Robinson & Son Bring 123-Year-Old Pine Bluff Funeral Home into 21st Century

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jul. 8, 2013 12:00 am  

Scott Robinson, left, with his father, Adam Robinson Jr. The funeral home they operate was founded in 1890. (Photo by Mauren Kennedy)

Adam started working in the business in the summers at 14 “because my father was working all the time and that was the only way that I could be around him very much.”

He attended Davidson College in North Carolina with the intention of going on to medical school and becoming a physician. But in the April before he graduated from Davidson, his father, Adam Sr., suffered a heart attack and “42 years later, here I am.”

Adam Robinson Sr. died in 2007, but Adam Jr. has been leading Robinson & Son and another family business, Cooperative Life Insurance Co. of Pine Bluff, since the mid-1980s.

His father worked in the businesses for 60 years and never really retired, Adam Jr. said.

The Passing of Power

Family-owned businesses entail a unique set of challenges, one of which is working closely with family members and addressing the passing on of power. Asked about the challenges of working for his father, Adam Jr. spoke frankly.

“I’ve had many less than Scott. Because [Adam Sr.] was not in very good health, he was very willing to say, ‘Here.’ When you’ve been doing something for a long time, it’s very difficult to give up responsibilities that you’ve had. We’re working on that.”

Father and son agree on other challenges facing family-owned enterprises.

Among them: separating work life from family life, particularly in a funeral home business. Helping grieving people is paramount, but it can take an emotional toll.

Growing up in a family business, being promoted and serving as the “supervisor over people who saw you running around in your pajamas at Christmas parties when you were 10” also can be problematic, Scott said. There is a need to prove oneself. One can feel “like you have to work twice as hard as everybody else to prove that you’re worthy of the position, not just because you were brought up in it.”

To address that feeling, Scott worked for a year for another funeral home while he was in college, Roller-Crouch in Batesville, “mainly because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it outside of the family business.”

Managing family members’ expectations regarding investment in and income from a joint enterprise is essential, Adam Robinson said. Businesses need to be prepared for change and capitalized for it. When there are a lot of family members and others depending on a business for their livelihoods, “there is a tendency to use up all your capital. So you have to learn how to be a good money manager and a good investor, both in your own business and in the other things that you do. And that’s not always an easy lesson.”



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