Family Business Profile

At the Dawn of a New Century

The Jones family is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Dawn Foods this year, but they weren’t always bakers. The family entered the business in 1935, when patriarch Marlin Jones joined Dawn Donut Company as a bookkeeper.

Though the family didn’t found Dawn, now an international, multibillion-dollar company, they continue to grow the business under third-generation leadership.

Business partners Eugene Worden and Grover Lutz founded Century Baking in 1920 in Jackson, Mich., where the company is still headquartered today. Word soon spread to neighboring bakers that the bakery’s donuts were the best. Bakers went to Worden and Lutz and asked for their recipe, but they kept it secret. Instead, they sold a dry mix and renamed their business Dawn Donut Company, after the time of day donuts were baked.

Donut mix was packed into 100-pound sacks that were hand-sewn shut, as well as in barrels that held 200 pounds. The barrels were lined with a wax bag, and bakers would scoop out what they needed. The shipments would largely be delivered by horse or rail.

Dawn grew fast in the 1920s but was hit hard by the Depression. Small bakeries closed, and Dawn was getting back only 40 cents on every dollar it was owed by customers.

Marlin Jones joined the company in 1935, shortly after he married his high school sweetheart, Evelyne.

“It was a much, much smaller operation than it had been,” says Ron Jones, a second-generation owner. “Our father would put on his own ‘whites’ to work on the product line.”

Dawn was starting to get on its feet, but World War II hit, bringing with it wheat, sugar and lard rationing. The company negotiated directly with local farmers for its ingredients to avoid the supply limits.

When Dawn rebounded again, Marlin saw the value in the company and started using part of his paycheck to buy the company from the founders. The sale was completed in 1955 for a total of about $600,000. The company was lean after the war and positioned for rapid growth once again. Marlin invested in employees and trucks to deliver directly to customers. By 1957, the company was worth more than $1 million, according to its ledgers.

“He was a very loyal fellow,” Ron’s brother, Miles Jones, says about their father, Marlin. After Marlin bought the company, “on more than one occasion, he still helped production staff.

“When things got slow he didn’t want to lose good people, so he paid them to do other things,” such as cleaning up around the facility, painting or washing salesmen’s cars.

Bringing in the second generation
Ron started at Dawn Foods in 1960 after he earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting. Miles earned a bachelor’s with a triple major in psychology, economics and sociology and a minor in business. He then completed grad work in food science and started with Dawn in 1967.

Ron and Miles’ brother, Steve, was a choral conductor at a Michigan high school before he came into the business in 1972.

“He joined at a very serendipitous moment, when all of the brothers came together with different knowledge and talents,” Ron says. “I think that joining of the three different talents created, in no small way, a pathway for Dawn to grow.”

By 1977 the company was producing so many mixes that the family rebranded the business as Dawn Food Products.

A time for growth
When Marlin died unexpectedly in 1982, company revenues were $40 million. Marlin was financially conservative, so when he passed, the business was on solid ground. His sons took the reins and embarked on an aggressive acquisition campaign.

“My father would have been very uncomfortable with it,” Miles says. But the brothers were steadfast. When Ron’s daughter, Carrie Jones-Barber, became CEO in 2006, revenues were about $2 billion and the company was expanding into Europe. Updated revenues were unavailable.

Today the company has manufacturing operations in 57 locations and almost 5,000 employees. It offers dry mixes for an array of baked goods such as brownies and churros, including some that need a few ingredients and some that need only water to make a batter. Dawn also sells frozen pre-baked products like fully decorated cakes, which can be found in big-box stores. The company’s newest product is a mix to make a sourdough donut, the first of its kind on the market.

Sam Jones, 45, one of Miles’ sons, joined the company in 2003. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he went into environmental watershed science consulting. His father, however, was keen to have him join the family business and drew him in when there was an opening in environmental compliance. He now works in marketing for the company’s line of dry mixes.

Another of Miles’ sons, Aaron Jones, 48, marks 20 years with the company this year. He is currently senior manager of credit.

“I graduated in 1993 and was a serial entrepreneur,” Aaron says. “I always knew I wanted to work at Dawn. It was not a matter of if, but when.”

Independent leadership
Carrie has built a career on bringing in the right people to facilitate the company’s vision, whether in the for-profit or nonprofit arena.

Carrie worked outside of Dawn Foods after graduating college because she wanted to gain experience that would benefit the family business. A sales role at a pharmaceutical company, also family-owned, offered such an opportunity. When the company was bought by a larger corporation, she decided to join Dawn because, she says, she missed the camaraderie of a family business.

Carrie, who lived in Florida at the time, joined Dawn in a sales position.

“I was clearly the first woman in bakery sales in Florida,” she says, noting she was often the only woman in the room. “I don’t usually toot my horn, but I was really successful and got into new outlets like Publix and Walmart.”

She worked her way up to chief information officer and then president of Dawn International before becoming CEO.

When the company was planning to make another push into Europe, the owners and directors decided Carrie needed support. They tapped the president of the international division and chief strategy officer, Serhat Unsal, to join Carrie as co-CEO to push the plan.

“We worked really closely,” she says. “He was stronger in marketing than I was, for example.”

Unsal, a former managing director for Unilever, would fly around Europe making connections for the company and working on a strategic plan. Together, they made important changes in the North American organization as well. For example, distribution and manufacturing were combined to present a single face to consumers rather than having the functions split into two independent divisions.

“Once we made those changes, we didn’t need two CEOs anymore,” she says. Carrie is again the sole CEO and Unsal no longer works for Dawn Foods.

The process shows something about the company’s openness to fresh ideas and a lack of fear of losing family control.

