Guy Routzon grew up on a farm in Michigan that he tended with his father, but as a young man with a family to feed, the Great Depression of the 1930s forced him to look for new work. At first, since he was in Michigan, he tried working in an auto assembly plant, but he hated the monotony. Then he picked up stakes and ventured west, looking for both work and for a drier climate for his daughter, Mary, who was severely asthmatic. His plan was to settle in Arizona, but along the way he stopped in Denver, and he landed a job--painting the rooftops of the new Lowry Air Force Base barracks.
Since finding any work in those days was nothing to take lightly, especially for a man with only a sixth-grade education, Guy settled in Denver. In time, the folks at Lowry asked the roof-painter if he could also do floors. "You bet I can," Guy piped up. Guy's Floor Service was born. That was 1942. Within five years Guy was finishing 21 homes a day, thanks largely to a contract he landed with Burns Construction, which built thousands of homes in Denver to satisfy the housing demands of soldiers returning from World War II. At the apex of that housing boom, Guy's Floor Service was the largest user of strip-oak flooring west of the Mississippi. Today, the company is still one of the top family businesses in Colorado, with more than 400 employees, including nine family members, and revenues of $50 million in 2003.
The company ranks fifth in this year's ColoradoBiz ranking of the state's top 50 family-owned businesses. The rankings are based on number of employees. To qualify, a company's ownership must be controlled by a single family; the controlling family members must be active in top management; and the family has to have been involved in the company for at least two generations--or seems likely to be. The man now presiding over Guy's Floor Service is Ed Routzon, 56, one of Guy's seven children, the youngest of four boys and perhaps the least likely to head up the business, considering his earlier views of it. In fact, Ed describes a career in the family business as, "something I said I'd never do."
Out of college, Ed became a teacher and a football coach at the former St. Francis High School and then at Mullen High School, a private Catholic school in southwest Denver that Ed had attended. (He is now president of the Mullen school board of directors). He loved teaching and coaching, but three years into that career, in 1971, his father decided to retire, and Guy turned to two of his sons, Ed and Joe (who already was working with his father in the business) to see if they'd be willing to buy the flooring company.
While Joe had taken to the family business early, Ed had not. He had grown up working for his dad, as a delivery boy, as a sander and as a hardwood floor finisher, a little bit of everything, but that was enough to prompt him to look elsewhere for his life's work. "I really figured out pretty early on that that isn't the way I wanted to spend my life," Ed says. "That's why I went on to do something else. But my father came up to us in 1971 and said, 'I need to get away from this thing, and I'd like to sell it to two of my sons. Would you consider doing that?'
"It was a hard decision for me to make because I loved what I was doing," Ed says. "But we made the decision, and it was obviously the right one."
Perhaps Ed's initial aversion to joining the business stems from the fact that he can scarcely remember, as a kid, when the elder Routzon was not on the job. The way Guy ran it, the family business did not seem compatible with family life. "My dad, you have to understand, he was a worker," Ed says. "His whole life was about work. He spent very little time at home. He was only educated through the sixth grade, but he knew how to work, and that business was his life."
Guy died in 1988 at the age of 82. Joe retired 12 years ago, leaving the company's leadership in the hands of Ed, who already had several years under his belt as company president. Under Ed, Guy's Floor Service has swelled with family members--enough to field a baseball team. Two of Ed's three offspring work in the business, as do three nephews, two nieces and a son-in-law.
Son Matt, 29, who earned a marketing degree at the University of Wyoming, always looked forward to the day he would come to work full-time for the company, but his dad insisted that he take at least one other job first.
Why? The natural assumption is that Ed wanted Matt to explore possibilities outside of Guy's Floor Service before making a career decision. But that's not the case.
"I wanted him to make sure he could get a job on his own," Ed says with a laugh, "so I'd know I didn't throw that 60 grand (for college) away."
So Matt went to work for Shaw Construction as an assistant superintendent on a project in Winter Park.
"I enjoyed it," he says. "And it was part of the construction industry, so I didn't fall too far from the tree. It actually solidified the fact that I wanted to come back to work here."
Now the company's secretary/treasurer, Matt says at Guy's there are none of the problems often attributed to mixing work with family life. "Our family's very close, even our extended family," he says. "It keeps us all in contact and we all work really well together."
Ed believes the business will continue into future generations, but part of that will depend on the direction the flooring industry takes. Sure, the vibrancy of the real estate and building markets plays a role, but other forces are impossible to foresee.
"The industry itself may dictate what our business...