Building Continuity Across Generations with Preston Root

Preston Root was born in Daytona Beach and has worked in family enterprise including 14 years at MRN Radio, The Voice of NASCAR. He retired from his family business to concentrate on nonprofit work and its new frontiers in efficiency and impact. He has served as a director of dozens of local, national and international boards. Currently, Preston is a donor and board member of the Community Foundation of Volusia & Flagler.  More information on the origins of the Root Family and Coca-Cola can Be found at

Welcome to the Tamarind Learning Podcast. Today, we are talking with my dear friend and esteemed colleague, Preston Root. Preston is Chairman Emeritus of the Family Board of Directors. He's also been the voice of NASCAR for 30 plus years, and he's been engaged and involved with his family company over many, many decades now, coming in and out at different points.

Kirby, thanks. I'm happy to be with you and see you. I wish more of us were meeting in person, but I think that's around the corner for all of us. But it's great to be here. I'm pleased to be able to talk about some of our experiences, and share some neat stories, and our family businesses is old. You know, this story, but just to recap a little bit. You know, for 121 years Root Glass Company has been around, and Root Glass Company started in southern Indiana in 1900 when we made glass jars. Eventually in 1915 we moved to what is our heritage business. My great grandfather designed and patented and then we manufactured the original Coca Cola bottle. I think there's a couple on the wall behind me. So, the history, not only of having very old business, but the design of the Coca Cola bottle is something that is carried through our family. It is to this day obviously important to us but the Coca Cola business, the glass business, went away in the thirties.  Then we were distributors until the mid-eighties and that went away. So the evolution of our family's business has been continual. I won't go to the end of the story right away, but real estate is our business now.

So, 121 years old, baked for all practical purposes we were in a buggy whip business and then we had to change without losing the heritage. But when you're associated with something like Coca Cola, you know, it's such a global thing. But I think every family business doesn’t have to be Coca Cola. It’s the continuity of what that family business is and the heart of that family.

So, tell us more about how your family’s continuity is evolving today.

So, we are sixth generation family. I suspect the seventh generation is maybe 5-10 years in the future, depending. So, we have a lot of generations. The fourth generation, is involved in the family business now. And leadership on our board of Directors, and the fifth and sixth generation are youngish, you know, twenties, thirties, and younger. So, the thing that you hear most frequently, and I think it's valuable to repeat, is the values, the legacy that you leave behind for them. I loved your podcast with Dennis Jaffee because that's his expertise. I think the values that the Root family has and how they connect the bridge from G-1 to G-6 is an interesting story.

My great grandfather was born in the middle of Civil War, 1864, through a tragic event.  He lost his dad. So, my father was raised by another man that was born during the Civil War. So, the guy that raised me, who I am, had values that were at the oldest, Turn of the Century and youngest at the Civil War era. So that goes to a little bit of our foundation. Because the Root Family Foundation is very old, 1984, we have some of the original's seals from it, but those are the things that, you know, those, I mean, for lack of a better term, those ancient values of 1) honesty, 2) family first, 3) share your resources … that's you, that's also financial, that's also business, it's everything. Those really old family values are what carry the human side, the human capital of a family forward, and then you have a tool like our foundation that involves everybody, and then you have the people, and that's the challenge. That's the hard work that you talked about. Everybody listening to this is certainly worked a 9 to 5 or maybe a 7 to 11, and they put in the blood, sweat, and tears into a family business. The hard work comes when you feel the weight and the responsibility of keeping the family together and is strange as it sounds, 100 or 121 years old. I hope that, 121 years from now that the eighth generation or nineth generation is having the same conversation under a different set of circumstances. But the hardest work we have done, and it's not because of conflict or troubles, it's because families grow quickly. And to give you an idea of our family is not that big. There's about 33 of us. Um, G three is gone. My mom passed away about five years ago. So now G four is the oldest of the family. But this is the hardest time, because all of us have had 2 or 3 kids, or four, or five. And so the family tree is getting very big. And the challenge for us to be around, you know, for 50 or 70 or 90 more years is the hard work. You have to instill the passion for the heritage and the passion for family to a lot of different people. And of course, you know, all families are different, whether you have the same last name or not.

Kirby One thing I love about being able to share your story and both the first and second edition of the book, is just how you and your family have been able to bridge and be very modern, innovative thinkers. I mean, innovation is a theme to right at its core value of your family right back to the design of the Coca Cola bottle. But I remember in the book just being so inspired about how you helped engage and help light up the family and by bracing their ideas and their values to just sort of carry those forward. Do you want to talk a little bit about sort of the foundation deeper and what you're doing to get family members on board?

Yeah. As G-4, as those children, they're not children, some of them are in their thirties. But as our kids grow, their families are very different. So our question to ourselves as G four was, what do we do to connect them? And my goal is to build a bridge from G one, my great, great grandfather who did the Coke bottle, and to all the way to the G six, now, and and beyond. So, we've done some things, and we'll talk about that. But one of the most important tools is the Root Family Foundation. And we have some really neat, innovative programs. We operate this on a foundation, like many people that are listening to this have. We fulfill a traditional role in that respect. My parents were very private about their giving, most of the time, anonymous. And then, after my father's passing, my mom decided that it's better for a growing family to be more involved in that. She was very open about the foundation, and then we were able, through that teaching of my mom's and my father's giving together. We were able to start programs and the Root Family Foundation that were specifically designed for younger people. And I mean, younger than me, younger than whoever I'm talking to younger than us. And those who are really need one of them, I'll just tell you a quick thing about that.

