Family Business CEOs to Watch 2021

We recognize family and non-family chief executives whose exceptional leadership has put their businesses in a strong position for future generations.

What qualities make a family business CEO exceptional?

The short answer is that an exceptional CEO provides the right style of leadership for their particular enterprise at this particular point in time. In a multigenerational business, making bold changes takes foresight and fortitude — and bold changes are often what’s needed in order to meet today’s many challenges. That was true even before COVID-19 turned commerce on its head.

Yet achieving a healthy bottom line and creating an inspirational corporate culture are only half the battle for CEOs of family businesses. There is also the “family” side of the equation.

Along with providing solid returns for family shareholders, family business CEOs must communicate well with the family, support good family governance and manage the business with the next generation of owners in mind. Baked into the job description is deft handling of sticky situations. If you’re a family CEO, you’re likely managing your children, siblings, cousins, in-laws or even parents — or at least managing their expectations about the size of their dividend checks. If you’re a non-family CEO, you’re tasked with growing a business without the opportunity to receive an equity stake.

Below you will meet 28 stellar family business chief executives. They are truly the right leaders for their companies in this tumultuous time.    

Jason Andringa
Third generation
Vermeer Corporation, Pella, Iowa

Before becoming president and CEO in November 2015, Andringa served as president and chief operating officer at Vermeer, a global industrial and agricultural equipment manufacturing company. His previous roles at the company were president, forage and environmental solutions; vice president, dealer distribution and global accounts; managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa (based in the Netherlands); and segment manager, new products and markets in the environmental business segment.

Andringa serves on the Vermeer board of directors and on the board of directors of Raven Industries and the board of advisers for Camcraft Inc. He is a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. He also sits on the board of trustees of the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum.

Before joining Vermeer in 2005, Andringa was an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Calvin College and later completed advanced degrees including a master of science in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an MBA from the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.

“He has done an amazing job with the company,” says Melinda Papadeas, a Vermeer shareholder. “He gave solid direction after the company was hit with a tornado” in 2018.

“He has led well through the COVID shutdown and has increased the company’s bottom line. He is a leader who leads by example.”

“Vermeer Corporation, named after my grandfather and company founder Gary Vermeer, has been in business for 73 years,” Andringa says. “It started as a one-man job shop in the farmlands of Iowa. My grandfather tinkered to find better ways to get work on the farm done. Today, equipment with my grandfather’s name on it can be seen on countless jobsites around the world — managing resources, feeding and fueling our communities, and connecting people to necessary infrastructure.

“I was in college when my mother and I were in Siberia watching Vermeer equipment install natural gas infrastructure to a community for the first time. Hundreds of people came out to greet us because our equipment was changing their lives for the better. It was in that moment I knew I wanted to help drive the legacy of this company, not only because of the interesting, complex machines we make, but because the work this equipment does truly makes the world a better place.

“Our family is proud of the impact our equipment makes, and so is our team. The culture of our Vermeer team is one that puts others first, takes care of those around us and is still relentlessly committed to finding a better way to get important work done. The foundation built over time by those before me is one that stands strong.

“Because we are a family-owned and -operated organization, we can confidently hold onto the things that make Vermeer what it is today and invest in ways that carry who we are forward long into the future. The Vermeer family is committed to remaining family-owned for decades to come and have worked strategically to build a board, family office and strong succession plans to ensure future success. I am honored and humbled to be the third generation of family leadership in an organization as outstanding as ours.”

Jodi Berg
Fourth generation
Vitamix, Olmsted Falls, Ohio

Vitamix, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, manufactures high-performance blending equipment for consumer and foodservice commercial markets. Berg joined the company in 1997 with the directive to lead its overseas expansion. Under her leadership, Vitamix products are now available in over 130 countries.

Berg led the company to organic growth of more than 400%. She navigated this growth by transforming the organizational structure; articulating the company purpose, mission and business objectives; and creating a powerful culture. She defined and elevated the status of the brand and created a sustainable business model.

As a fourth-generation family member of a cousin consortium business, she helped the family articulate its purpose and create a structure to allow the family to stay involved and engaged while running a professionally managed organization.

Berg graduated from Bowling Green State University with a bachelor of science degree in business administration. She earned an MBA from Washington State University and a Ph.D. in leadership from Case Western Reserve University, where her research focused on purpose and employee engagement.

She chairs Team NEO, a business and economic development organization in Northeast Ohio, and serves on several other civic and non-profit boards.

“When I talk to Jodi, I see her eyes light up as she shares her vision of a world where food-related diseases decline because people look at food differently,” says Sue Tyler, a founding member of the Private Directors Association Cleveland Chapter. “What impresses me most about Jodi’s leadership is her ability to ignite the passion in others by fostering a culture that is authentic, values-driven and fueled by personal purpose.

“Jodi listens, learns and creates the ‘wow’ for Vitamix, throughout the supply chain, the employee base, the local community and the customer base. Because this connection is part of the Vitamix culture, it came naturally for her and her employees during the pandemic, and Vitamix was able to deliver when others could not.

“Jodi is a role model for women in leadership. She is the first female CEO in Vitamix history, and she uses her position to empower women as leaders in all sectors. She balances her job and civic engagement with her commitment to her daughters and family.

“Her remarkable leadership inspires people around the world to live with purpose and lead healthier lives through whole-food nutrition. This passion was integral to this 100-year-old company navigating through yet another global crisis. But most importantly, it has positioned Vitamix for long-term vitality heading into a second century of success.”

“I never aspired to be a CEO, but when there was a risk that someone else might not realize our family company could be a leader in changing the way the world thinks about food or be willing to transform the business to make this happen, I knew I had to step up,” Berg says.

“Not knowing how to do this, I relied on three things I did know: (1) when driven by a purpose that is personal, I am incredibly engaged and overcome all obstacles; (2) living with purpose is personally fulfilling; and (3) everyone deserves the same.

“I see my role as unleashing this internal drive by helping people discover their personal purpose. I knew it worked back then when we were first identified as a transformative, beloved and iconic brand, and I know it continues to work every time an employee or a customer says, ‘thank you!’ ”

Jeff Vincent
Non-family
Laird Norton Company, Seattle, Wash.

Vincent has served as the CEO and president of Laird Norton since 2001. He is the first non-family CEO at the company, which was founded in 1855.

