Not Just Their Father’s Daughters

Imagine growing up–as a daughter–with a dad who has built a business that is dubbed “the largest” or “the oldest.” A dad whose absolute passion is in providing the best product, best service and best relationship-building to his customers. An enterprising dad who is a forward-thinker: a visionary, innovator and implementer. A dad who nurtures dreams, talents, future hopes and whose work ethic is just as solid as his foundation of family values.

Imagine working–as an adult–side-by-side with a dad who keeps his eye on the bottom line but his time, advice and respect are for the grown-up little girl he once protected, encouraged and taught the Golden Rule. The dad who comforted when there were scraped knees; coached soccer and basketball teams; and snapped scrapbook-destined prom photos.

We talked with three daughters and their successful dads who are business colleagues in Johnson County. These women–and one young girl–are savvy and full of business acumen, poised on the frontier of the “new normal” enterprising landscape. With their dads they plan and strategize, explore old-fashioned methods of retaining customers and new-fangled ways of building sales and targeting an audience. Together they brainstorm, collaborate and celebrate victories. They learn how to get creative in economic downturns and remain humble and focused when the bumps in the road disappear for a time.

At the end of the workday, these six individuals take pride in their strong relationships and look forward to tomorrow … as business partners and as fathers and daughters.

Kornelle and Mark Kirke

Bettah Buttah

That was then: Kornelle was a breakfast pooh-pooher who preferred protein to pancakes.

This is now: She is an 11-year-old who has just launched a gourmet food product in the marketplace with her restaurant-executive dad, Mark.

Mark Kirke says he feels for the guy who will take daughter Kornelle on her first date.

“Winstead’s–as wonderful as those burgers and shakes are–just won’t cut it,” he says.

That’s because Kornelle is a serious foodie–she started cooking at 8 years old. Not a lover of traditional breakfast food, the youngster topped noodles with butter and different concoctions of spices and herbs she found in the pantry. Add a little sautéed shrimp or leftover grilled chicken and voila!–Kornelle had her personal brand of a breakfast of champions.

“I like foods with big, bold flavors, not spicy,” asserts Kornelle.

A student at Overland Trail Elementary school, Kornelle grew up around the restaurant business. Mark, a market partner with the P.F. Chang’s organization, toted his four-month-old infant daughter to the Country Club Plaza store when he was general manager. At 3, Kornelle declared P.F. Chang’s signature Salt and Pepper Calamari as her fave.

“I had fun following my dad around the restaurant,” says Kornelle, who plays clarinet and piano, is a member of softball and swim teams and sings in the school’s chorus. 

Kornelle and Mark thought there might be a marketable product in the budding entrepreneur’s butter-seasoning concept. They consulted with family friend Joe Polo, owner of Original Juan Specialty Foods in Kansas City, and after some research, decided to formulate something that was … well, better than butter.

Today the compound Bettah Buttah line includes Lemon Pepper, Sundried Tomato Pesto and best-seller Black Peppah Blue Cheese–all perfect for grilling, sautéing, roasting and of course, experimenting, à la Kornelle-style. Each four-ounce container comes with a recipe and Kornelle’s personal guarantee that a gourmet meal is quick and easy when using Bettah Buttah. Currently the brightly colored petite tubs are creating quite the buzz; they’re sold at Dean and Deluca and some Hy-Vees, with more retail outlets on the horizon.

Mark, who accompanies his daughter when she does cooking
demonstrations at places such as Dean and Deluca and Smoke N’Fire and media appearances, says it’s too early to know if Kornelle
will pursue entrepreneurship after college, but he knows one thing for certain.

“She knows what she likes when it comes to food,” he laughs.

Lauren and John McCarthy

McCarthy Auto Group

She: Lauren is a firecracker and sharp-as-a-tack businesswoman who wants to know everything about business … and the customer.

He: John owns the largest new and used auto dealership in the Kansas City area and impressed on his daughter that “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”

John McCarthy runs a business that sells 9,000 used and new cars annually, employs more than 600 people and is just emerging from one of the toughest economies he remembers. But Lauren, the CEO’s red-headed, spitfire, 25-year-old daughter, has never seen her dad stressed.