A lot of people have interest in when I tell them about it is a program called We Choose. It is a simple grant making program that is required to be less than one page in the grant writing. The video is not the video that we ask of the non-profit and the G five person that nominates the charity is never judged on professionalism or quality. We asked them normally to deal with an i-phone. And then, we have steadily increased the grant amount of the we choose program to, we do it twice a year and now we're up to $50,000 a year.
They do it all themselves.

That led us to a program, that is, we call it the G five Initiative. That program is in transition to the next generation running the foundation. And so we set aside a certain amount of money each year that increases and they're totally in charge of it, we have nothing to do with its disposition, any of the clerical work. They do, all the work, and then, of course, just because it's a foundation, the family office, which ours is really mature. We've had a family office for about 60 years. The family office, of course, will help with compliance but that G five initiative is sometimes a little bit touchy about it, it's like, that's your deal. You don't need to explain it, you just need to do it. And they have been innovative, beautiful, and inspiring, and they all work together. And when we hear about what they've done, it's an annual initiative.  When we hear about what they've done, I mean, it is heartwarming, and so we're really proud of both of those.  One is informal and fun, a 6 or 8 year old can do it. The other is specific, maybe to a little bit more grown up, but it involves much more money and chips where we couldn't be prouder of the two programs. And certainly, my family that carries them out.  

That's amazing. It's so inspiring, and, you know, I always go back to the fact that the opportunity to be involved in philanthropy is a privilege. You know, it's, it's an honor that you're in a position of, you know, that you can help others, you can help causes, you, can help initiatives, You can help during crisis as like, we're in right now. And, you know, it's just, I get, you know. Tingles and Shivers all over just thinking about how this spring's everyone back to what really matters. Because one thing you actually said in the interview and the book that just totally inspired me and made me think so much about, you know, the power of our past. You said, “I realized that the whole point of family legacy is to illustrate, or the next generations that come along, that your heritage is what is important.
It's not how much money you have, it's who you are.” And, you know, at the end of the day, I think, continuity, It's all about reminding us of who we are and who we continue to be, and what's the power of continuing, The positive forces are our past to our future. 

You're so right, I mean, that is in our evolution, as the family gets bigger and the circumstances change. You know, a pretty exciting past the Coke Cola bottle design.
Right now we're in real estate. I can talk for a few hours on Coca-Cola, real estate, it's exciting because it's a successful business, but it just doesn't have the the imagination behind it. It's like the difference between Disneyworld and a restaurant chain. But we're proud of our real estate business. They do a good job of that continuity, and then what you do to keep everyone together is the most important thing.  As I said before, it requires the most work. I'd like to tell you just a little bit about some of the things that have been effective for us in keeping family together. 

Why should an 18 year old and G five, G six care about what they know, the only thing? They only know when I grew up, it was Coca Cola. That was it, but now it's real estate. It's a little bit of a difficult. So what my family has done and everybody's contributed to it and everybody has an area of expertise in it. But there's a few things. I think one of the key moments was when we decided to write my father's biography. That was, we had some help, but I basically went through storytelling and then worked with writers to pull it together. Now, the first draft was 500 pages and not a very good read. The final draft was different author that I worked with to bring everything to life and it's a lot of pictures, and it's a beautiful book. It has the heart. It has the history. It has the passion of my father, their honeymoon, car, trips to Disneyland, you know, the fun things. So that connectedness, that worked really well. My, cousins and my daughter and, you know, they all loved it. 
It's about 200 pages with lots of pictures. Well, then, not everybody has books, and so, you know, we developed this online presence that's still in the process. But you have to take those books and get them online. So they're e-books. Lifestyle to treasure one time.

My father in 1828, when he was three years old. So we made a movie about this. It was Root Glass Company and fabulous stuff. So we made a movie that has to go online. All of these things are a part of the tools, the Foundation programs. It has the films, the book, though hours of work that went into that. I did one on my father's racing, too, was at Indianapolis in the fifties. And it was a lot of hard work. And the expenditures were no, oh, they were at times, great. But it was all worth it. And then you have all this stuff. And then it's like, oh, OK, everybody that's around 20 years old wants to have that online, and of course, that's the most convenient way to do it.  So now, this is my year to put everything on a Root Glass Company history website. So that's soon to come, and I think will be really helpful when we look at our 6 to 16 year olds, that's going to open up a whole new world to them. They're just less likely to pick up a biography than they are to explore the web.

Yeah. I mean, that is absolutely the medium of choice and preference. I think, with many up and comers. You know, when 60% of schools utilize virtual learning and our classrooms, we have to sort of step back and remind ourselves that the pandemic and start this, you know, virtual education has been moving in this direction.  And you're adopting how to take critical heritage assets, right? And keep them alive and present. And it has to translate into how we learn, how we engage, how we experience family. Really all things now. So, I think that's a great example of how you've been creative and innovative again taking something. Maybe as traditional as biography, morphing it into now this online presence, and also making it alive. And connectable to those that you really want to enfranchise because the end of the day that's, that's what we're in the business of to write, is keeping that awareness that humble nus, that instinct Where we came from. So that when we do things in our future we're always coming back to, does this resonate? Does this hold true with my core family's values. Am I aligned, you know, am I doing this, from the right place. And I really want to thank you, Preston, because every time I talk to you, I learned so much more. And you also inspire me to do this work. And so I'm so glad you could be here  today on the tamarind Learning Podcast.

Oh, thank you. I always like to talk to you. I'll keep listening for more of the webcasts, and I wish everybody the best and a great 2021, get close to summer. And Kirby, Thank you.
It was great being here.

Thanks so much.

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