The Family Business Center at California State University Northridge kicked off its year of small business seminars Sept. 14 with a Q-and-A session with the owners of the Santa Clarita sanitation company Andy Gump. “This is just the beginning of what I believe will be a wonderful year,” David Russell, the Family Business Center’s director, told the group of about 50 center members, students and Valley business owners. The hour-long breakfast session at the CSUN University Club hosted Barry Gump, the Santa Clarita company’s president and CEO, and his daughter Nancy Gump Melancon, who handles special events for the company. The discussion was emceed by Family Business Center Advisory Board member Marta Vago and dealt largely with the thorny of issue of succession in family businesses. In his case, Andy Gump, who founded his portable toilet and fencing company in the 1950s, started the transition to Barry in the late 1970s and stayed in an advisory role until he died in 1998. Barry, in turn, lined up daughter Nancy as the next successor when he steps down in coming years. The issue now is who will take over next; Nancy has three sons under 12. “It’s too early to tell if any or all will be interested in the business,” Barry Gump said. “We hope so.” Nancy said the key is to make sure family members don’t get preferential treatment. When Nancy started in 1988, she had to work her way up through the company and spent many days cleaning toilets and driving sanitation trucks. It was tough work, but she learned the ropes and gained the respect of fellow workers who weren’t family members. “I was willing to do whatever it took to do the job,” she said. Even with the succession issued covered, however, there are many challenges ahead for the company, especially now that the housing market begins to cool, Barry Gump said. After all, the success of the business is directly tied to the number of construction sites requiring Andy Gump toilets. If fewer homes are being built, they’ll feel the pinch. “But we’re diversified now and it could be a soft landing,” Barry Gump said. Russell said the Gumps’ path is an inspiration for those in attendance, which included a mix of small business owners in such diverse fields as accounting, escrow and telecommunications. “It’s hard for many of us to imagine becoming a 200-plus employee company,” he said of Andy Gump. The event was one in series of forums scheduled through May for small business owners focusing on such hot-button topics as family charters, employee dishonesty and succession planning. The center’s year kicked off Sept. 6 with a party at the Courtyard by Marriott in Sherman Oaks. The center was created in 2000 to assist family-owned businesses in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys and parts of Ventura County, but stumbled initially as it lacked resources. Russell was brought on in 2003; Gump was elected chairman of the 11-member board earlier this year. Today, the group has about 25 members and hosts regular seminars and networking forums. CSUN student Aaron Canter had never been to a Family Business Center event but decided to stop in because his family owns a law firm. While he currently works there as a clerk, Canter has yet to decide whether he wants to take over someday. He said the Gump story helps him grasp what it’s all about. “When you have other people sharing your experiences, you can learn from the situation,” he said.