He has led the transformation of Laird Norton into an enterprise that focuses on two key areas: real estate and direct investments in operating companies. He is also chairman of J.M. Huber Corporation, a fifth-generation family enterprise.

Before joining Laird Norton, Vincent spent 10 years at Duchossois Industries, where he served in various roles, including corporate vice president of business development and chief financial officer of the Chamberlain Group.

At Laird Norton, Vincent has expanded shareholder communications, financial reporting, and investment processes and policies. He helped customize a governance system that promoted the professionalism and independence of the board of directors and defined the responsibilities of the board, standing committees and the family council.

Vincent initiated an evaluation of the company’s internal processes and policies and encouraged investments in systems and organizational capabilities. He championed the development and training of talent.

He led a “right-sizing” of the business and divestment of underperforming assets. At the peak of the housing market, he helped facilitate and negotiate the sale of Laird Norton’s largest asset to date, Lanoga (a building materials distribution business), and supported the distribution of more than 80% of the proceeds to family shareholders.

After the Lanoga sale, Vincent developed a reinvestment program focused on positioning the company for the next generation of family members. With a small portfolio of real estate assets retained from the sale of Lanoga, a new entity, Laird Norton Properties, was created. Under Vincent’s leadership, this company has continued to grow through investments and strategic partnerships.

Vincent also led Laird Norton’s investments in various operating companies, while ensuring the investments as well as the company’s presence in its communities reflected the family values and Laird Norton’s philosophy of “Creating Shared Value.”

Laird Norton Wealth Management (LNWM), an independent wealth management firm, is among the largest chartered trust companies in Washington state. Over the last year, Vincent oversaw LNWM’s acquisition of wealth management firm Filament LLC as well as a smooth CEO transition at the firm during a pandemic.

“When the Laird Norton family hired Jeff Vincent to be the first non-family CEO of the Laird Norton Company more than 20 years ago, we defied almost 150 years of family-only governance tradition,” says Jill Gardner, family president. “The 400-plus members of the Laird Norton family ranged from enthusiastic to dismayed in response to this major shift in leadership protocol.

“Jeff Vincent arrived in Seattle in the middle of 2001, and the notorious events of 9/11 touched off what would prove to be two decades of turbulence for our country and for Laird Norton Company. His stabilizing leadership, integrity and commitment to the Laird Norton family and the Laird Norton enterprise was the rudder that deftly guided us through the selling of our legacy business, Lanoga, in 2006.

“He navigated the reinvention of LNC that followed, he propelled us through the financial crisis in 2008 and he continued to chart our course through the expansion of our business interests throughout the decade that followed. More recently, he has thoughtfully steered us through the intense storms of the pandemic and the concurrent political and social unrest.

“He has earned the trust and respect of the Laird Norton family, our many employees and the Seattle business community. He hasn’t simply left his mark. Jeff Vincent has become one of us. We are better because he said ‘yes.’ ”

“This year marks my 21st year as the Laird Norton Company’s CEO,” Vincent says. “Serving as the steward of a 166-year-old family enterprise with a rich history and traditions has been the capstone of my business career.

“Through many opportunities, successes, occasional stumbles and challenges like the Great Recession and COVID-19 pandemic, I have witnessed how this family’s historical perspective, core values and commitment to future generations guide all decisions. This constant and persistent approach is defined by patient, long-term practices leading to long-lasting relationships with family members, employees, investment partners and communities. As a result, the business remains vibrant, forward-looking and successful.

“As my retirement approaches in the fall of 2023, I will have no hesitation or doubt about the company’s future. The commitment and values that have guided the company since 1855 will prevail as the Laird Norton family business prepares to celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2030.”

Michael Russell
Second generation
H. J. Russell & Co., Atlanta, Ga.

Russell has been CEO of H.J. Russell & Co. since 2003. The company, founded in 1952 by his father, Herman J. Russell, is a vertically integrated service provider specializing in real estate development, construction, program management and property management. The construction division has extensive experience in building and renovating projects in diverse market segments including high-profile offices, parking decks, public assembly venues, retail, multifamily residential, educational institutions and sports facilities.

Russell is also vice chairman of Concessions International, an airport food and beverage concessions company also owned by the family. The Russell Companies, consisting of H. J. Russell & Company and Concessions International, employs more than 2,000 individuals with operations in 10 major cities.

Russell served in various executive positions at the company from 1990 until he succeeded his father as CEO. He works with his siblings H. Jerome Russell Jr., H. J. Russell’s president, and Donata Russell Ross, CEO of Concessions International.

He earned his B.S. degree in civil engineering from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Georgia State University.

“Navigating the family business dynamic requires a very delicate balance, like walking a tightrope and honestly, at times, can be frustrating, as many in that space can attest to. This is more so when you’re handed over the reins of a highly successful company, like H. J. Russell & Company, and charged with taking it to new heights — a charge that may seem overwhelming, when you consider the giant of a leader and entrepreneur from whom you’ve assumed the reins, Herman J. Russell, Sr.,” says Yasmine S. Murray, the company’s executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary.

“Over the past 10-plus years, I have witnessed Michael Russell not only accept this responsibility, but embrace it. I have witnessed him really grow up in the role as chief executive officer of this dynamic organization and weather many challenges, including the Great Recession of 2007 through 2009 and its almost crippling effects, the passing of his father in 2014 and, most recently, an international pandemic, COVID-19. He handled each challenge with a very positive and forward-thinking attitude.

“There are several qualities I appreciate in Michael as leader of this organization. He is very even-keeled and handles the most challenging news with a very level head and a positive attitude that we can overcome whatever challenging situation we’re facing. He is very supportive to his direct reports and consistently places a demand on their potential. He is always open to new and creative ideas, whether it’s from a member of his senior leadership team or one of our frontline workers. And he is always seeking out ways to improve and how to execute and deliver results.”

“H. J. Russell & Company was born out of the passion, intellect and drive of my father, Herman J. Russell, and the consistent and strong support of my mother, Otelia Hackney Russell, who helped him carry out his vision at home and as a quiet yet powerful adviser within the business,” Russell says.

“Herman regularly emphasized that ‘being an entrepreneur allows one to control their destiny.’ We continue to control our family’s destiny and support the destinies of our employees by maintaining control and leading our private, family-owned and -operated real estate development and construction firm with the same grit.

“Being entrusted to lead the company with such a rich, familial legacy is my daily motivation to reach for higher and greater goals. After nearly 70 years of building, while regularly revisiting and revising (when necessary) the company’s mission and strategies, H. J. Russell & Company continues to grow.