Openness to new ideas is also reflected in Dawn Foods’ governance.

Ron is chairman emeritus and Miles became chairman last year. Dawn always had a board of directors, but into the early ’80s, the board was made up of family members. When the brothers started their bold expansion, they realized they needed outside expertise.

“We needed people with various backgrounds who were knowledgable to help make decisions because [the decisions are] much bigger than they used to be,” Miles says. At the time, Dawn was acquiring other baking companies that were two and three times larger than itself.

“One of the things we did that I think is really great — and I recommend this to other family companies — is to have a gap analysis of what our needs are moving forward,” Carrie says. “From there we sought out independent board members.”

The board supports not only Carrie, but also the entire executive team. Directors serve as mentors outside the boardroom and are available for dinners and other meetings.

Community support
As the company has grown, the family has created a foundation to give back to the communities that have been instrumental in their success.

Sarah Richmond, Steve’s daughter, worked for the company from 1993 to 2003 in marketing. A few years later, Carrie called her cousin to launch a corporate philanthropy program.

Sarah researched foundations extensively. She says she saw a commonality in the best ones.

“All privately held corporate foundations are involved in areas that also relate to their business,” Sarah says. “They have symbiotic relationships with nonprofits they fund.”

The Dawn Foods Foundation focuses on hunger prevention and education. The foundation focuses its funding on the communities where the company has a brick-and-mortar footprint.

Hunger prevention programs include packing backpacks distributed to children at the end of the week to ensure they are fed through the weekend, when they aren’t receiving school breakfast or lunch. The foundation also funds shelters that feed families by making sure their kitchens are well-equipped.

Education programs include a concentration on the fundamental skill of literacy as well as support for vocational baking programs.

Since its inception, the foundation has been managed outside of the company. This year Sarah will bring the program in-house and transfer it to a corporate giving program that will give her more latitude in decision making.

Celebrating a century
It’s no small role being the CEO of family business that’s celebrating its 100th anniversary. Carrie says ongoing meetings and planning have prepped the company for a solid six months of celebration, January through June 5, the official anniversary date.

The Family That Bakes Together

Family members who grew up in a baking company are sure to have sweet memories. That’s certainly true for the Jones family, who grew up around Dawn Foods.

“The one thing that I’ll never forget is the smell,” says Sam Jones, a third-generation family member in the business. “You get used to it on your dad’s jacket, [in] the car to the plant in Jackson, Mich. It smells like vanilla and butter and donuts.”
He also remembers the “toys” his dad would bring home from work — barrels.

“He would bring home 200-pound barrels, and we would treat them like toys in the basement. We would roll them around and just break everything in the basement.”

Sarah Richmond, Sam’s cousin, has witnessed the baking skills of both the generation before her and the one after her.
“When I was born, Dad was already working at Dawn Foods,” she says of her father, Steve Jones. He had been a choral director for years before joining the family firm’s advertising and marketing team. “Music was more of a hobby at that time.”
Sarah had a science project and her father was excited, suggesting, “Let’s do it about yeast.”

The two decided to make a regular loaf of bread and an unleavened loaf.

“It was a brick,” she recalls of the loaf that was supposed to rise. “The measuring cup we thought was a two-cup measure was a four-cup measure.

“That’s when I learned I needed to go to Uncle Miles down the street to help me with anything baking.”

Sarah’s youngest daughter, Lyla Grace, at age 10 is leaning toward Great Uncle Miles’ baking talents.

“She loves to bake. She comes by it naturally,” and she likes to watch children’s baking competitions, Sarah says. Lyla Grace recently spent four hours creating a six-layered rainbow checkerboard cake.

Aaron Jones recalls baking with his dad, Miles, and says it’s one of his proudest memories.

“I clearly remember making chocolate chip cookies with my dad from scratch and comparing the butter versus shortening textures,” he says.

Aaron went on to work in the quality assurance lab in high school.

“It’s something in our DNA, for sure,” he says. — April Hall

Though the centennial year is 2020, Carrie started celebrating in December when she received her service emblem recognizing her 35-year career at Dawn Foods during the company’s annual kickoff meeting.

Other commemorations will include spotlighting Dawn’s customers’ dedication to their vocation through “Thank You to Bakers,” a promotion through social media and other channels. A charitable component of the program is “#donutsforgood.” The company is encouraging its baker partners to share the work they do for their communities by using the hashtag on social media. Ten bakers will be selected through a random drawing, and the charities of their choice will each receive $5,000 in their names.

The next 100 years
Carrie says it is her responsibility to drive succession planning. There are ongoing conversations, but there are no firm plans yet.

Ron and Miles retain offices at headquarters, but Steve passed away in 1995 and their sister, Janet, who never worked in the business, died in 2005. Four members of the third generation are directly involved with the business: Carrie, Aaron, Sam and Sarah. They are working together to decide what would be best for Dawn moving into its second century.

They all say there are no expectations as to who is next in line to run the company, though there are enough qualified family members that management will stay in their hands.

“We’ve talked about it, career path planning,” Aaron says. “If I were the right fit [for CEO], I would not shy away.”
His brother, Sam, agrees. “I want to have a strong understanding of the business itself, get to know the folks in the business.

“We need to make sure we continue to grow the company and where I land, I land.”

Education has begun for the fourth generation as a portion of their family meetings. A family constitution looks at the “emotional side” of being in the business family and stands as a “code of conduct,” Aaron says.

The constitution includes a vision statement, mission statement and an employment policy. The third-generation cousin consortium feels the experience they’ve had outside of Dawn allowed them to bring special skills to the company.

