Welsch Furnace Co.'s fleet of 1930s-era service trucks. Photo courtesy of Welsch Heating and Cooling Co.
If you ask people to name an example of a family business, they may think of a small farm or hole-in-the-wall restaurant. But companies where relatives hold many - if not most - positions encompass firms of all sizes and in every industry.

This is especially true in the fields of HVAC and sheet metal, where many contracting companies and machinery manufacturers are full of employees who share the same last name.

If you're not in a family business and want to know what one can be like, watch the cable TV network Discovery Channel's "American Chopper" series, to see Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr., run their custom-motorcycle business on days good and bad. Another example is "The Godfather." The film especially showcases the animosity that can exist between relatives as they try to run a business, even if in the case of the Corleones, it was an illegal business.

It's almost amazing that any family owned companies survive at all. A February 1998 article in the journal of the American Bar Association cited the National Federation of Independent Business as saying "70 percent (of family businesses) don't survive the transfer from founder to second generation." The article listed two reasons for the fallout: estate-tax issues and family feuds.

Still, there are many success stories. George "Butch" Welsch's generation is the fourth to run Welsch Heating and Cooling, which started in 1895 in St. Louis. In 1929, his father quit high school to take over the business after Welsch's grandfather died. Although the stock market crashed soon after, the company kept going.

Welsch, 62, said he was fortunate to have a great relationship with his father, who instilled in him his belief that a business should be learned "from the ground up." Welsch's first job was to hammer clips onto 3,000 round dampers in the shop.

In 1995, the company was given the Southern Illinois-Edwardsville Family Business Award for midsize Missouri companies, even though Welsh was not a member of the organization.

Being a successful family business isn't easy, Welsch says. "They're difficult (to run)," he said, adding that when it comes to relationships with employees who also happen to be relatives, "you've got to work at it."

Welsch's son-in-law is currently an employee. Welsch predicts that while ownership will remain in the family, nonfamily members will eventually handle day-to-day operations.

(Sharon Stalzer is a second-generation owner of Pacific, Mo.-based sheet-metal machinery manufacturer Lion Machinery Inc., and teaches college in Missouri.