“From the vision, hard work and passion of our parents to being fortified by the second generation, I believe we will continue to flourish into the future knowing there are members of the third generation learning and growing within the Russell family of companies, too.”

Robert Pasin
Third generation
Radio Flyer Inc., Chicago, Ill.

Pasin joined the sales department of Radio Flyer — maker of the “Little Red Wagon” beloved by generations of children — at age 23 in 1992. During his early years with the company, Radio Flyer was a struggling organization with scant income, hefty debt and inadequate market research and product development.

Since becoming Chief Wagon Officer (CEO) of Radio Flyer in 1997, Pasin has transformed the company into an innovator that releases dozens of new products annually and partners with brands like Tesla. He has led the brand’s reinvention by prioritizing product development, community involvement, sustainability and an award-winning culture. Sales have increased 10 times over, with the growth fueled by new products. Through a feature available on Radio Flyer’s website, today’s consumers can build a customized wagon for their family.

Pasin made the tough decision to shut Radio Flyer’s Chicago factory in 2004 and outsource manufacturing in order to concentrate on building the brand and developing new products. He focused on investing in the business and build an inspiring workplace environment. His leadership philosophy emphasizes recognition, with multiple employee awards and programs. He led the development of Radio Flyer’s vision (“To be the world’s most loved children’s brand”), mission (“To bring smiles to kids of all ages and to create warm memories that last a lifetime”) and values.

Radio Flyer was the first toy company to join RE100, a global commitment to 100% renewable energy, and the Science Based Targets Initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company continually explores ways to reduce its environmental impact through the use of recycled packaging, renewable energy and product life cycle analyses. In 2014, the company received LEED Platinum certification for its renovated Chicago headquarters, where the company has been based since 1930.

Pasin received his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 1997, the year he became Chief Wagon Officer at Radio Flyer.

“I am honored to work alongside Robert, learn from his leadership, and help build a creative, innovative, and world-class company,” says Amy Bastuga, Radio Flyer’s Chief People Officer. “In my first interview with Robert, he said to me, ‘I believe Radio Flyer can be a force of good in this world, and I want every person who joins Radio Flyer to believe it is the best job they have ever had.’

“In my 14 years working with Robert, he continues to lead with imagination, transparency, gratitude and innovation, making Radio Flyer one of the best places to work in the country. He encourages us to ‘build our best self’ and has created a learning environment with programs like Wagon U, personal development goals and much more.

“Robert is a coach and mentor, and I am proud to work for a company and leader who values growth and a people-first approach.”

“When I was 5 years old, my dad took me to work with him for the first time, and I remember that day like it was yesterday,” Pasin says. “Walking into the front entrance of the building, climbing the stairs, saying hello to people while tightly gripping my dad’s big hand. Walking around the factory with the loud noises of punch presses, the smell of grease and paint, and seeing all of those shiny new red wagons on the conveyor line — it seemed like some kind of giant magical Rube Goldberg machine cranking out Little Red Wagons and sending them into the world to bring joy to families.

“That’s the moment that I fell in love with Radio Flyer. I fell in love with the creative process of transforming materials like steel and paint and rubber into delightful toys. I fell in love with the idea that a wagon could become anything a child imagined it to be. And as I grew up, I fell in love with the potential of what Radio Flyer could become.

“When I was old enough to work at the company, I jumped at the chance, and it has been a 30-year ride that feels like it is just beginning! I get to work alongside our team of ‘FUNomenal Flyers,’ creating and building something truly extraordinary. It’s my passion and my life’s work.”

Scott Teerlinck
Non-family
Crescent Electric Supply Co., East Dubuque, Ill.

Teerlinck was named president and CEO of Crescent Electric Supply in May 2020. Previously, he served for more than seven years as president of Werner Electric Supply in Appleton Wis. Before joining Werner Electric, he spent 19 years at Rockwell Automation in a variety of management positions, including global accounts management, sales management, director of marketing and global P&L leadership of Rockwell’s plant services businesses. Immediately before coming to Werner Electric, he worked in Singapore as the regional director for Rockwell’s Southeast Asia Region.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also holds an executive MBA from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Teerlinck is the second non-family CEO at Crescent, which was founded in 1919 by Titus B. Schmid. “He’s determined to relaunch the company into its second century in the top tier of electrical distributors in the United States,” says Kathy Munson, chair of the Schmid Family Council.

“During his first year, which included leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott spent significant time with front-line team members, customers and vendors to ensure his full understanding of Crescent’s culture, performance and market position. Scott has demonstrated open and honest dialogue across the company through listening sessions, town hall meetings and employee engagement surveys, which ignited fresh energy and enthusiasm among the nearly 2,000 employees.

“He has developed frequent company-wide and shareholder communications to address progress and challenges, with a focus on driving alignment. He reached out to external stakeholders to conduct surveys of vendors and customers, all to ensure that he developed an accurate, 360-degree view of the business, the broader industry and our position in the market.

“Given the realities of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the distribution industry, he and his team quickly calculated best-case and worst-case budget projections for 2020 and communicated his vision to employees and the large shareholder base within the 120-plus-member family, after only seven weeks on the job.

“While forced to make tough decisions surrounding the pandemic, Scott concentrated his attention on employee health and safety and kept the business focused on its highest priorities, and he did so with spirited energy, empathy and a charismatic style. Employees noticed and appreciated it, as did the family.”

“Scott has brought a fresh perspective and a sense of urgency, which has been well received by the board and our associates,” says Dave Keltner, chairman of Crescent’s board of directors. “He has developed a really strong senior management team, which, along with his industry experience, strategic mindset and transparency about what needs to be done, has given us great confidence that Crescent can produce top-tier results as the company begins its second century of operation.”

“Scott has been a great addition to our company,” says Mike Schmid, a grandson of the founder who is vice president of system integration at Crescent. “He brings an energy and enthusiasm to Crescent Electric that is contagious, and he’s working with our leadership team to position our company to continue our journey of success.”

“Scott has created a culture of doing things with our teams collaboratively,” says fourth-generation family member Nick Rhomberg, a district manager at the company. “This has achieved strong levels of engagement and produced even stronger business results. Crescent Electric is on a strong trajectory of growth because of Scott and the senior leadership he’s surrounded himself with.”