There are 17 members of the fourth generation, but none of them work in the business yet.

“Carrie’s daughter is a prodigy, amazing,” Aaron says. She’s one of the oldest of G4 at 17. “Hopefully, she comes into the business.”                                                              


Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.   
 

Dueling Perspectives

Flip through any tourist guide to Chicago and you'll find Iwan Ries & Co. listed as a must-visit location for the cigar or pipe aficionado. The tobacconist, established in 1857 and now run by the fourth and fifth generations of the founding family, is located on the second floor at 19 Wabash Ave. The building, purchased by the family in 1968, dates to 1881 and is the oldest surviving structure designed by celebrated architects Adler & Sullivan.

Founder Edward Hoffman opened a small tobacco shop in Chicago's Sherman House hotel, only 20 years after Chicago's incorporation as a city. His nephew Iwan Ries joined him in 1891. Stanley Levi married Ries' daughter Rosalie in 1929 and eventually took over the business. Today Stanley and Rosalie's son Chuck and Chuck's son, Kevin, run the store, along with an online business and a BYOB smoking lounge. Chuck's wife, Susie and Kevin's son, Kyle, also work in the store.

Hundreds of cigars and thousands of pipes are on offer at Iwan Ries, America's oldest tobacco shop. The smoking lounge, which stays open long after the store closes for the night, features WiFi, flat-screen TVs and a boardroom. Members and visitors who purchase a one-day pass enjoy views of the passing L train and the vintage architecture of the Chicago's Jeweler's Row.

Chuck and Kevin Levi recently took time to answer our question: What's the key to the success of your family business over 160 years?

Kevin Levi, G5, age 47:

"When you've been in business for 160 years, you learn to be patient with everything in business, whether it be large-scale purchases or major decisions. You don't want to jump into anything just because it sounds so great off the bat. You can always revisit, or maybe something else will come along.

"I think my dad's grown to be more of a future thinker, and I worry about what's happening right now: today, tomorrow, the next day.

"He has supreme authority, but I think I share, amongst our employees, pretty equal authority. But I often will bow to him. As I tell my employees, it's still his name on the paychecks.

"[The smoking lounge] was my innovation. It definitely took some debating to win [my father] over on spending the money to do it. And in the end, that proved to be a wise decision. But in a small company like ours, that was a big capital improvements project. It was kind of a leap of faith—a leap of faith that he took in me, actually, at that time. And I'm still here, so it must have been OK.

"Having the history behind us definitely affects decisions that we make going forward. You have to change and adapt to grow, [but] you don't want to change things too fast."

Chuck Levi, G4, age 80:

"Frankly, like most companies, we have very [few] products that can't be purchased somewhere else. So we have to have customer service that is better than anybody else, and a larger inventory than anybody else.

"We have been doing a catalog since the '40s. When I came here, we were already in the mail-order business. It got bigger, and then, obviously, [moved] online.

"My father had a wholesale business, and I was put in the retail business. We had a manager, and after about six months the manager told me, 'You know, I'm getting older. You take over.' And I knew virtually nothing, but I learned really quick. My father was rarely here because of the wholesale business. So I virtually took over the store at an earlier age than I should have, at about 21. And then my father sold the wholesale business, and he got more involved in the mail-order end of it.

"When Kevin started here, we had a conversation about what his duties were, and he said to me, 'I know I have to clean the bathrooms and stuff'—which he still does, by the way—'but I want a job that's my job and nobody else's.' And I said, 'Terrific,' because I had just signed a contract with a company for the Internet, and it was way over my head. I didn't understand it, but I knew we had to be there. And that became, and it still is, his function. And I really feel, if I didn't give him something to do that was his [alone], he may not still be here.

"We do not discuss business outside of business hours. If there are things that we need to discuss, we stay in the office until it's finished. And that has really been a key factor."

Copyright 2017 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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Fifth-generation industrial cleaners

In 1898, Frank Doetsch Sr. cleaned sewers with a bucket and shovel. Today Doetsch Environmental Services, based in Warren, Mich., continues to provide industrial cleaning services, but with high-pressure water and vacuum equipment and underground cameras.

Diann Regelbrugge, 68, is the fourth-generation owner; sons Sean, 37, and Joe Schotthoefer, 42, are vice presidents of finance and operations, respectively.

"Every city has sewers that need to be cleaned," says Regelbrugge. "Our employees are very dedicated. My dad instilled in my sons and me that no matter how dirty the job is, it's a worthwhile job."

Industrial cleaning helps eliminate sewage overflows and keeps wastewater treatment plants functioning properly, notes Joe Schotthoefer. Much of Doetsch's business comes from sewer pipes that haven't been cleaned since they were installed.

The late third-generation owner Frank Doetsch, Diann Regelbrugge's father, would say: "When you put your family name on the line every day for 100 years, there's no other way to do a job than the right way."

Doetsch focuses on quality and welcomes client input. Joe Schotthoefer says Doetch doesn't turn down requests for the "odd and impossible," such as cleaning of large-diameter or difficult-to access sewers.

Michigan's economy—which worsened years before the Great Recession—forced the company in 2007 to take jobs outside the state. Out-of-state jobs now represent 40% of Doetsch's business.

In the past, "opportunities would find us," notes Joe Schotthoefer. Now, he says, "we are working hard to make opportunities."

In Detroit, the company has long-established supply chains and a loyal customer base. Working outside the region requires more marketing, establishing new supply chains and hiring employees willing to work away from home. Recent investments in Michigan are starting to bring some work back to the state, family members say.

Differences of opinion are resolved by focusing on the company's long-standing core business values and respect for the previous generations who sustained the business, says Regelbrugge.

