Natasha Strother-Lassiter, as Chief Strategy Officer, is responsible for the growth initiatives for the veteran-, minority- and family-owned business Strother Enterprises Inc. The company has been providing food and beverage services for the past 36 years to customers in sports and entertainment, convention centers, airports and health care facilities. Her father and uncle started the business in the mid 1980s as a catering company and then transitioned into contract food service in the mid 1990s. Strother-Lassiter is one of five family owners working in the business. However, while she is involved in company's day-to-day, she has a sibling who's not in the business.

Because of that arrangement, she says she sometimes feels jealous of the family members not active in the business.

"They don't have to deal with all the burdens of being in the business," Strother-Lassiter said at last year's Philadelphia Smart Business Dealmakers Conference. "And sometimes, you almost envy them for not having to deal with that."

Strother-Lassiter has been in the business for 22 years, and started off very young helping with catering. Back then, all of them worked in the business. Then at some point, a couple family members decided to leave and go in a different direction. But Strother-Lassiter stayed.

"I'm the one who's still here and I've worked and I prepared myself for it," she says. "Well, I didn’t know that I was preparing myself for it. My dad really did not want me to work at the company. But our attorney actually had to convince him to want me to stay at the company. I was only supposed to stay one year. Twenty-two years later, I'm still I'm still there."

These family members essentially went to other companies and learned — even Strother-Lassiter ultimately left for two years — and when she and one other family member came back, they brought a different perspective and experience to the family business.

She says they welcome other family members who want to be in the business. But, she says, whoever joins or comes back, she wants them to be prepared.

"Whether it's through education and experience or certifications, we want them there," she says. "So, we welcome them there. We welcome them in this company. We know that it adds value to the company as we think about growth. So, we're open to it."

While her father, uncle and his cousin are the top three shareholders of the company, there is a succession plan in place for the next generation to take over the business, something that was prompted by a loan covenant from several years ago. The succession plan is in line with the estate planning based on what the majority owners really want. That plan also includes language that ensures family is involved.

"It happened probably more than five years ago that we started this discussion," she says. "So, it's in place if any of those triggers happened, we're ready to implement the plan and get going."

Though the company hasn't yet done any acquisitions, it has grown significantly over the past few years.

"The way we've funded the growth was either through debt financing, reinvesting any of our current profits, borrowing internally from partners, also short-term lending instrument. But, again, this was all organic growth. So, everything we've done has just been organic over the last 30-some years. And the leadership team, we all know that if we want to grow in an impactful way that we have to consider other ways to fund the business — whether it's through acquisition — but we were open to it," Strother-Lassiter says. "We're starting to say, 'What does this look like? What does this mean for us as a closely held company? What does this look like for us? But we know we want to grow in the foodservice industry, which is very competitive. We're in sports and entertainment, we're in health care, we're in airports. So, it's growing. And in order to grow and make an impact, we know that we have to think about something different. So, that's where we are at this point in our journey, as I would say, and we're wrapping our arms around it, and we're open and we're saying, 'OK, what does this mean, for us?'"