“Speaking From Experience” is a new series of articles from THE FATHER LIFE interviewing men who have been successful at both career and family and whose lessons learned can be of use to the rest of us! Recently, Ben Murphy had a chance to interview Norman Leenhouts.
After starting his career in accounting, Norman Leenhouts, along with twin brother Nelson, turned a side business in real estate and property management into a successful family business. That family business was so successful, in fact, that the Leenhouts were able to take the company public after 25 years, launching Home Properties in 1992 with a value of $130 million. Now valued at $5 billion, Home Properties continues to grow under the Leenhouts’ leadership.
Ben Murphy’s interview with Norman Leenhouts, Chairman of Home Properties, Broadstone Real Estate and Broadstone Net Lease
Ben Murphy: Tell us a little about your background: What do you do/did you do for a career? How long have you been married? How old were you when your first kid came along? How many kids do you have?
Norman Leenhouts: I am a CPA, having spent 5 years in public accounting. Then 10 years in industry as a chief financial officer. The last 37 years in commercial real estate with varied activities including taking (along with my brother) Home Properties public and growing it to its current level with $5 billion of assets.
Arlene and I have been married 53 years. I was 20 when we had our first kid. We have two kids, 4 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.
BM: What were the keys to your career success?
NL: The keys for me have been hard work and having a passion for my work.
BM: What changed for you when you became a dad?
NL: Our first child was born one month after graduation from college, and, at the same time, I started working for a CPA firm. I was under financial pressure to meet college loan payments and provide for my family. We had decided that Arlene would stay at home to raise our family a decision we do not regret. At the time I was also trying to study for the CPA exam. So to answer your question, having a child added to the burden of responsibility, but, somehow we survived and loved every (almost every) moment of having our first daughter.
BM: Balancing career, marriage, and fatherhood can be a huge challenge… how did you handle it?
NL: I think you should also add community service that is doing for others where we have an obligation too. I started out spending very little time in this area at the beginning of my career, so I have tried to make up that time since. To answer your question, I have tried to divide my time by thirds among family (marriage and fatherhood), community service, and work. Of the one-third family time, I have probably short- changed my wife and spent more with kids, but fortunately I have a loving wife that puts up with me. In my later years I am trying to spend more time with Arlene to balance the score.
BM: If you could give one piece of advice to a guy facing that challenge right now, what would you say?
NL: Given the limited opportunity for only one piece of advice, I would say to fathers: when you have kids, it is time when you must give up the sort of male pleasures of doing things with your buddies and spend that time with your family. When your kids grow up your can then resume spending time with your buddies.
BM: How did your fatherhood experience change from what you knew growing up? What was the difference between your dad’s fatherhood and your own?
NL: I grew up on a farm so I felt that I was with my father almost constantly except when in school. Even in school I saw him occasionally, as he was the superintendent of our one-teacher, one-room school. Sad for me my father died when I was 8 years old; it changed my life. Obviously, times have changed since I was growing up, as there are now more opportunities and pressures on fathers to be away from the family. So I think it is harder work to find an appropriate amount of time for fatherhood.
BM: How do you see fatherhood changing now for your children’s or grandchildren’s generation?
NL: We are now in a global society. Globalization will have an increasing amount of influence on the family. I have a 14 year old granddaughter taking her sophomore year at a school in Switzerland. She stays close by video conferencing her mother almost daily. But she is already living independently. While her situation may be a bit unusual, it is becoming common for kids of high school age to spend summers abroad and for college students to study at least one year abroad. Learning more about the world, including multiple languages, is and will be, I think, increasingly important. It has become common for families to be spread out around the country, if not the world. These globalization influences run counter to maintaining the traditional family life.
BM: Give us some insight into maintaining a happy marriage. What worked for you?
NL: Picking the right one to begin with is probably important. Going to church together and sharing the same faith has helped a lot. Taking the time to just talk is critical, but it is the area where I am most challenged. Most women probably would like to spend more time talking then most men, so most of us guys have to work on this area.
BM: Some final words of wisdom: if you could say anything to that guy who is just starting out as a dad, what would it be?
NL: Hang in there, it will get easier. Tremendous joy is the reward for being a good father and husband. It is worth the cost.
Ben Murphy is the founder and CEO of THE FATHER LIFE, Inc.