"When you're a family, you all have the same goal: to make it work," she says. "You give more than 110 percent. You do not do it grudgingly."

Regelbrugge says the company's 25 employees have helped to sustain the company. "We need our employees to keep this going," she says. "It's not just about us."

Innovation is a company tradition. In the late 1920s, Doetsch introduced the electric sewer machine to Michigan, making work more efficient and safer.

The next generation has brought new thinking to the company. "My dad was willing to listen to Joe's ideas," says Regelbrugge. "I listen to my sons. Things change rapidly. They are right on top of everything."

Joe Schotthoefer designs and fabricates novel equipment, such as a device that makes it possible to continuously clean sewers up to 6,000 feet long and to recycle sewer water.

"Sometimes you have to improvise on making something rather than buying it," says Regelbrugge. "That came from the Depression, when you used what you had."

A sixth generation is on the horizon; Sean Schotthoefer is starting his own family.

"The company has a storied history and has remained viable through wars, depressions, recessions, changing generations and competition," Joe Schotthoefer comments. "We remain easily adaptable, with a very dedicated and experienced workforce, allowing us to quickly develop a solution for a need." 
 

Carol Brzozowski is a writer based in Coral Springs, Fla.

Copyright 2015 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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From cotton gins to golf courses

Many family businesses have undergone changes over the generations, but few have changed as much as the Pursell family’s enterprise in Sylacauga, Ala. When Jimmy Pursell joined his father-in-law’s business in the mid-1950s, Parker Fertilizer and Parker Ginning were all about cotton, and Jimmy had some catching up to do. “I didn’t hardly know what cotton looked like,” he recalls.

A fast learner, he was rapidly promoted and was given the job of changing the business’s direction. As he recalls, “Mr. Parker told me, ‘I think cotton is going to leave this part of the country, and I would like to see us get into the lawn and garden business.’” Under Pursell’s leadership the business successfully made the transition, first selling fertilizer to major retailers and later opening manufacturing plants for its own patented product.

During the 1970s the company’s culture itself underwent a dramatic change. The shift resulted from the family’s deepening religious belief as Pursell’s three children—sons Taylor and David and daughter Chris—attended Auburn University and were impressed by the Bible study groups held by the charismatic Auburn ex-football star John “Rat” Riley. Pursell and his wife soon found themselves similarly “filled with the spirit,” and the family began discussing what their faith should mean outside their home.

As David recalls, “We asked ourselves, ‘What does our faith mean, not just from a personal perspective but from a business standpoint? If we live our lives a certain way, shouldn’t we live our corporate lives that way too?’” In 1976 Jimmy, now president, called the employees together and announced that the company would run based on Christian values. Under his vision this included tithing company profits, banning alcohol from company-sponsored events and offering Bible study groups after hours. “I was amazed how well it went over,” says Jimmy. “I didn’t lose a single employee.”

By the 1990s the company had branched off into selling fertilizer to golf courses and other “professional markets” but found that its limited capital made expansion into the new market difficult. An offer from Citicorp Venture Capital to buy the company brought mixed reactions from the family. David describes the story as a “tale of two sons.” David preferred the professional side of the business and had some reservations about the offer; Taylor preferred the consumer side of the business and was in favor of the sale.

The family compromised by splitting the company and selling the consumer division with the proviso that Taylor would run it. The move was a win/win for both brothers, David says. “Taylor had some big ideas on how to ramp up the consumer side of the business,” David recalls. “The sale provided him with an avenue out of the family business and put him in control of this new business. On the flip side, the sale provided liquidity to what remained of the family business so that we could focus on expanding the professional market, which was what I was most interested in.”

Four years after the spin-off, the family broke ground on a novel marketing idea: a golf course that would also serve as an R&D facility for their fertilizer and a way to demonstrate to customers how good their product was. In 2006, the family once again divided their company and sold the last remnant of the fertilizer business. “It was just time to take our chips off the table and cash in,” says David, now CEO. “We could pay off all our debts and start new from a cash position rather than a leveraged debt position.” The remaining company, FarmLinks at Pursell Farms, is part training ground for golf course professionals, part hospitality center for business meetings and part general entertainment center featuring hunting, fishing, trap shooting and, of course, golf.

What about the next generation? One of David’s sons-in-law has already joined the company as director of marketing, and several of David’s six children now attending college are interested in joining. “Hospitality is now the family business,” says David, “and my kids are very interested in helping us succeed into future generations.”

William H. Stevenson III is a writer based in Huntsville, Ala.

 

 

 



Copyright 2013 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permssion from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

 

 

 

 

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Keeping up with new technology

Over its more than 100 years of operation Winston Packaging, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., has been helmed by three very different men, each the right leader for his time: an entrepreneur, a scientist and a marketer.

Alexander Gray (A.G.) Gordon worked as a journeyman bookbinder before founding Winston Printing Company in 1911. In its early years, the company used hot-type letterpresses and lithographic limestone. “As you can imagine, it was a very tedious process,” says A.G.’s grandson, president/CEO James Gordon, 57.

Most of Winston’s business came from R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco company. Although it was risky to rely extensively on one customer, the relationship enabled Winston to survive the Great Depression, says James.

A.G., who died in 1951, never completed high school but used his practical experience to get things done. When the company began construction on a new facility in 1942, there wasn’t enough wire to provide power to the whole building because of wartime shortages. A.G. solved the problem by salvaging wire from an abandoned factory.

A.G.’s son, John, had a master’s degree in engineering and gained electronics experience through service in World War II and the Korean conflict. John introduced modern management and engineering approaches. He replaced the letterpress equipment with sheetfed offset presses and made improvements to the building.

