Just because Carrie Freeman Parsons took on the family business, doesn’t mean it was an easy road. As the vice chair for Freeman, she has seen the company grow from her grandfather’s business in 1927 to a national corporation and industry leader. Although the business was a constant in her youth, as an adult she learned more about the industry and fell in love.
“It never honestly occurred to me to work anywhere else. It was natural to me,” Parsons said.
She became a junior account executive on three shows and never looked back. “It was really very satisfying to start with the planning process and see how everything came together. It was a lot of hours, a lot of walking. But it was very satisfying. It took a lot of great teamwork and camaraderie. I was hooked.”
She realized quickly the tradeshow industry was one where she could learn about many different business types without leaving the show floor.
“By virtue of association, you’re learning about something new every day,” Parsons added.
Going into the family business wasn’t a genetic predisposition or even encouraged. After college graduation from Baylor University in 1985, Parsons took her dual degrees in marketing and management back to Dallas where Freeman was located. She worked as she had every summer, filing, doing paperwork, handling customer service requests and mild accounting. The pressure didn’t come from blood relatives as much as it came from extended family; the long-time employees.
“Our family never put any pressure on us to join the family business,” Parsons added. “The pressure came from employees making the assumption we’d join the company as well.”
Parsons children, Olivia, 12, and Major, six and a half, will see a much different company in Freeman than their mother saw in 1985.
When and if her children decide to join the company, the number of career opportunities available will be much greater than when Parsons came on board.
“The business now, with it being larger, there’s much broader opportunities,” she said. “I think we had PCs, barely. I think we had two people in our IT department. Today, we’re a much bigger company. There are more cities we’re in and the jobs are more complex as well.”
Today, Freeman has branches in 25 cities with two in Canada. Since 1927 when Donald S. “Buck” Freeman started the company, Freeman has had three CEOs at its helm, including the founder, Parsons’ father Donald S. Freeman, Jr. and brother-in-law Joseph V. Popolo, Jr.
“The reason we’ve been around a long time is we’ve been conservative with our fiscal management … and the consistency of leadership,” Parsons added. “I think for a customer that’s important.”
Parsons is fully aware not every company has the long-standing tradition Freeman has but every company can build a foundation to last decades, even through the economic hardships, she said. Every experience is nothing unless something is learned from it.
“It’s been an interesting time, coordinating through the challenges,” she said of the recent recession. “It’s definitely been challenging, but we’re starting to see some lift. We’re continuing to grow and expand, and we recognize the need to do it. We’re not acting like an old company. We’re acting like a new company.”