Family (Business) Portraits: Crain’s Chicago Business

Hitzeman Funeral Home, Brookfield
Author: Samantha Stainburn

Charles T. “Chuck” Hitzeman, 25, great-great-grandson of the 100-year-old company’s founder, joined the family business as a funeral director two years ago. He plans to take over when the current owner and president – his father, Todd Hitzeman, 49 – retires.

Nationally, only 10% of family businesses remain in the family for three generations. How did yours make it to the fifth generation?

Todd: In a lot of businesses, the first and second generation busted their butts to get the thing going. The third generation gets handed the business. The kids walk in, and all of a sudden, they’re vice-presidents. My father, me, my son – we had to start at the bottom of the barrel and work our way up. This way, when my son tells an employee to do something, even if the employee’s older than he is, he or she knows that Chuck has already done it himself.

How are you preparing for Chuck to take over as president in the future?

Todd: Any project we’re doing, I say, “Learn it the way I’m doing it now.” So many people want to show (others) that now that I’m president, I can do whatever I want to.

Chuck: Yes, I’d like to make it better, but no, I’m not going to walk in there and change it. Obviously, they were doing something right to make it 100 years.

Do TV shows about family-run funeral homes – HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and the A&E reality series “Family Plots” – depict your business accurately?

Chuck: It’s not how it happens. (In one episode of “Family Plots,”) they show all the girls who work at the funeral home at 8 or 9 o’clock at night getting changed to go out and party. We close at 11 o’clock at night. By the time we get home, our heads hit the pillows and we’re out in about five minutes.