Father, son compete (collegially, of course) in economic development

Meet Jeff and Brendan.

The economic-development experts chase leads on relocating businesses, put together incentives to lure new companies and convince local corporations to stay here. But they recruit for different agencies: Brendan with the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, and Jeff at the City of Henderson’s Office of Economic Development. That should mean plenty of competition for leads, but the two swear they keep things collegial.

They have to: Jeff and Brendan Leake are father and son. When they leave their offices each day, they return to the home they share in Henderson.

It’s made for some interesting situations — from the time Brendan met a longtime associate of Jeff’s to the first meeting they attended together. But their experiences offer a textbook example of how to encourage your kids to enter the family business or line of work, as well as how to keep things friendly when relatives or friends end up on opposite sides of the conference-room table.

Here’s how it all began.

Jeff started his economic-development career with the city of Henderson more than 20 years ago. Brendan, 25, said he remembers hearing his dad talk about work, and seeing his passion for his field. But Brendan said he didn’t think much about going into economic development.

“When you’re little, you don’t understand everything. But he was always Superman to me, so I always wanted to know what he was up to. As I got older and started to understand better what he did, it sounded interesting.”

That’s why Brendan, who graduated in May from Nevada State College with a bachelor’s in business administration, leapt at an internship with the redevelopment arm of the city of North Las Vegas.

“I really enjoyed it, and that’s when I knew I wanted to go this route,” he said.

But it took a chance meeting with a local economic-development legend who wasn’t his dad to really get Brendan on track.

When Somer Hollingsworth, former CEO of the Nevada Development Authority, came to speak to one of his classes, Brendan made sure to introduce himself. Hollingsworth had a friendly relationship with Jeff, and he told Brendan to stay in touch as he finished school.

Brendan got the same advice from Jeff.

“My dad thought it was pretty cool that I’d met Somer, and he told me Somer would be the kind of guy I would want to keep a relationship with.”

So when the development authority announced in February that it was rebranding as the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance and hiring economic-development coordinators, Brendan picked up the phone and called Hollingsworth. He started in April.

It was a bit of a surprise for Jeff, who said he had no idea Brendan would follow him into economic development until he interviewed with the alliance.

“He was focused on the business world in general. He had an interest in the stock market. I thought it might lead to banking or finance.”

Stranger still was the first time the two were in a joint meeting.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, my son’s going to see me perform here.’ I felt the pressure probably more than he did. But I certainly got to put on my best professional skills and show him how I’ve done things for a living.”

Jeff’s shown Brendan his professional skills for almost all of Brendan’s life, and that made it likelier — and easier — for Brendan to join his field, said Amy Schuman, principal consultant of the Family Business Consulting Group in Chicago.

“It’s not uncommon for kids to follow their parents if they grow up in a household where there’s passion for a certain industry,” Schuman said. “The healthiest dynamic happens when the child is exposed to certain opportunities or tools, but he still comes to a career decision on his own. It’s the difference between the pressure and the calling. If a child is doing something just because of a parent, and not because of his own passion, you’re not going to have a good outcome.”

Perils also abound when family members work for competing businesses. If the rivalry is intense, it could destroy a relationship, Schuman said. But there’s an upside: Competitors often have a lot in common, operating in similar industries with similar values. Parents in particular are often just happy to see the next generation embrace their values, she said.

For their part, the Leakes talk about collaboration, not competition. They drag each other to networking events, and they both talk about how their agencies complement each other.

“We want companies to come to Southern Nevada. We don’t care if they go to Henderson, North Las Vegas, Las Vegas or (unincorporated) Clark County,” Brendan said. “We talk to the cities about their deals to see how we can help.”

But there’s one area that makes for all-out war between the two, and Brendan just crushes Jeff every time.

“I don’t compete very well at home on the Xbox,” Jeff said. “We play ‘Madden NFL Football,’ and yeah, it’s not pretty.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.