John’s son, James, studied engineering and management in college. “More and more you have to understand marketing, brand imaging, knowing how to better position your company so that you have future growth opportunities,” James says.

In 1984, John semi-retired and James became president. James was named chairman and CEO in the early ’90s. John died in 2001.

During the ’80s, Winston Printing Company began producing export packaging for Reynolds. Recognizing growth opportunity in that field, the company separated its commercial and packaging divisions in the ’90s and rebranded itself as Winston Packaging. The family closed the commercial division in 2005. But their commercial printing experience “gave us an advantage because we were doing things like furniture catalogs and art prints, where the color was critical,” says James’s wife, Susan, 55, who serves as Winston’s marketing services manager.

In 1993, Reynolds moved all its printing and packaging in-house. Although by then Winston’s sales to the tobacco giant comprised less than half of its annual revenues, the move still stung, James says.

“After the initial panic wore off, we recognized that we had some advantages,” James says. “We took the competencies that we developed doing the packaging for Reynolds and sought out smaller tobacco companies.” Winston still does a lot of work in the tobacco segment in addition to serving a wide range of other industries.

In 2012, Winston invested in a computer-to-plate system and a new die cutter and press. Customers can log in to a password-protected site to review order status as well as view and manipulate 3D images. “I think this helps speed up the time to market as the design stage,” Susan says.

James says his father “could set the business up and it could run five to ten years without major overhauls. But I never had the luxury of putting it on cruise control.” Today’s technology demands reevaluation every one to three years, James notes.

“I think for us, as a small to midsize manufacturer, there will be a great importance on custom jobs and jobs that have variable specifications,” says James and Susan’s son, Russell, 28, Winston Packaging’s account manager.

The single-plant operation has about 46 full-time employees. James’s brother, John Gordon Jr., 62, works at Winston on the production floor.

The business is a round-the-clock passion for the family. “We never put it on the back burner,” Susan says. “We’re very dedicated to making sure it’s successful.”

Sally M. Snell is a writer based in Lawrence, Kan.

 

 

 



Copyright 2013 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permssion from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

 

 

 

 

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A lock on the American market

The story of Wilson Bohannan Padlock Company, whose slogan is “Locks Since Lincoln,” parallels the westward expansion of the U.S.

The company began in Brooklyn in 1860 prior to the first transcontinental railway. Locks for the railroad industry were the company’s mainstay. Founder Wilson Bohannan held 20 lock-related patents.

Today the 65-employee company is owned by the fifth and sixth generations—the founder’s great-great-granddaughter Pam Smith and her daughters, Patricia and Sarah. Pam’s husband, Howard, has worked at Wilson Bohannan since 1973 and has been its president since 1995.

“When my grandfather died, my father worked here,” says Pam. “When my father worked here, my grandfather’s son [Pam’s uncle William Tway] worked here. We would like to keep it in the family.”

In an era when the majority of traditional American industries have moved their operations offshore, Wilson Bohannan not only has kept its products American-made, but also has continued to improve the locks and remain competitive.

In 1927, the third-generation owner—Pam’s grandfather Wilson Bohannan Tway—relocated the business to Marion, Ohio. The small town was close to the raw materials needed to make the company’s products. It also was near a railroad hub, which made distribution convenient.

When the railroad business began to lose steam, Wilson Bohannan began to segue into heavy industries, such as utilities, shipping and refineries. By continually reinvesting in infrastructure and moving toward automation, Wilson Bohannan is able to produce essentially all the parts of its locks on-site. “We rise and fall on our own abilities,” says Howard.

The company has moved away from cast materials and now uses extruded brass and stainless steel. Using CAD programs and proprietary machinery, the staff designs and modifies all components and finished products on the fly. Final specs are downloaded to a robotic machine.

“Our niches are basically our ability as a small company to maneuver, and fill anyone’s needs,” says Howard Smith. “We pride ourselves on being 100% American-made. And we’re high quality.”

Wilson Bohannan sells through distributors, as well as directly through trade shows and Internet orders.

Pam worked in education for 40 years, first in early-childhood education and later as a high school guidance counselor. Her youngest daughter, who does not work for the company, is following in her footsteps. “I have a passion for working with children, but the company is also a passion,” says Sarah, 23. “It’s a big part of who we are.” The shareholding family members stay apprised of changes, Sarah says, “because our future is the company.”

“The company’s always been my No. 1 priority,” says 27-year-old Patricia. She does data entry for the company in the evenings after the second shift ends. Patricia’s husband, Davin Koziak, began working for the company immediately after the couple married.

“You always have to plan for succession,” says Howard. “I try to recession-proof our business. We’re very conservative. We have no debt. ”

Most of the senior managers have worked their way up through the ranks, so anyone wondering where the next two generations of senior management will come need look only as far as the production line.

Howard credits Wilson Bohannan’s longevity in part to the fact that the company’s stockholders are limited to his wife, Pam, and their two daughters. “Most companies have many layers of family: uncles, aunts and cousins,” he says.

Even Howard, the president, is not a shareholder. “I’m just the manager here,” he says. “They’re the owners of the company.” FB

Sally M. Snell is a writer based in Lawrence, Kan.

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The first picture show

Like Pisa’s famous tower, the Cinema Lumière has defied the odds over the years. But despite wars, a depression and two decades of fascism, what may be the world’s oldest movie theater is still going strong in the Italian city after more than a century, under the watchful eye of the family who founded it.

The Agostini family’s interest in the movies began in the 1890s, when Alessandro Agostini, scion of a prominent Pisa family, began hearing about an interesting invention—the cinematograph—from scientists at the nearby university.