“Scott is carrying out the vision of Crescent’s founder, Titus B. Schmid,” Munson says. “He brings project management experience and a vision for continuous integration to his aim of creating and driving the company’s strategy of transformation for the next 100 years. We are all grateful and excited about where we are headed with his leadership!”

“A major factor driving my decision to join Crescent Electric was the professionalism and acumen of the company’s shareholders, as well as their structured approach to act as a single voice of ownership via their family council,” Teerlinck says. “Too often, diverging perspectives can result in misalignment on priorities and missed expectations.

“The impact the family council has on the company’s success cannot be overstated. In addition to providing ‘one voice’ for annual directives to the board of directors and management, I have observed how the family council raises the bar for active involvement and commitment across the shareholders, which in turn manifests itself in the strong family atmosphere and teamwork that is present within so many of our branch locations.

“Working for such accomplished and sophisticated shareholders is a privilege, as is working alongside such caring and committed employees. I feel incredibly fortunate for both!”

Julie Charlestein
Fourth generation
Premier Dental Products Company, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

Charlestein is the first woman to lead Premier Dental Products Company, which was founded by her great-grandfather, Julius Charlestein, in 1913. The company develops, manufactures and distributes innovative dental consumables and devices for oral-health professionals worldwide.

Charlestein is leading Premier through its next evolutionary phase, driving relevance to the marketplace with a customer-driven mindset underpinned by a focus on technology, data, brand strength and human capital. She rebranded the company and spearheaded the integration of market analytics and data-driven processes.

She serves on the boards and advisory councils of multiple dental schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health and, previously, Harvard University.

Charlestein holds a bachelor’s degree from Emory University and a master’s degree from the Fox School of Business at Temple University. She began at the company as a product manager and succeeded her father as CEO 15 years later, in 2016.

“Julie is revered for her dynamism and infectious energy,” says Christopher Helle, chief marketing officer at Premier. “She is a courageous and visionary leader who can see around corners and has the instinct and agility to capitalize on promising opportunities to grow and expand the business. Quick with a smile, she is highly effective at inspiring and challenging her leadership team — and, in fact, the broader organization — to accomplish great things.”

“The most powerful way I can demonstrate my passion and devotion to Premier is through the eyes of a complete stranger who recently saw me ‘working the booth’ at an industry trade show,” Charlestein says.

“When the first group of attendees came through on their rotation, I couldn’t hold back my passion and excitement as I talked to them about Premier, our products, and how our teams could best work together. As they were meandering away to allow for the next group, one of the reps pulled me aside. ‘You should really come and work for us,’ he said.

“I smiled and thanked him for the compliment, telling him, that I loved Premier. He did not know that I was the CEO or that it was a family business. He was insistent — ‘This could be a great opportunity for you. You could do great things. I have never seen someone so energetic, so passionate and so knowledgeable.’

“ ‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘Still sticking where I am.’

“My family business has been a part of me since the day I was born. As you can see, my energy and passion for the company is the same whether I’m on the road at trade shows talking to strangers or whether I am in the boardroom running my business.”

Lynn Houston Moore
Second generation
HJI Supply Chain Solutions, Louisville, Ky.

When Moore was 13 years old, her family moved from Louisville, Ky., to Knoxville, Tenn., because her father, Wade Houston, had been hired as the head men’s basketball coach the University of Tennessee. During her high school years, she fell in love with track and field and earned an athletic scholarship to the Georgia Institute of Technology.

While competing for Georgia Tech, Moore was a four-time ACC high jump champion. She graduated in 1999, earning a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering with highest honors. She continued her education at Georgia Tech, earning a master’s degree in industrial engineering while training to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2000.

After earning her master’s degree, Moore began her engineering career with Velant, a startup transportation route optimization firm. In 2004, she returned to Georgia Tech to work in the athletic department as an academic adviser. While at Georgia Tech, Lynn met her husband, Clarence Moore, also a Georgia Tech graduate who was a member of the men’s basketball team, and the two married in 2006.

In 2007, Moore returned home to Louisville to join HJI Supply Chain Solutions, a third-party logistics and supply chain management company founded by her parents in 1994. Prior to being named CEO in 2020, Moore served as logistics engineer, financial and logistics manager and vice president of finance and administration.

Moore is a member of the Farragut High School Athletic Hall of Fame and the Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame. She serves on the advisory board for the University of Louisville Family Business Center, the Filson Historic Society board and the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering board of advisers.

“As a rarity in the industry — a second-generation minority- and women-owned business — HJI is on the front lines of the fight for equality, justice and inclusion in business,” says Moore’s brother-in-law, Condrad Daniels, HJI’s president. “Our company was instrumental in leading the business community of Louisville, Ky., to adopt a Racial Equity Pledge to build a more inclusive economy based on equal opportunity, advancing racial equity and addressing the damage caused by systemic racism.

“Under Lynn’s leadership, HJI has a bold goal of growth and a mission of sustainable value creation and to end poverty for our team members. We have continued to grow and scale our capabilities into new industries. We have added 160 new team members this year and opened our sixth facility, putting us at over 950,000 square feet collectively. We are also expanding our third-party logistics solutions to include manufacturing, stamping and injection molding.

“Process improvement and efficiency are at the forefront of her leadership style. While her responsibilities are mostly fiscal, she leads with the understanding that enhancing our culture and relationships with our team members and customers directly impact our fiscal presence. She allows her team to have a voice and truly believes in diversity of thought with the understanding we are better because we are different and equipped to win because we don’t approach challenges the same way.

“She is authentic in her leadership and leads with vulnerability and empathy.”

“The passion that I have for my family business stems from the opportunities it has created to impact the lives of those who are a part of my work family,” Moore says. “It comes from the depth of gratitude that I have for the legacy created when my parents, Wade and Alice Houston, embarked on their journey as entrepreneurs and my desire to continue their legacy for future generations.

“Through their life experiences and faith in God, they launched a company and taught the second generation that to whom much is given, much is required. The blessing of a running a family business is that I get the treat the employees whose lives I touch like they are family. I have the opportunity to seek the best for them and advocate for them the way that family does for each other. This is an honor and privilege that I do not take lightly.”

Bill Graebel
Second generation
Graebel Companies Inc., Aurora, Colo.

Graebel Companies provides talent and workplace mobility solutions for Fortune 500 and Global 1000 firms in 165 countries. Its services include program consulting, departure move management, arrival and settling-in assistance, expatriate services, and repatriation and facility relocation and reconfiguration.