“I started here two years ago,” says Lauren, “and he emulates what he’s taught me all my life: ‘Give it all you’ve got.'”

John is succinct and eloquent about things he’s learned from Laura, McCarthy Auto Group’s public relations coordinator. 

“She lights a path for others,” he says. “Lauren has never had a bad day. It takes me 30 days to warm up a roomful of people; it takes her 30 seconds.”

Lauren’s two older brothers work in the business, but it’s the baby of the family who has helped John appreciate the female perspective in the male-dominated car industry. 

“My biggest joy is watching her growth and maturity and how easily she has fit into this man’s world,” reflects John. 

Lauren says the lessons her dad imparted through her participation in sports about teamwork, commitment and determination are priceless.

“He’s a very charismatic, loyal and motivational guy,” says Lauren. “He knows every single employee’s name and their family members. He takes out trash, trims trees, gives back. Relationship-building is paramount to him. Those are powerful examples.”

Six months ago Lauren launched an award-winning social media campaign. John, who says Lauren bridges the six McCarthy stores to one another and does myriad goodwill promotions to help brand McCarthy Auto Group, is amazed at the success of that combines Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and a blog.

“It won third place in the automotive category in the Direct Marketing Association of Detroit’s annual Target Awards,” says John, adding that Ford and GM took the top two prizes. 

And the fact that had a tiny budget compared to the mega dollars spent by two of the biggest car companies in the world makes that award even more special to the father-daughter team.

Lauren says the goal of is to get real answers from real people, especially women.

At the end of the workday when Lauren climbs in her car and heads home, she often reflects the impact that working side-by-side with her father makes on her life.

“He is the epitome of hard work and the most honest man I know,” she says. “He believes in being good and doing good and that applies to his personal and professional life.”

Laura and Greg Crowley

Crowley Furniture

Her bottom line: General Manager and buyer Laura is a focused and driven third-generation prodigy.

His bottom line: Even though he is the owner of Kansas City’s oldest independent furniture store, Greg knows there are lessons to be learned from his daughter.

Walking into the Johnson County location of Crowley Furniture, the family-friendly energy is almost palpable. Impeccable displays of plump chairs and elegant sofas lead back to the desk where Laura and Greg Crowley are huddled, talking about the day’s game plan.

When Laura joined Crowley Furniture in September 2003, dad knew his daughter would do well in the family business that opened in 1954 in Excelsior Springs and has grown to be one of the most trusted names in furniture in Kansas City.

“We’ve always had a great relationship,” says Greg, who joined the family business in 1972. “She was very athletic and we spent lots of time together when she played sports in high school and college. And the fact that she’s the third generation coming into the business my parents started more than five decades ago is exciting.”

The father-daughter team is well-known to Kansas City television audiences: they run 80 to 100 commercials each week, every week, communicating the Crowley Furniture difference in the fine furniture and custom design market. The spots are high-energy and reflect the relationship Laura and Greg have built–one of give and take, open dialogue, honest feedback.

“I learn from her and Laura’s open to learning from experience,” says Greg.

Laura, who is 29, says her dad is an example of hard work and not resting on past accomplishments, always going forward. In addition, Greg gives his daughter unspoken permission to move ahead with business decisions. Since she joined the company, Laura has developed a computerized inventory control system for the store and introduced her dad to new technology such as Facebook and a blog on the company’s Web site. 

According to Laura, one of the most attractive things about joining forces with Crowley Furniture and working with her dad (and mom Beth, too, who runs the Johnson County store) is that she is treated as an equal, regardless of the years she’s spent in the business.

“As a young female in business you have to get smart and know how it [the business] runs,” says Laura. “It’s a lot about growing into yourself and being confident. My dad continues to be a tremendous mentor.”

One of Greg’s mantras that Laura prescribes to is the notion that in business “yesterday is yesterday, today is today.”

“We don’t rest on our laurels,” says Greg.

words: Kimberly Winter Stern

photos: Laurel D. Austin