In 1899, the 15-year-old Ago-stini got hold of a projector and began showing films in a café his family owned on the ground floor of the Palazzo Agostini, the family’s 500-year-old red brick palace.

The Café dell’Userro had been in operation since Mozart was on the pop charts, but it wasn’t stuffy. The Userro had always tended to attract a forward-looking crowd— artists, writers and scientists met there to gossip and debate politics and new ideas. The novelty proved popular with patrons.

Encouraged by the reception, the young film buff had another novel idea: convert the café’s billiard room into a real movie theater. He named it Cinema Lumière in honor of the brothers Lumière, the French film inventors. The first show was G. Méliès’ Impossible Journey (1904), an early sci-fi flick. Some Lumière projectionists reportedly made their own films, mostly of local scenes.

The Lumière seems to have been more of a hobby for the family than a business concern. Yet Agostini kept experimenting with the new medium. In 1906, for instance, at 22, he founded a company to produce synchronized sound films, using a method pioneered by local inventor Pietro Pierini. In October of that year, his cinema demonstrated the new sound-synchronization system.

By 1914, demand for movies had grown enough that Agostini hired an established Tuscan architect to remodel some former church buildings in the back of the palace, and convert them into a larger art nouveau movie house that replaced the Lumière, the Cinema Splendor.

Italy’s stormy politics during the theater’s first 30 years affected the business only twice. Dictator Benito Mussolini ordered that businesses could not have foreign names—so in 1939, the Agostinis said good-bye Splendor, buongiorno Cinema Splendore. It was shut in 1943 and ’44; the palazzo is located on the Arno, on the German frontline.

After Alessandro died in 1958, his son Cossimo, now 89, began watching over the theater.

Cossimo’s son, Agostino Agostini, 51, says the family never had a direct role in the theater’s operations. The family always believed that for artistic reasons it was important for the managers to choose the programs. However, they did keep an eye on the business—sometimes literally. Agostino remembers looking through a special window from the family’s upstairs apartment as a boy. “I look inside the cinema and see the films like a private cinema,” he recalls.

The window is gone, a casualty of the modern fire code, but the Lumière today burns more brightly than ever. Modern electronics were installed in the late 1990s. After closing it down in 2001, the family restored the theater in 2004 with the help of grants from the European Union and the Italian government—and brought back its original name.

Since 2005, the theater has been put to a use Alessandro Agostini would have appreciated: a 200-seat art house cinema with state-of-the-art sound and projection system. What’s more, it’s still profitable—always a nice quality in a hobby.

Bennett Voyles is a freelance writer based in Paris, France.

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A cut above

The fifth- and sixth-generation owners of Heimerdinger Cutler in Lousiville, Ky., are proud of their store’s heritage. But they face some challenges—such as the need to repeatedly explain the store’s name.

“People ask me what kind of stuff we sell at our store, and I tell them, ‘Cutlery,’” says 15-year-old Nicole Heimerdinger. “And they look at me and say, ‘What’s cutlery?’”

“It’s kind of an old-fashioned term,” adds her father, Carl, 55, “and I think that’s one of the challenges that we in the cutlery business face.”

“It cuts stuff,” Nicole explains. “Get it? Cutlery. Cut-lery.”

The Heimerdingers’ store features a display of antique grass and sheep shears, scissors and straight-blade razors that their ancestors manufactured and patented. Their collection is large enough to start a museum, something they have considered.

Carl’s great-great-grandfather, German immigrant August Hei-merdinger, first opened a cutlery and sewing machine repair business in downtown Louisville in 1861. Carl attributes the longevity of the store to its ability to respond to changes in the business environment, and to its diverse customer base.

Through the 1920s, Heimderdinger manufactured and sold butcher supplies to the meatpacking industry. The store also had a hardware component. “We were called the Tool Store of Louisville because we had so many tools,” Carl says. After World War II, customers included returning soldiers who were being retrained.

In 1969, Carl’s father, Henry, spun off the cutlery side of the business from the barber/beauty supply section, which an uncle continued to run as a separate entity under the same roof until the early ’80s.

When that business closed, it was a prime time for Heimerdinger Cutlery to relocate. The Heimerdingers focused their search on the east side of Louisville, home to most of their customer base. Eventually, they moved to their current location on Shelbyville Road.

Heimerdinger’s repair department sets the store apart from other retailers; they use belts not just to resharpen blades but also to remanufacture them—a traditional technique that creates a better cutting edge, according to the Heimerdingers.

“When Carl sharpens blades, he’s doing it all by hand,” says Carl’s wife, Glenna, 58. “It’s not something you can learn overnight. There’s an art to it.” Carl creates the edge without machinery assistance. “There are 167 steps to making a pair of scissors,” said Glenna, “and Carl probably makes 50 of these steps all over again” when he sharpens them. This makes the blades fit together better and the scissors work like new, she says.

Nicole says her parents haven’t pressured her into taking over the operation. “They aren’t going to disown me if I say I don’t want to. But I feel like I have an obligation to all of our customers to continue this.” Many customers are second- or third-generation clients.

The company added an online business presence more than a decade ago. That “has proved to be a business-saving decision, because business has changed so much,” says Carl. He says the website (www.heimerdingercutlery.com) accounts for 50% of gross sales in a typical month, and some months online sales exceed walk-in sales. The business’s Internet niche is scissors, knives and shaving -supplies.

As for the future of the cutlery business in general, Carl describes it as “cloudy.” Cutlery stores are becoming fewer and fewer, as are companies that make cutlery. But Heimerdinger boasts a loyal clientele, and Carl says he is always broadening his knowledge about his business and the tools. “I think that’s the passion that I have: learning,” he says.

