Family Business Magazine Blog

Even if equality is among your most important family values, it’s wise to think twice before finalizing plans for 50:50 ownership of your family business. The family members who start off as harmonious partners may well end up as legal adversaries.

Sadly, court records contain many examples of such family feuds. One of the most recent involves Heidelberg Distributing Company of Moraine, Ohio, among the largest beer distributorships in the Midwest. A third-generation brother and sister who are equal owners of the company are waging a legal battle that reached the Ohio First District Court of Appeals last year.

The first salvo was fired two years earlier. In December 2014, Albert Vontz III sued his sister, Carol Miller, claiming that Miller and her family had improperly taken control of the company.

Vontz holds the title of co-chairman and president at Heidelberg. Carol Miller’s husband, Vail Miller Sr., headed the company for more than 40 years and is now the co-chairman and secretary. Their son, Vail Miller Jr., is the current CEO. Other members of the Miller family hold executive positions in the business. Carol Miller and her husband, as well as their three children, all serve on the board; Vontz...Read more

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Cincinnati ice cream maker Graeter's Manufacturing Co. has survived more than 145 years without altering its original manufacturing process. But the family did need to confront questions about ownership structure as the fourth generation took over.

For more than 145 years, Graeter's Manufacturing Co. has built its success on steadfast adherence to its process: making ice cream by hand, one batch at a time, in 2.5-gallon French pot freezers, regardless of the technological innovations adopted by competitors.

The company has withstood the challenge from mass-produced ice cream. What almost destroyed it was a rocky generational transition.

"When I was a little kid at the plant my great-grandmother started, we had four freezers," says Richard Graeter, 52, president and CEO. Today, the company's new plant has 36 freezers. "We grew by multiplying the number of small-batch machines. Without that small-batch process, you can't make Graeter's ice cream."

The company owns 43 neighborhood stores in cities including Cincinnati, Columbus, Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Graeter's ice cream is also sold at 10 franchisee-operated stores and three other venues. All the stores sell Graeter's candy, and some also have bakeries, which help to keep sales up during the winter months.

Today, Graeter's, headquartered in Cincinnati, makes more than 1 million gallons of ice cream per year and supplies more than 6,000 grocery stores nationwide.

The company's annual revenues have climbed from about $5 million when Richard started in 1989 to...Read more

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Peter Begalla and EY's Charlie Carr discuss strategies to engage the next generation in the family business.