David Schoedinger gets frustrated sometimes when he’s not in on every decision that is made at Schoedinger Funeral & Cremation Service. But being the fifth generation of his family to lead the business, he knows the transition comes with the territory.
“As my father did with me, I’ve stepped back and said, ‘Let’s try your ideas; I may not totally agree with them, but let’s go with them,’” Schoedinger says, thinking about the conversations he’s had with his son and nephew.
“I was fortunate when I was young and my dad turned a lot of the business over to me and my brother. He let us make decisions. So I felt good turning it over to my son and nephew.”
The lessons Schoedinger learned from his father, John F. Schoedinger, are simple, yet enduring.
“The thing he always said was, ‘If you treat your customer right and provide good service, the profit will come,’” says Schoedinger, the 160-employee company’s chairman. “He always taught me to treat my associates as equals. Don’t be a dictator and don’t look down on them. Treat them as equals.”
The company was founded in 1855 by Philip Schoedinger and has remained in the family ever since. It operates 11 funeral homes and one cemetery in Central Ohio and is one of the three largest independently owned funeral homes in the United States. The company does more than 2,700 funerals a year and 200 burials at Kingwood Memorial Park, and it also did 3,000 pet cremations last year.
“Back in my dad’s era, we were the first to have a motorized funeral coach,” Schoedinger says. “We were the first to have an air-conditioned building. It’s being on the leading edge.”
Leadership is also about knowing when to be patient and to take the time to study your industry first before choosing to move in a new direction.
“I’ve learned over the years that sometimes you don’t want to jump in and be the first, because it may not be quite right yet,” Schoedinger says. “You might want to sit back and watch the national trends first.”
But more often, the Schoedingers have been pioneers. Schoedinger developed the first guaranteed funeral prearrangement program in Ohio. He started a trust fund where pre-need funeral money could be commingled so that the funeral home could guarantee prices to clients
He then formed a national reinsurance company to fund prearrangements so that upfront commissions could be generated to pay sales costs and allow the growth to be tax-free to clients.
Since 1984, more than 20,000 families have purchased a prearranged funeral program, more than any other funeral home in Ohio.
One of the keys to effective leadership, especially when you’re looking to try something new, is to gather honest feedback. A good leader knows the value of listening to others when in search of a solution.
“When employees come to me with a problem, I usually ask them, ‘What would you do?’” Schoedinger says. “I get them thinking about what the solution might be. If I talk with them long enough, they’ll usually come up with a solution. They’ll accept the solution more easily than if I just told them what to do, because it’s their answer.”
And they’ll learn that there is often more than one answer to a given problem.
“Probably 20 years ago, I was sitting at my desk in the early evening and three different employees came up and asked me what they should do about a problem,” Schoedinger says. “When I talked them through it, all three of them came up with their own answer. Fortunately, I wasn’t that busy or I might have just given them the answer. But I said, ‘Well, let’s see if they can work through it.’”
You should never get to the point in leadership that you think you know everything and do not need outside input.
“One of the big challenges has been the changing trend in what people want for funeral service,” Schoedinger says. “I’ve now got my son and nephew in the business and they brought in an outsider and have a new management team with new thinking.”
So far, Schoedinger says he’s pleased with what he’s seen.
“I may not totally agree with them, but I said, ‘Let’s go with your ideas,’” Schoedinger says. “They’ve been doing a great job taking us into the 21st century.”
How to reach: Schoedinger Funeral & Cremation Service, (614) 224-6105 or www.schoedinger.com