Van Huizen Homes isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill family business. It’s a custom homebuilding company that maintains a high-level focus on service, while building quality homes and trustworthy relationships with its clients. Each staff member is not only family, but also a Redeemer alumnus or alumna.
Jonathan ‘99 and Isaac ‘02, two brothers from the Belleville, Ont. area, formed Van Huizen Homes in 2007 along with their wives, Julia ‘98 and Jeanette ‘03. In doing so, the two couples took what could have been a group project in one of their Redeemer courses to a whole new level. The company is, in fact, a unique microcosm of the liberal arts and sciences university. Each of the Van Huizen homes staff focussed on a different program of study while at Redeemer, and each has gained strengths from the interdisciplinary classroom.
Crossing (and crossing off) paths
On paper, Van Huizen Homes seems to have started on a whim. But, when asked, the Van Huizens will explain that they followed the paths of opportunity that presented themselves. “Physical labour and project management are not at all in my field of study,” says Isaac, who graduated with a degree in biology. “I was on a path to medical school but ended up in homebuilding. Today, I love what I’m doing, and believe I’m doing it well.” Now co-president of Van Huizen Homes with his brother, Jonathan, Isaac was spurred along by working summers in construction as a framer.
Julia, Jonathan’s wife, experienced a similar reorientation in career direction. In the eighteen years since her graduation from the English program, she has had jobs as a high school English teacher, an editor, an administrative assistant, a training facilitator, a project manager, a writer and a graphic designer. At Van Huizen Homes, she manages marketing and promotion. She credits her ability to flourish in multiple roles to her studies. “A liberal arts education pushes you to be well-rounded,” she says. “It gives you an ability to reinvent yourself, because you’ve been exposed to so many different disciplines. I was forced to use my transferable skills and apply them to a whole variety of jobs. I’ve had so many different jobs; I don’t feel called to one. But I do feel a responsibility and a passion to use who I am to further his Kingdom in whatever capacity I can, large or small; to exude the characteristics of Christ in whatever I’m doing, whether it’s talking to my neighbour or running a business. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself, nor pigeonhole God. I have to be open to what’s presented in front of me. And for this current moment, it involves being part of the family business.”
“I don’t want to pigeonhole myself, nor pigeonhole God.”
While their paths may be winding, each member of the company brings a diversity of skills to the table. Jeanette, Isaac’s wife, rounds out the group with a sociology and social work degree, which helps her manage clients’ interior selections as well as the office and books. “I believe our varying degrees aren’t an accident,” she says. “The fact that we all have different skillsets and unique perspectives to approaching business really helps us. I see it as much more beneficial than if all of us were of the same educational background.”
A distinct competitive edge
Establishing a business is never a simple task. “It’s easy to get lost in the business and the ever-mounting list of challenges,” says Jonathan. “However, when you stop and see the blessings of growth, successes and failures—and you see the opportunities available—you know it’s worth it. We can look back at what we have been able to build: the homes and buildings people are now using and living in. But, we are also building a company that reflects our values and purposes behind what we do.”
Small business owners are required to be able to communicate and interact with many people in a variety of ways. It includes sales, client and public relations, trade association memberships, interacting with different levels of government as well as employee health and wellbeing. Over the years, the Van Huizens have been able to weather the occasional administrative storm.
“The single most significant skill that our education at Redeemer gave us is the ability to think critically,” says Jonathan. “It sets us apart in our industry and provides us a distinct competitive edge.” This started in some of the entrepreneurship and accounting courses Jonathan took in his undergrad, where he studied business and history. “Starting and sustaining a business has required us to constantly and efficiently solve complex problems. The liberal arts and sciences program that Redeemer provided us gave us those foundational skills.”
Strength in diversity
The Van Huizens will be the first to tell you that family drama doesn’t dissipate. “For Isaac and I, sharing a bunk bed for the first 16 years of life has definitely helped us,” jokes Jonathan. “We can get very upset with each other on any given day, but just like when we were kids, it’s not worth staying mad.”
“Our diversity has provided us a more natural division of tasks and responsibilities. We have many of the in-house abilities required to run a business well.”
The team dynamics, the trust built over the years between the siblings and in-laws and the diverse skillsets within the group make up the Van Huizens’ recipe for success. As the company develops year after year, each person has branched into the areas that match their gifts. “Our diversity has provided us a more natural division of tasks and responsibilities,” says Jonathan. “We have many of the in-house abilities required to run a business well.”
It’s not all sunshine and daisies. Tensions ebb and flow, and did so particularly at the start-up stage. “We each felt different aspects of the company were more important,” says Julia. “However, we’ve come to realize that each one of our contributions is essential and one is not more valuable than the other.”
It may be that the secret to a thriving business’s success—like a small liberal arts and science university—lies in its blend of intellect and family feel.