As a father, Douglass created Douglass Distributing not just so that his children could follow in his footsteps, but so that if his children wanted the business, it could be theirs.
Douglass left Exxon in 1981 to create a family legacy. Currently, Douglass Distributing is a propane and gas distribution company that also runs the LoneStar food stores and the restaurants within the stores.
The Sherman-based company now has more than 400 employees and sees more than 7 million customers annually, but more importantly for Bill Douglass, the business employs three generations of Douglasses.
“Working with family is hard,” he said. “My children grew up, and have their own opinions. So in business, they have their own opinions.”
It was important to Douglass Distributing founder Bill Douglass that the company always be run by a blood member of the Douglass family.
Bill Douglass’s son, Brad Douglass, is the CEO of the company. He runs the wholesale gasoline and propane side of the company.
“I really felt confident when my father assigned me over to a smaller plant over in Gainesville,” he said. “I got to work with a driver and an office person. It was really exciting because it was a really small version of what we have here. I really felt fortunate to have this opportunity.”
But working at the plant in Gainesville was short lived.
“The plant in Gainesville got wiped out by floods,” Brad Douglass said. “It happened twice in two weeks. My father said, ‘Once we can handle, but twice in two weeks, we have to shut it down.’
Brad Douglass moved back to Sherman.
“I was kind of disappointed coming back under the shadow of my father,” he said. “He then gave me the dealer business — an actual division to run. He appointed me vice president. I was excited about that. It was our biggest division at the time. I really felt fortunate and scared. It was one thing to be working for him in high school and college when I messed up I just had to talk to Mom and Dad about this. It was a great feeling to have that much responsibility. I remember exactly where I was standing when my dad told me I was vice president.”
Bill Douglass’ daughter runs the retail side of businesses, managing the convenience stores and restaurants in them. She is appreciative that her dad even gave her the opportunity to be a part of his business.
“He started this place with blood sweat and tears,” she said. “There is no family money. He was putting everything on the line. He took a gamble to make this work. He could have had a corporate job for the rest of his career, but he decided to give up that. To take the chance on us that we would not go nuts and not show up to work, I think he has given us an incredible amount of responsibility when we did not invest money into the company. That would be hard for me.”
Bill Douglass allows his children to handle aspects of the company because he knew his children were talented and could make the business work.
“My children know that I am proud of them,” Bill Douglass said. “We appreciate what they do. It is not simple. There are always complications.”
For the third generation of Douglass Distribution, Bill Douglass wanted to make sure that the blood-relatives working with the company had experience working outside of the company.
Whitney Oestreich worked for two corporations before coming back to work for the family business. The first was an Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the second was a family-owned Cadillac dealership.
“Seeing the family dynamic at the Cadillac company, I realized what a family legacy could look like down the road,” she said. “They had built a whole empire. They sold many American brands, and they were able to incorporate members of their family everywhere. They were creating wealth for their family as well as the community. I realized that I needed to help build my own family legacy.”
She said working away from Douglass Distributing helped her become the person she was meant to become outside of the business so that she could bring her best self to the company.
“I was able to be me,” she said. “In high school and younger, you get a lot of influence on what you should be doing. But, then after college, I had that time to grow up. I learned how to talk to my boss and talk to my peers without having the fallback that if I mess up, my dad will help me out. I appreciated those experiences.”
The legacy of Douglass Distributing, McCarthy said, is linked to the reputation her father has created in this area.
“For us, I think that my dad has a untarnished reputation as a human being,” she said. “We certainly want to carry forward with that. We look for win-win relationships. We want to do everything right. We do not want to short cut. We are principle based. We want that for the people that we work with every day, as well as the relationships with vendors. We want to be honest folks.”