be a part of the business, this soon became a genius mechanism to achieve much higher goals then just building wealth or even philanthropy. Our main philanthropic endeavors today are to invite as many as we can into the laboratory, reward them well, teach them to help the next person in line and repeat. We also keep God as our North Star to guide our decisions.
Tell us about your next generation. What was their path into the business, and how are you balancing business and family with them now working with you?
I have three sons and one son-in-law involved in the business full time. Each of them play unique roles that complement each other and are vital to the overall success of the business.
One manages our capex spend, one manages business intelligence, one is a divisional director in our operations department, and one is in marketing. They are all in their 20s and 30s but are very involved and in leadership positions at young ages.
I look at my wife, Kristin, as the chief family officer of the family business. She does not work in the business and never has but has a very keen interest in creating an atmosphere of harmony within the family, including in the business setting. Consequently, we do have amazing harmony among the second-generation family members and between first and second generation. While each second-generation member has a unique role that serves the business, they also get along well with other senior leaders, and most of them report to leaders between me and them organizationally. We also enjoy each other’s company out of work, spending time together in the Black Hills at our lodge and getting together often for Sunday dinners and birthdays and holidays. I feel blessed that family and business for me and my family has been extremely united and harmonious so far and that each of my sons and son-in-law are significant contributors to the well-being of VIKOR.
What’s new on the business side of VIKOR? What kind of year has 2022 been for the company, and what are your expectations for next year?
We’ve added three new offices to our growing company, including Phoenix, Albuquerque and Sebree, Kentucky. We’ve also closed on two acquisitions: Pathwave out of Minnesota and Noash Construction out of Sebree. We’ve grown our head count from about 200 at the beginning of the year to 250 today.
We’ve also diversified our offerings, getting more and more into what I refer to as horizontal infrastructure — think fiber to the home/premise — as well as expanded our vertical infrastructure offerings — wireless, microwave, wind energy — to more geography and a broader customer base. 2022 started slower but turned brisk at the beginning of the second quarter, and we’ve been breaking sales records throughout the second half of 2022. I see 2023 as a year to drive efficiency and continue to capture market share now with 10 offices spanning the Mountain and Great Plains states, and now our first office in the South.
VIKOR recently hosted the annual Prairie Family Business Association legacy tour as part of the Boyd Hopkins Sr. Excellence in Family Business Award. What kind of reactions did you get from other family businesses learning about what you do? What do you hope they took away from that experience?
We are new to the Prairie Family Business Association and think it’s the best-kept 30-year-old secret in town. They came along at a perfect time for us as we work on transition planning in our overarching goal to build a multigenerational business. So having some of the members in to take a tour of VIKOR was enlightening for me and hopefully for them.
We toured the 3-year-old, 25,000-square-foot facility on 10 acres and ended up in our state-of-the-art training center complete with three functional towers, where we watched a short video showing what VIKOR does. They seemed very interested and asked questions like what has led to our success, how do we blend family with other management and what services we offer and to whom.
We had our 10-member executive team present and let them answer many of the questions. Three of my children are on the executive committee. What I hoped to take away was getting a vibe from others about what they saw as the benefits of being a member of the association. They were, of course, very positive, and it affirmed our new membership and good things to come as we learn more about the association and how we can collaborate with others.
Three members of your next generation recently attended the Prairie Family Business Association’s Next Gen Retreat. What was that experience like, and what were there key takeaways?
They all came back proclaiming it to be a very positive experience. I think their biggest takeaway was that, more often than not, the second generation needs to be the driving force behind creating the framework for such things as a family governance structure and even creating a functioning board of directors, which I don’t presently have.
They also learned that the legal structure set up for transition is pretty critical to ensuring the protection of the structure as well as its transfer as a multigenerational family business, especially as it goes from second to third generation. They gave the retreat an enthusiastic two-thumbs-up.
You’re also planning to attend Prairie Family’s Board Bootcamp in January. Does VIKOR utilize a board currently? What are you hoping to gain by attending the boot camp?
One of my sons and I are planning to attend the PFBA Board Bootcamp in January in Fargo. I am the only board member so, no, we don’t have a functioning board. I’m hoping I come away from the boot camp with a clear path to what the VIKOR board might look like going forward, whether advisory or fiduciary, whether majority family on the board or majority outside board members. I’m looking forward to learning more and getting our first functioning board set up. We also are meeting with a PFBA panel of experts for a live case study, which looks at our family and business structure and gaps they feel we need to fill. I really look forward to hearing what they have to say and taking the VIKOR laboratory of human development to the next level under the guidance of the Prairie Family Business Association and its experts.