Sally M. Snell is a writer based in Lawrence, Kan.

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Birthplace of the waffle cone

Ice cream. It’s cold, creamy, sweet and versatile—the perfect antidote for break-ups or bad days at work, and an effective way to quiet rowdy kids on a hot day. What could make this treat more enjoyable? The crunch of a fresh waffle cone to add some texture to the treat; not the flaky “cones” with the flat bottoms and cylindrical shapes, but a warm, cookie-like, hand-rolled cone.

Doumar’s Diner and Curb Service in Norfolk, Va., claims to be the birthplace of the waffle cone. Its waffle cone machine, acknowledged as the first by the Smithsonian, is still in use today. This classic drive-in restaurant is a family-owned business, in existence for more than 100 years. Doumar’s has maintained its integrity despite competition from fast-food chains that has shuttered other small, privately owned diners.

“The secret to our success has been not to cut corners on the quality of the product, which all fast-food places do, and to try to maintain the personal touch during the course of business,” says third-generation family member Thad Doumar, 43. “All this also requires that at least two people must be working at least 60 hours a week to ensure continuity and quality.”

The waffle cone had its genesis at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Sixteen-year-old Abe Doumar was selling paperweights supposedly filled with water from the Jordan River. One night, he made a cone out of a waffle he bought from a vendor and topped it with ice cream. He continued selling paperweights but made cones to sell in the evening.

His new discovery became so popular that he earned enough money to bring his parents and brothers to America from Damascus, Syria. The family opened stands along the East Coast from Coney Island to Jacksonville, Fla. Eventually, they ended up at the Jamestown Exposition in 1907, where Abe opened up his business at Ocean View Amusement Park in Norfolk, Va., and sold 22,600 cones on a single day in 1925. Ocean View was destroyed by hurricanes in 1934, forcing the Doumars to relocate to Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood, where the diner remains to this day. The menu selection has grown to include barbecue sandwiches.

Abe and his brothers, George and John, were the original owners of the diner in Norfolk. Then George’s sons Albert and Victor took over. Albert, 86, is the current owner; his son Thad and son-in-law Randy Windley, 42, run the restaurant. Though other branches of the family once ran other ice cream stands and restaurants, the Norfolk diner is the only one left of the Doumar legacy.

Even today, Albert still bakes cones on the original machine with the assistance of Randy and Thad. “You can have any flavor you want, as long as it is chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or butter pecan,” says Albert.

“This simple approach to doing a few things well and not over-reaching enables him to oversee things more easily and keep quality up,” Thad says.

Doumar’s customers come for the homemade food and hospitable staff of about 40. The cones and barbecue are made in front of customers.

People of all ages and walks of life fill Doumar’s orange-trimmed booths and perch on its bar stools. Old pictures of the diner, newspaper and magazine articles, and kids’ drawings adorn the walls. Its windows look out into the drive-in area where 1950s-style metal awnings shelter the cars pulling in for curb service.

Nothing seems to have changed since the diner was remodeled in 1949, but it’s still a hit. Doumar’s has won local awards for its prices, comfort food and ice cream.

Even in these days of fancy flavors, Doumar’s has stayed true to its founder’s vision—and kept its customers coming back.

Kissa Fernandez is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech.

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A 125-year-old heavy hitter

Imagine getting a personal visit from one of your childhood sports heroes—routinely. When John A. Hillerich III was a teenager working in his family’s business, Hillerich & Bradsby of Louisville, Ky., none other than the great Ted Williams would drop by the factory when the Red Sox passed through Kentucky on their way to Boston after concluding spring training in Florida.

Of course, H&B isn’t just any family business; the company makes Louisville Slugger bats and other baseball equipment. Williams, arguably the best hitter in baseball history, would go there to check out the product line.

“He loved the company, and he was one of the few ballplayers who, when they would come through town on their way north, would stop and go down to the factory,” Hillerich remembers. “He’d be at the door at 7 o’clock in the morning. He’d see the bats and pick them out, and we’d save them for him.”

Half a century later, the game has evolved, and its superstars are less inclined to pop in to H&B’s factory. Yet the company’s personal interaction with players continues, through consultations during spring training in the Sunshine State and Arizona and at the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. Thanks to such close personal contact, a firm hold on the company’s operations, and a shift in management-employee relations, Louisville Slugger remains the market leaders in wooden baseball bats, with sales of about $100 million a year.

Hillerich & Bradsby was founded in 1859 as a cooperage and woodworking business. Founder J.F. Hillerich’s son, John A. “Bud” Hillerich, a former amateur ballplayer, turned the first baseball bat on his father’s lathe in 1884. The player for whom he manufactured that bat was Louisville Eclipse outfielder Pete Browning, whose nickname, the “Louisville Slugger,” led the company to trademark the phrase in 1894. The Bradsby name came along a couple of decades later; Frank Bradsby, a buyer for a St. Louis hardware store (such retailers sold a lot of bats in those days), was hired in 1911 to head up sales policies and eventually assumed a leadership role. He died in the late 1930s having never married; his shares in H&B went to his siblings, who sold them to the company years later.

Over the years Louisville Sluggers climbed in popularity with players because of H&B’s commitment to manufacturing bats to their personal specifications. Early icons of the game—Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Honus Wagner, to name a few—swung Louisville Sluggers and developed relationships with Bud Hillerich. In time Hillerich & Bradsby and Major League Baseball struck a licensing deal naming the Louisville Slugger the official bat of MLB.