Graebel worked his way to the top of the business, which was founded by his father, Dave Graebel, in 1950 in Wausau, Wis. After school and during summers, he worked at the Graebel Movers office, warehouse and truckyard.

Graebel graduated from Colorado College in 1983. Three years later, the company relocated to Denver, where he had been managing a regional office. Over the next 20 years, he served as an operations manager, local sales manager and sales and marketing director before heading up the company’s overall operations. In that role, he expanded its international forwarding activities as well as its U.S. footprint. He became CEO in 2004.

Under his leadership, Graebel grew to nearly 2,000 employees. In the first decade of 2000, though, corporations began to outsource all of their talent mobility services, not just household goods shipments, to relocation management companies (RMCs).

In response, in 2015, the company divested its legacy van line and moving and storage businesses. Bill transformed Graebel Companies into the RMC model.

The company launched move-management apps and portals; the Graebel Express Relocation Service for clients with limited annual relocation needs; and the Extended Relief Services program, offering support for clients’ mobile employees and their families in their host countries during the pandemic.

In 2018, Graebel shifted the full-time responsibilities of a valued account executive to heading up the firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, which today has representatives on three continents.

Graebel joined the U.N. Global Compact program in 2016. The company now annually reports on its progress in protecting human rights, preserving the environment and eliminating corporate corruption. In 2021, the company joined The Climate Pledge, committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040. The business is certified in international programs related to data security, anti-bribery and anti-terrorism. 

“My vision for Graebel is that we are the global relocation management company of choice.” Graebel says. “We will continue to earn that distinction thanks to the fact that each one of our team members is fully embracing and acting on our corporate core values of Truth, Love and Integrity with every person and situation they encounter.

“We’ll continue to grow our brand, a brand that isn’t based on a logo or market niches, but on the principle of ‘People-first Mobility.’ That means we’ll keep working to improve the entire mobility experience for every corporate mobility manager and every mobile employee we’re privileged to serve. To do that, we’ll continue to enhance our technology platforms as well as our level of customization.

“My plan and purpose as a CEO are to inspire and empower our people — the heart and soul of our company — to continue on our trajectory as a leading RMC that is also the most trusted global brand in the industry.

“In order to be the RMC supplier of choice for global corporations, we’ll keep our eyes inward as well. We can’t and won’t expect others to choose us if we’re not a customer of choice with our network of supplier partners and an employer of choice to the most valuable resource of all: our people. To that end, we’ll be a more inclusive organization in five years due to the efforts we’re making today to examine our processes and actions for any hint of bias based on race, gender or age. I’ve taken personal responsibility for overseeing that effort.”

“I’ve seen my dad interact with a lot of people in business-casual settings. If he’s met them before he remembers their stories, their kids, their situations,” says Bill’s son David B. Graebel, manager of business development at the company. ”That’s not just a function of memory. He cares about people, and he pays attention.

“The word I would use to explain my dad’s business success is ‘perseverance.’ I like the phrase ‘the hungriest wolf runs the fastest,’ and that’s him.”

“The leadership style I see in my dad is the combination of two traits: empathy and the desire to win,” says son Dan Graebel, supplier development regional manager. “The company wouldn’t have been this successful if the workplace he built and still guides wasn’t grounded in those two things.

“Certain lessons my dad’s parents ingrained in him, namely a love for the natural world and the imperative of being kind to others, have influenced the passion he has for the ESG and diversity initiatives he’s instilled in the company.”

Paul Bartelt
Non-family
The Vollrath Company, Sheboygan, Wis.

Bartelt became president and CEO of Vollrath in 2009 after joining the organization as chief operating officer in 2008. Before joining Vollrath, he worked at Kohler Company for years, first directing cast iron and stainless steel operations and then as president of the engine division.

Vollrath’s business divisions encompass commercial food service, frozen treat equipment, manufacturing services and cleaning equipment, and consumer cookware and bakeware.

Bartelt has grown Vollrath significantly, both organically and through acquisitions. The company has more than doubled in size, stretching across the United States as well as into Europe and Asia, during his tenure. The growth is a result of expanding not only geographically but also in product and service categories, particularly induction equipment, countertop equipment, serving systems and fabricator components, aluminum cookware and frozen dessert equipment.

Bartelt received his MBA from the University of Iowa and a master of science degree in metallurgical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“As president and CEO of my family’s seventh-generation company, Paul Bartelt has demonstrated innovative strategic leadership over 12 years,” says Danielle Kohler, chairman of The Vollrath Company board and a board member at Windway Capital Corp., where Vollrath is held.

“Thanks to Paul’s vision, Vollrath has more than tripled its gross sales in what has traditionally been a low/no-growth industry,” Kohler says. “Paul’s inspiring leadership helped us through 2020 COVID and helped us to thrive in 2021’s new world.

“Paul has led and continues to lead us through many critical and strategic acquisitions, enabling Vollrath to bring its considerable customer-focused expertise to adjacent industries. For example, he quickly saw the potential of ecommerce disruption in the foodservice equipment category and led our early adoption of supplying ecommerce customers.

“Paul has achieved these impressive results while keeping the family’s culture and values as the top priority. He will be the first to tell you that he hasn’t done this by himself. Attracting top talent has also ensured the future growth and stability of Vollrath.

“He gracefully and effectively balances the needs of customers, employees, family shareholders and communities by leading a respectful culture that is warm, metrics-focused and committed to outstanding performance, reflecting his ethics, values and humility.

“Paul is an avid sailor and our hero. He noticed a lady in distress on the breakwater at a recent board, family and executive team-building evening sailing on Lake Michigan. Paul dove in, fully clothed! He brought her safely to the coast guard, then joined us for dinner! Paul has sailed the ‘Chicago Mac’ offshore sailboat race twice with family members and the Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan.

“Paul has a great sense of humor that puts people at ease while still dealing in serious matters with skill. He keeps it real, never a dull moment.”

“At The Vollrath Company, people matter,” Bartelt says. “They are at the center of everything we do. It was what drew me to the company through some of my first conversations with Terry Kohler, the great-great-grandson of company founder Jacob J. Vollrath and former CEO of Windway Capital Corporation, the parent company of Vollrath.

“We believe that taking care of people first — our employees, our partners and customers, our communities and environment — is the foundation of our growth and continued success. Having varied perspectives helps generate better ideas to solve the complex problems of our rapidly changing world and business. We value and respect all people and believe that everyone has something to contribute. There’s not one person in this company that doesn’t impact our business and our customers. It’s who we are, and I think it’s what makes us special.”

