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The Family Business Leader Podcast

Dec 19, 2017

In this episode, we hear the story of a seventy year old family business in Northern Michigan. My guest, Chris Shepler, is part of the third generation of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Service and today serves at the helm as President.


Chris shares what it was like growing on the docks, his coming of age adventure leaving the business to pursue his dreams as a professional sailor, and how his family came together to fight for their business when it mattered most. Through it all, Chris has worked to establish his own identity in a small town and carry on his family’s tradition.


Topics discussed in this episode:


  • About Chris Shepler (2:10)
  • From ferry boat to America’s Cup (3:46)
  • The magic of Mackinac Island (10:15)
  • The book and the legal battle (13:33)
  • “We’re finished” (27:43)
  • The turnaround point (30:39)
  • About the previous generations (33:20)
  • Guest experience trumps all (38:25)
  • Grandfather’s passing, “Flowers on the Water” (40:10)
  • Creating your own identity (44:33)
  • The makeup of good family business owner (51:35)
  • Shark tank pitch family edition (1:03:08)
  • How to get in touch with Chris (1:07:58)
  • Bonus questions (1:09:04)


Notable & Quotable:


Once we decided to put up our dukes and fight for our business, it was the biggest bonding experience for our family. Nothing else mattered. —Chris Shepler #successfulgenerations


Competition is good in sport and in business. Competition keeps everyone honest. —Chris Shepler #successfulgenerations


My grandfather had the idea to run a ferry boat service that offered red carpet service and my dad built it... But my mom is the glue that held our family and our business together. —Chris Shepler #successfulgenerations


How you navigate through following your dreams provides you a foundation for being a good leader. It develops your entrepreneurial spirit and makes you a visionary. —Chris Shepler #successfulgenerations


When I leave this company I want to know it is set up well to carry on for the next 75 years without me. —Chris Shepler #successfulgenerations


We have one rule: Don’t come into a meeting halfway through and bring us back to the start.—Chris Shepler #successfulgenerations


Resources mentioned in this episode:


Mackinac Island

Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry

Undefeated: The True Story of How the Family-Owned Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Service Survived and Advanced through Three Generations


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