Jack Hillerich was immersed from an early age in the business his great-grandfather founded. He played Little League and high school ball, and as a teenager he worked in the company’s timber yards stacking bats on four-foot racks. Immediately after graduating from college in 1961, he returned to H&B in a purchasing role. After that came a stint in the professional bat department and four years at the company’s saw mill in New York state, where he learned the timber end of the business. Eventually Hillerich returned to Kentucky and began doing project work, such as implementing the use of machinery to process bats. In 1969, when he was 29, his father died, and his aunt, to whom control of the company had passed, named him president.

Hillerich led H&B for 33 years. In 2002 he turned the reins over to his son, John Hillerich IV, who had taken a career path strikingly similar to the one his father had. John Hillerich, now 45 and the company’s current president and CEO, also spent summers at the company, in his case doing janitorial work. After he graduated from college, John spent three years at the professional services firm Touche Ross (a forerunner of today’s Deloitte Touche), then came back to H&B and was assigned, as his father had been, to special projects. Likewise, he was sent to the timber division in New York for a while before returning to Kentucky in the early ’90s as CFO of the company’s golf division.

Such deep and lengthy involvement in company operations has helped Hillerich & Bradsby to thrive as a family-owned enterprise into its fifth generation. “The likelihood of staying in a business increases if the family stays connected or if there’s family governance,” says Fredda Herz Brown, a principal at Relative Solutions, a family business consulting firm.

Those connections and that stability have seen Hillerich & Bradsby through some significant changes. The introduction of aluminum baseball bats into Little League and intercollegiate play had the company playing catch-up. According to Jack Hillerich, while H&B maintains about an 80% market share in wooden bats, its share of the aluminum market is roughly half that.

“The aluminum bat and the wood bat are two different animals,” he says. “We couldn’t just put ‘Louisville Slugger’ on an aluminum bat and be successful, and that’s how we started. We didn’t really understand how different those two products are. It took us about five years to really come to grips with it.”

The industry itself has shifted tremendously, with customers—big-box sporting-goods retailers, such as Dick’s and Sports Authority—growing ever larger and throwing their weight around, and athletic shoe companies like Nike and Adidas expanding into equipment.

H&B has dealt with these challenges by taking care to nurture and protect its brand name in order to avoid being overwhelmed. As John Hillerich observes, if “you actually have a product consumers are wanting ... you’re not dictated to.” Equally important, H&B decided to consolidate, dropping hockey and golf from its product line to focus on becoming the best baseball company possible.

“You do that by hiring good people,” John Hillerich says. “If you’re looking at it from the perspective of a family company, we have the philosophy that you’ve got to hire good people. I’m not the smartest guy in the world. I’m not the dumbest guy, either, but we hire professional managers; they’re good baseball people, they know and love baseball. That’s where we start.”

In addition to refocusing on its core business, Hillerich & Bradsby in the 1980s changed how it manages its employees. Jack Hillerich had attended an academic seminar featuring professor and consultant W. Edwards Deming, whose presentation on 14 principles of effective management impressed him. Deming advocated for the elimination of fear in the management-employee relationship; he also advised companies to stop targeting zero-defect manufacturing and to do away with factory quotas. Quality is far more important to success than quantity, Deming said, and Jack, duly inspired, tossed out many of the company’s longstanding management practices, such as ranking its employees against one another on a 1-to-10 grading system.

“It freed up people from a lot of fear and had the effect of driving out fear,” he says. “‘I’m afraid of how I’m going to be rated this year, I’m afraid to do this, I’m afraid to do that, it might affect my rating,’ and we just got rid of that.”

As with any family business, Hillerich & Bradsby faces the challenge of integrating the next generation. The fifth generation consists of John and his cousins Tommy, 40, who is responsible for scheduling production in H&B’s wooden bats division; Bobby, 43, who handles facilities management; and Brian, 42, who works on the factory floor. John’s cousins are the sons of Jack’s brother, Hart, who worked in the family business before passing away at a relatively young age. All four played Little League baseball, and Bobby also played for a semi-pro team.

There are five teenaged children in the sixth generation. While none is being groomed outright to enter the business just yet, the family has begun planning for succession. Through a family council program, the family comes together to share best practices and keep communication lines open, and the teenagers, as Jack and John did, are working at the Hillerich & Bradsby factory during the summer.

“It’s been very interesting,” Tommy says. “All the kids are learning quite a bit. We’re trying to get into their mindset where we want the company to go the next few years. It’s been a nice deal for all of us to sit down and talk about everything, including the business. It’s sort of a mix of both perspectives: Business is family and family is business.”

According to consultant Fredda Herz Brown, connecting across generations is at least as important as connecting across the various branches of the family tree. “Family members not only have to stay connected to the original business if they want to own it,” she says, “but they also have to strengthen the generational ties as they go along.”

Though Hillerich & Bradsby’s Louisville Sluggers continue to be the official bat of Major League Baseball, today’s stars don’t stop by the H&B factory to talk shop. Instead, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, Chase Utley and the game’s other luminaries talk with company reps at ballparks around the country. Their requests are relayed back to Louisville, where specialized technology enables the company’s lathes to turn bats out to the players’ exact, most minute specifications.

While John Hillerich has met some players over the years, he describes these interactions as merely business relationships. The teams and players he cherishes are those who brought him joy as a childhood fan. “My heroes were the guys on the Cincinnati Reds, the Big Red Machine in ’75,” he says.

Johnny Bench and his teammates, pretty fair hitters in their own right, did something Ted Williams never managed to do: win a World Series. And they did it swinging Louisville Sluggers. No wonder John Hillerich has a soft spot in his heart for them.

Thomas W. Durso is a freelance writer based in Glenside, Pa.

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