Sharon Birkman
Second generation
Birkman International Inc., Houston, Texas

Birkman was named president and CEO of Birkman International in 2002 after having served in several roles at the company, including vice president of corporate relations, and career coaching. She became chairman and CEO in 2019.

Birkman International is a behavioral and occupational assessment company. It began assessing personality through a proprietary methodology founded by Birkman’s father, organizational psychologist Roger W. Birkman, in 1951.

Her goal as a second-generation owner was to shepherd the growth and expansion of her parents’ legacy. Under her leadership, the company has developed new products, technology and training initiatives.

The Birkman Method was created to help people in the workplace and has primarily been used in this way. In 2021, Birkman International launched a neurodiversity initiative to provide organizations the tools to create an inclusive environment for people with neurodivergent styles and to provide those individuals an equal chance to be employed at any organization.

Birkman holds a master of music degree from the University of Texas in Austin and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s OPM (Owner/President Management) program. With Stephanie Capparell of the Wall Street Journal, she co-authored The Birkman Method: Your Personality at Work (2013). In 2020, Forbes released her second book, Creatures of Contact: Why You Need More Than a Personality Test.

“Sharon Birkman’s dedication to the craft and her advocacy on behalf of the profession is unmatched,” says Michael Pedé, associate vice president for alumni affairs at the University of Houston.

“In her decades of experience, she has continued to be a leader and on the cutting edge of the new trends and technology. Running a family business is not easy, especially when you are the CEO of the business with such a community impact, and Sharon has done that marvelously over the years.”

“You could call me a poster child for a fulfilling second career,” Birkman says. “Since early childhood, music had been my chosen career, but mid-life, given the opportunity to carry my father’s torch and lead Birkman International, I soon felt that Birkman was my life’s true purpose.

“Throughout their lives, my parents had worked hard to develop my dad’s assessment. Their goal was to help people understand themselves and others more appreciatively. Harnessing the power of social perception, Birkman has improved working relationships across the globe. For seven decades, The Birkman Method has empowered teams, leaders and career paths in organizations of all sizes and industries. And when I hear, ‘Birkman changed my life in such a wonderful way!’ it’s an incredible gift. My vision is to continue the progress, so the Birkman lights will shine brightly for years to come.“

Rob Burnette
Non-family
W.S. Badcock Corp., Mulberry, Fla.

Burnette’s career at W.S. Badcock spans more than 35 years. The company, founded in 1904, is a furniture, appliance and home décor retailer with more than 370 stores in Southeastern states.

Burnette graduated from Florida Southern College in 1983 with a degree in business administration and joined W.S. Badcock in 1985. He steadily moved up the ranks, from regional personnel associate to risk manager in 1989. In 1997, he was promoted to vice president of corporate administration and property. Five years later, he advanced again, to the new role of senior vice president of corporate administration, overseeing the activities of human resources as well as risk management. Shortly thereafter he focused his efforts on building relationships with Badcock dealers as the senior vice president of dealer retail operations and in 2016 was promoted to chief operations officer. He became president and CEO on Jan. 1, 2017.

“Rob’s efforts in the mid-1990s helped define what the administration of W.S. Badcock Corp. should look like, and because of his foresight and planning, many of Rob’s procedures and systems remain in play today,” say fourth-generation family members Wogie Badcock and Bill Pou.

Under Burnette’s leadership, the company expanded its training department and developed a review and evaluation system. He also created a “Family in Training Program” for NextGens who aspire to work in the family business. The NextGens spend two to three years in the program, where they gain exposure to all areas of the corporation.

“They work and learn directly from many of the department heads, and when they leave the program, our NextGen knows which areas of our company they can contribute to the most. To be clear, this would have never happened without Rob’s creativity, leadership and guidance, and as a result, our family is not only well prepared to lead a company, but each member is a better individual leader, having gained access to so many different facets of our longstanding family business,” Badcock and Pou say.

“That kind of exposure reminds us fifth-gens just how many people our family business touches: From employees to customers, we have the ability to impact lives in a positive way,” says fifth-generation member Merris Badcock. “That lesson we learned from Rob.”

Burnette has also been a mentor to many family members, Merris Badcock says. “Rob has always given us all (regardless of generation) a safe place to go for advice, leadership and guidance as we navigate the sometimes-choppy waters of working with a bunch of different personality styles and family members. Rob leads with consistent grace and poise and is the kind of leader you can not only look up to, but can also ask for help.”

Soon after becoming president and CEO, Burnette updated and streamlined systems for the company’s dealers. He changed the dealer commission model, which has enabled dealers to open more than 65 new stores in the last 4½ years. More than 75% of Badcock stores are owned by dealers.

Wogie Badcock and Bill Pou credit Burnette’s foresight with helping the company weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the coronavirus struck, he company had already revamped its website and online sales platforms, they note.

“When you hire a CEO, you want a person who leads with grace, creativity and bravery in all facets of their life,” Merris Badcock says. “Both in and out of the boardroom, Rob is an exemplary leader. Our family business is a better place to work because of Rob.”

“I came to Badcock in 1985 looking for a job and found a family,” Burnette says. “At 24, I had already found my dream job.

“Since 1904, our company motto has been ‘Badcock will treat you right,’ which translated to a company sentiment that continues today — that all customers, employees, dealers and vendors would be treated like family. And I was, as access to key family decision makers, guidance from the top and opportunities to learn gave me the ability to grow in my role at the company.

“I was honored when the fourth generation asked me to prepare the next generation with the skills they needed to be great leaders. Although they knew that there would be difficulties and challenges on the road ahead, they trusted me with this task. That trust, along with family values and mutual respect, is what drives me daily to help take this company to the next level and why I’ve stayed with Badcock for 36 years. It’s also what unites us as family and why I smile every time Wogie Badcock calls me his ‘brother from another mother.’ “

M. Trevor Messinger
Third generation
Coca-Cola Bottling Company High Country, Rapid City, S.D.

Coca-Cola Bottling Company High Country has operating facilities across North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, northern Colorado, northeastern Utah and western .

Messinger orchestrated the acquisitions of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Rock Springs and a related company, Wyoming Bottling, in 2000 and the acquisition of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Vernal in 2004. 

