Widow uses common sense to run business


January 21, 1991|By Michael Enright | Michael Enright,Special to The Sun

Barbara Balter says she didn't need any expensive consultants to teach her how to run the family business when her husband, Robert, died unexpectedly in 1982.

"Common sense," she says. "I never used consultants or committees to make my decisions -- I find that just takes too long and costs you a lot of money. I've done everything by listening and intuition -- if I'm comfortable with an idea, I say let's go with it."

As owner of the Robert B. Balter Co., a geotechnical and environmental engineering firm in Owings Mills, Ms. Balter has used some of this common sense to make the transition to the next generation -- her daughter Lori, 36, and son Edward, 31 -- as simple and graceful as possible.

"When my husband died, all the employees stayed because they knew I had the same commitment to them that my husband did," Mrs. Balter says.

"I have that same feeling with my son and daughter. I know that if I walked out and got hit by a truck it wouldn't matter in terms of business -- the company is in very capable hands."

All five Balter children worked at the company when they were young and there was no privilege shown to them, either in salary or job position, Mrs. Balter says. They swept floors, mowed lawns, learned how to draft and accompanied rigging crews on drilling assignments.

"We never tried to force them into the business," Mrs. Balter says.

"It was available to them to work here if they wanted but they were paid the going scale and we went out of our way to make sure they weren't treated as the owners' kids."

As the years went by, it appeared that three of the children would be actively involved in running the business transition until Barbara Balter realized one of her sons was unhappy working in the drafting department, but didn't want to leave the family business in the lurch, particularly after the untimely death of his father.

"He was unhappy and I could see that and I told him to leave, that he had the rest of his life to live and there was no point wasting any of it being unhappy," Mrs. Balter said.

"The one thing you don't want in business is someone who is miserable doing what they do."

Since then, it has been relatively smooth sailing for the Balter family, with Edward handling most of the engineering duties while Lori looks after the company's administrative responsibilities.

The Balters still don't use committees or consultants even when making business decisions.

"We never vote on anything," Mrs. Balter says. "If Ed feels strong about something that is in his area, we usually let him have the final say but we all say our part. And if someone is strongly opposed to something, we usually won't do it. We've never had any turf battles."

Barbara Balter keeps an eye on everything around the company but says her children's increased participation on the business has given her the freedom to begin taking Fridays off.

And what does she do on her days off?

"I try to spend a lot of time with the next generation of Balters," she said.

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