Mike Satran (center) is sitting pretty when it comes to passing along his replacement company: Children Shelley and Brad are focused on learning the business inside and out.
Mike Satran (center) is sitting pretty when it comes to passing along his replacement company: Children Shelley and Brad are focused on learning the business inside and out.

Mike Satran is proud of his children. Shelley and Brad Satran aren't just any kids working in the family business. Both graduated from Oregon universities with higher than 3.5 grade-point averages. Both attended college on full-tuition athletic scholarships. Both were named All-American athletes —Brad as a wide receiver, Shelley as a track star.

“How many All-Americans do you know?” asks their dad. “And I have two kids who were All-Americans.”

But like many family business owners seeking leadership continuity, Satran, who turns 53 this March, sees challenges ahead. Within 10 years, Interstate Roofing — the business that's been his passion for two decades — will likely be in their hands.

While most business owner parents hope the next generation will carry the ball, most fumble. Bill Good of the National Roofing Contractors Association estimates that half of the group's 5,000 members have survived to the second generation or further, and maybe a quarter of the 25,000 roofing contractors nationwide have done so.

Just 30% of family businesses in every industry make it past the founder, says Greg McCann of The Family Business Center at Stetson University in Deland, Fla. About 12% reach a third generation, 3% a fourth generation.

The Satrans are bucking stiff odds.

True Grit Growing up on a cattle ranch taught Mike Satran the value of tough work and perseverance. He was first in his family to graduate from high school, and the first to go to college. At 22, fresh off a Navy ROTC scholarship, U.S. Marine Lt. Satran commanded a platoon of 43 men. In the Marines, he learned to lead, motivate, and even to sell. Convincing young men and women to enlist took all the finesse he could muster, and in his sixth year with the Corps, Capt. Satran's duty was to coach 73 recruiters to the same level of enthusiasm.

But what distinguished Satran wasn't leadership or salesmanship. It was his sense of humor. “I wasn't the typical Marine,” he says.

“My second lieutenant fitness reports read: ‘Lt. Satran has an inappropriate sense of humor.'” As major, then colonel, the reports changed: “Col. Satran's sense of humor is refreshing to the troops.”

Satran retired from the active military in March 1980. At his first civilian job — as an air products salesman — he quickly rose to the top. Weekends found him selling roofing jobs for a friend. “I realized I might be making more on the weekends,” he recalls.

Satran quit selling oxygen and argon and partnered with his friend. When they split, he launched Interstate on Jan. 1, 1988. In its second year, the company had nearly $2 million in revenues.

From that modest start, he expanded by acquiring more than a half dozen companies, adding people, equipment, and expertise, as well as market share in flat roofing, siding, windows, gutters, and sheet metal. By the 10-year mark, he operated in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. His 180 employees brought in $13.5 million in business. The company's reputation —Interstate will roof anything, anywhere, anytime — no doubt owes something to the gritty determination its owner and founder learned in the Marines.

Since then, the economy of the Pacific Northwest has hit some rough spots, and Satran has scaled back to focus on residential re-roofing, siding, and gutters, with a staff of 100.