He is a leader in the “Coca-Cola System of the Future,” an initiative to return North American bottling operations to local partners. Most recently, Coca-Cola High Country expanded its territory in Montana with the acquisition of the Glendive Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in early 2020.

Messinger has served as chairman of the Coca-Cola Mainstream Bottlers Council and president of the South Dakota Bottlers Association. He has been a member of the Coca-Cola Bottlers Association board of governors since 2005. He previously served the Coca-Cola Bottlers Association as president (2017-18), vice president (2015-16) and treasurer (2013-14). He was a member of the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Sales and Service board of directors from 2007 to 2011.

He graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in accounting.

“Trevor has led Coca-Cola Bottling Company High Country through highs and lows, especially throughout the pandemic,” says Stephanie Larscheid, executive director of the Prairie Family Business Association. “Throughout the pandemic they worked with the different rules and regulations in each state.

“Trevor is an advocate of family businesses and serves on another family’s advisory board. He is actively working with his siblings to prepare for the fourth generation. Their first fourth-generation family member began working full-time for the business this year.”

“It is such an honor and privilege to serve and steward this business now and for future generations because of our passion for the Coca-Cola brand and the unique and special relationship that we get to have with our family and our teams who are part of our extended family, helping them grow and develop to serve in work and in life,” Messinger says.

“We also get to touch every facet of our communities and become part of their fabric through investment and philanthropy, and we literally do business with everyone.

“We refresh and hydrate consumers, help our customers be successful and participate in our communities. It brings the best of the global Coca-Cola Company together with the best of our company, the local Coca-Cola bottler. It is just very special!”

Gil de Cardenas
Second generation
Cacique Inc., Monrovia, Calif.

Cacique, founded in 1973, is a leading U.S. maker of authentic Mexican food brands. As the founder’s son, de Cardenas learned the business from the ground up —  from trucks and supervising the plant to running the marketing team and leading national distribution efforts.

He earned an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 2002, the year he became president of Cacique. As president, he developed and executed an expansion plan that more than doubled revenues and established Cacique as the largest U.S. brand of Hispanic-style cheeses.

He also spent time away from the family business to launch his own venture, Don Gilberto, a brand of cold cuts and frankfurters created for first-generation Hispanic families through his own company, MTK Inc. He returned to Cacique in 2009 and brought his expertise in Hispanic meats with him.

As the company’s COO, de Cardenas grew the Cacique chorizos line, restructured distribution, guided technological innovation and spearheaded consumer studies to learn about general market perceptions of Mexican food. This led to the company’s marketing evolution, during which he created and executed a strategy to educate and attract the next generation of consumers interested in a high-quality Mexican food experience. This marketing shift drove significant distribution and household penetration gains.

As CEO, de Cardenas created an innovation group dedicated to understanding developing consumer trends, which has guided Cacique in bringing two new categories to market. It also led to the acquisition of El Sol Foods, which has allowed the company to extend its product range to include fresh salsas and enter the homes of even more people across the country.

Today, he and his siblings own Cacique. In addition to serving on the Cacique board of directors, de Cardenas is a board member at a mid-market privately held food company. He is a past chair of the San Gabriel Valley Chapter of the Young Presidents Organization.

In 2020, de Cardenas navigated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping employees safe while accounting for 200% increases in orders from retail customers the company saw in March. To do so, he guided the Cacique team in making the strategic decision to double down on production of the brand’s core items.

In 2021, he oversaw the groundbreaking of an $88 million dairy processing facility in Amarillo, Texas. Once operation begins at this new plant in the fall of 2022, the 200,000-square-foot facility will help Cacique expand production capacity, increase R&D to drive product innovation and continue to enhance its national presence.

Under his direction, the company has recognized an opportunity to reach new consumers who shop at untraditional stores or online.

“Gil embodies the meaning of the word cacique — a chief or leader — as he builds the company to reach more consumers than ever and take it to the next level via innovation, enhanced production and distribution, and broader integrated marketing channels,” says Adam Goldman, the company’s vice president of human resources.

“My parents founded the company almost 50 years ago,” de Cardenas says. “I’ve had the honor of watching it grow from the humble beginnings of seeing our dad selling queso fresco door to door in downtown Los Angeles while our mom was making cheese at the plant. Our start was so humble that our dad kept the cheese in Styrofoam coolers and used the family car, a 1966 teal green Pontiac, to make deliveries. Our mom pulled the double duty of getting us off to school, going to the plant to make product for tomorrow and then rushing home to help us with homework and make dinner while our dad finished the cheese-making process after his selling day.

“Throughout the years, we’ve worked hard to remain true to our roots by living out the core values of Family, Integrity, Quality and Authenticity each day. I believe it’s that dedication to the values my parents established from the beginning — which are instilled in the broader Cacique family — that has led Cacique to become one of the top authentic Mexican food brands in the United States. Today, you will find at least one Cacique product in about seven out of 10 stores in this country.”

Ganesh Iyer
Non-family
Etnyre International, Oregon, Ill.

Iyer became president and CEO of Etnyre International on July 1, 2018, after  a two-month period as president and CEO-elect.

Etnyre International, founded in 1898, manufactures equipment for the asphalt road building and transportation industry. Etnyre acquired two companies in 2020 to diversify the product portfolio and become a supplier to Fortune 100 original equipment manufacturers.

Prior to joining Etnyre, Iyer had a successful career at Caterpillar Inc., where he served in roles across the United States, India and Singapore. He fostered a low-cost mindset with a focus on operational excellence and preserving quality, resulting in multiple Operational Excellence awards. 

He served on Caterpillar corporate boards, including Asia Power Systems in China and Caterpillar India Private Limited in India. Currently, he serves as a director on the boards of Etnyre International, The Etnyre Foundation, Neuco Inc. and Rockford University.

Iyer holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and an M.E. in engineering management from the University of Wisconsin. Earlier degrees include an M.E. in aerospace engineering and M.S. in mechanical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and a B.E. in mechanical engineering from Gujarat University in India.

“The depth and breadth of his business knowledge and skill, combined with an enormous capacity to see the forest while keeping track of all the trees, continues to amaze the board, the Etnyre family, the leadership team and company members (employees),” says William Etnyre, chair of the board.

“During Ganesh’s first two months, while his predecessor completed his tenure, this brilliant engineer saw many things needing fixing,” Etnyre says.

