The importance of family

Even if your family has owned a business for more than 50 years, and you grew up in the town that the business calls home, your role in the company isn't a given.

But for Brien McKenzie, the decision to join his father and uncle at McKenzie Properties ended up as a simple choice.

After graduating from Reno High School, McKenzie wanted to experience an out-of-state college, so he headed to the University of California, Davis, where he got his degree in economics. It wasn't his life-long dream to be an economist, but McKenzie knew it was a good business-related degree which could serve him in the future.

There was an added incentive: "My future wife was majoring in economics," he says with a smile.

After graduation, he went to work for Peter Kiewit & Sons, a large contractor with offices in the Bay Area. McKenzie started out doing accounting work for the company, and slowly moved through just about every job in the Peter Kiewit office during eight years with the company.

After his son, Caleb, was born in 2003, his perspective changed.

"I got tired of traveling all the time. Tired of the commute, too. I wanted to be closer to home," he remembers.

About the same time his father, Greg, and his uncle, Dale, were putting feelers out to their sons about their interest in becoming the third generation of McKenzies to take over McKenzie Properties.

Dale's son, Todd had agreed. McKenzie realized this was a chance to move back to the hometown he loved, reduce his time away from the family and continue the family business. It was a simple decision.

McKenzie's wife, Colette, is not from Reno, but quickly embraced her husband's hometown. The couple's first son, Caleb, was born with Down syndrome, and Colette is the president of the Down Syndrome Network of northern Nevada.

"It's basically a full time job (for her)," he says. "But it's great. We were given the opportunity to give back to the Down syndrome community, and to Reno."

That sense of community is one of the reasons McKenzie always felt he might find his way back to Reno.

"In Reno, we're in a community. We don't commute. We live here, we work here. Reno has changed, but it's still Reno," he says. "Once you have kids, you want to have more time with them. It just made sense to come back to Reno. I have a 10-minute drive to work. I can see my wife and kids at lunch if I want."

The family, which also includes daughter Molly, 5, and son Colin, 2, provides McKenzie's focus when he's not at work. Caleb and Molly are both playing soccer, and McKenzie coaches Molly's team. He says the family enjoys the region's outdoor-oriented lifestyle, such as camping and spending time at Lake Tahoe.

Working with family has proved to be a positive thing as well.

"Greg and Dale let us do the majority of the work, but they are there to help if we need them. They've got 50 years experience. They watch over us," he says.

McKenzie's cousin, Todd McKenzie, works on the development and property management side of the business, while he concentrates his efforts as the construction manager.

"There's nothing better than being able to take something on a piece of paper and create it. We provide a tangible product," McKenzie says. "Plus I get to get outside. I'm not stuck inside on some computer all day."

Construction can sometimes be a volatile industry, with so many players coming together to create a product, and that's one thing McKenzie says his family business has worked to overcome the traditional volatility of the construction industry.

"McKenzie Construction's sole client is McKenzie Properties. We are a developer and construction company. The real key to that is on the development side, we have 100 percent quality control because it's our team. And that's very important," he says.

It's equally important to McKenzie that he treats him employees fairly.

"If you've ever been in the construction trades, there are a lot of reactionary people," he says. "But before I react I step back, and look at what's going on before I pass judgment. I think it makes things a lot calmer and better run in the end.

"And when that doesn't work," he jokes, " I have my dad scream and yell."


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