Impact investor Larry Brinker describes how his family’s succession plan prepared him to lead
Larry Brinker Jr. is an award-winning entrepreneur, impact investor and mentor. He is CEO and president of Brinker, a group of commercial construction service companies founded by his father. The Brinker business is involved in the transformation and revitalization of Detroit. The younger Brinker is also CEO of the Brinker Family Asset Management Co.
Your family’s story of wealth creation is unique. How did your father build his wealth?
My father comes from humble beginnings. He was one of 10 children who were raised on a factory worker’s salary. He started out as an apprentice and trained to be a carpenter. After 11 years with the company, he decided to start his own business. From there, he established additional companies and later acquired a fifth business, all specializing in different aspects of construction.
You became CEO of the family business at just 30 years old. How did you make the transition?
Our succession plan should be a case study. We're a close family, and my Dad didn't want to jeopardize our relationship. When he decided I was ready, my father hired a gentleman who had recently sold his construction company to a large international company. He was brought in for four years with the understanding that he would train me to become president and CEO.
The first year, I was a fly on the wall. I was in every meeting and had no idea what was going on half of the time. Year two, I started to understand what was going on. By year three, I was helping to make decisions. And if I was off-base, he would say, “Well, you may want to take X, Y or Z.” By year four, he was allowing me to make decisions for the company. It allowed me to learn without having that pressure of working with my father directly. Once I was ready in year four, I jumped in and saved our company close to a million dollars with my own solutions.
Typically, it’s extremely hard for the first generation to allow the freedom necessary for gen two to make mistakes while learning. I was able to download a lot of knowledge, and my father had a different respect level for me that allowed him to learn from me without the usual push-pull. I've seen a lot of these transitions not go well. The big differentiator was having a third party — a family outsider.
How has your experience of watching a parent build wealth influenced your approach to philanthropy and impact investing?
When I was growing up, my father worked a blue-collar job building his career as a carpenter. It gives you a different perspective and a different level of gratitude. My parents made sure I went to a good school, but notices were often sent home about my tuition being late. Now, when I give scholarships out, it's a reflection of my experience. I know what it feels like when everyone else has more, but you have aspirations and dreams to be successful.
We're impacting lives through mentorship and access to opportunities. I co-founded Capsa, which is an equitable fintech solution for the unbanked and a health care business providing telehealth, medical and mental health services to every student in Detroit public schools and their families. Often, students are in households where their parents are hourly workers and can’t take care of kids or even themselves when they’re sick. The kids are sent to school, the parents go to work, and other people get sick. Kids can’t learn when they’re not well. We offer a way to connect with doctors from their home or cellphone with discounted prescriptions and other services. The impact goes beyond health and finances.
When was your family office established, and how is your family involved?
Our family office was established in 2019. My father and I financed it with our capital, and we’re in the process of incorporating my mother, my sister and even my kids so they have a sense of purpose related to the family office. My youngest is 11, and my oldest is 19. I am a huge proponent of getting children exposed at an early age so they retain our family values and keep them grounded.
I created a DAF [donor-advised fund] for my eldest son so he could decide where he wants to have impact. I also took him through due diligence, asked him questions and had him go back and do research. It’s a good lesson in money management, and it was cool to see where his passion shines through.