“Within the first month of becoming president and CEO, Ganesh began a cultural transformation of the company that continues today. It started with implementation of ‘The Etnyre Road,’ our version of Lean manufacturing. In September of the same year, he initiated the company’s first strategic planning process that took more than 20 members at several leadership levels out of their silos and got them talking frankly with each other. In both these initiatives, Ganesh insisted on people telling the truth about what was and wasn’t working rather than trying to look good. There was indeed a lot of fixing to do.

“Identifying the core values of the company was integral to the strategic planning process. Ganesh invited many company members from the shop to upper management to participate in this effort, giving them a sense of his collaborative leadership style — a departure from more than a century of top-down management.

“Ganesh got many people to talk frankly about safety; empowerment of members; quality, innovation, improvement of products; on-time delivery; strategic sourcing; information systems; and customer satisfaction with newly delivered equipment and service post-market. Ganesh infused this philosophy of collaboration throughout the company. For example, he set up interdisciplinary councils to address challenges and opportunities. Meetings in the shop invite members to voice concerns and solutions. Actions in all these areas, carried out with humility and integrity, have gone a long way to demonstrate care and respect and build trust.

“The safety records are better than ever. Though hampered by COVID-related supply chain challenges, on-time-delivery is significantly higher along with much higher quality at last inspection. Leaders are being trained and given much more responsibility and authority at all levels. Ganesh has actively identified, coached and provided experiences to prepare future officers of the company and his eventual replacement as CEO.”

Currently, Iyer is championing “doing well by doing good,” Etnyre says. “Though this aspiration has been in view since Ganesh came on board, through many discussions to align board, family, and company leaders in management and the shop, it is now front and center.”

“My time at Etnyre International in the past three-plus years has been nothing short of outstanding,” Iyer says. “The Etnyre family has given me the freedom to pursue a lifelong passion to make a difference in the lives of people I touch.

“With a fantastic team, I have been privileged to guide the company through significant cultural transformation.

“Top-line growth is more than 35%. Safety, customer service and product quality are vastly improved. Employee engagement has gone up significantly, fulfilling their hunger to make a difference in their own ways.

“My interactions with family and company members have made me a kinder and more thoughtful human being as we make even further progress in our journey of Doing Well by Doing Good.”

Greg Cohen
Fourth generation
Magid Glove & Safety Mfg. Co. LLC, Romeoville, Ill.

Magid Glove & Safety Mfg. Co. provides personal protective equipment (PPE) to industrial end-users such as manufacturing companies and the oil and gas industry. During the -19 pandemic, the company’s products were desperately needed, and Magid made significant contributions to help healthcare workers and first ­responders.

Before being named CEO, Cohen spent more than 20 years at Magid in roles of increasing responsibility. He has a record of building enterprise value throughout the organization, covering strategy, general management, operations and information systems.

Cohen holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial distribution from the University of Illinois. Prior to launching his Magid career, he worked at Arthur Andersen Business Consulting Group in the logistics group, analyzing and optimizing distribution systems for manufacturing and industrial distribution clients. This experience was directly applicable to Andersen’s support of Magid’s first warehouse management system in the late 1990s. Cohen began work on this project on the Andersen side but eventually transferred to the Magid side to oversee the execution and installation of this system, which won a Warehouse of the Year award for Magid.

After initial success with Magid’s warehouse management system, Cohen expanded his responsibilities to oversee both the full distribution effort and the management information systems. He also became a Magid director. In 2012, he began managing both the ecommerce and global supply chain teams and oversaw the selection of and eventual move to Magid’s Romeoville campus in 2014. He became Magid’s first CEO in 2015, after decades of governance by family committee.

Since Cohen took on the role of CEO, Magid has grown 10% annually, more than doubling the previous growth trend.

Cohen’s aunt Gigi Cohen, the company’s executive vice president, notes that Magid has evolved from being completely led by family to a 70% non-family-led company.

“As the company grows, Greg thoughtfully guides career paths to help each active family member find a rewarding and challenging role where they can make an important contribution to the company,” she says. “His leadership has taken Magid to the next level, while maintaining family harmony and a family-business style culture.

“A few years into Greg’s tenure as CEO, he brought in a new strategic planning process, which included high-potential team members from all levels of the company. This ‘sub-team’ involvement generated better information as input for the strategic plan, as well as creating high levels of engagement throughout the workforce. The resulting plan is still guiding growth three years later as we continue to focus and refine our strategic efforts and initiatives. Greg has continued the family philosophy of investing in the business to ensure Magid’s long-term success.”

Throughout the pandemic, Magid donated more than $250,000 of PPE products to various organizations and partnered with large companies like Google, Amazon, Tesla and Bechtel to make joint donations of large quantities of PPE.

“Magid started selling disposable masks and even chartered a 767 cargo jet to bring in masks for customers needing to keep their team members safe,” Gigi Cohen says. “Since the pandemic began, Magid sold over 140 million masks, a product we didn’t sell before April 2020.

“Products were in high demand before COVID even arrived in the U.S., and in early February 2020 Greg spearheaded an effort at Magid to develop an allocation system to prevent companies and individuals with deep pockets from wiping out inventory. The breakdown in the supply chain required the team to work non-stop to secure new suppliers that met Magid’s safety standards. Greg also decided that Magid should provide free respirator mask quality evaluations for healthcare and government institutions.

“Greg’s ability to keep the Magid team connected and focused during the pandemic helped Magid meet its 2020 financial goals. Greg’s steady leadership, ability to pivot and long-term view helped Magid weather the pandemic and continue to chart a path for future growth and success.”

“I believe that doing what’s right for our people is doing what’s right for our business,” Greg Cohen says. “From a 12-year old boy picking orders in the warehouse to becoming Magid’s CEO and working with our leadership team to make critical decisions, I have always known that Magid’s incredible team is responsible for our collective success.

“I am proud to continue and enhance my family’s dedication to the Magid culture: a culture where people can be themselves, have fun and work together to help the company grow. Growing allows us to create opportunities for our team to learn and develop, while keeping millions of workers safe throughout North America.

“While being CEO is a humbling honor, I know I am just one part of a 75-year legacy that respects the past as we excitedly look to the future.”

Ryan M. Sullivan
Non-family
Continental Materials Corporation, Chicago, Ill.

Continental Materials Corporation (CMC) is a holding company of U.S.-based manufacturing and distribution businesses. Sullivan joined the company in 2018 as chief operating   led the portfolio through the divestiture of its construction materials-related businesses and assets and the acquisition of three new subsidiaries. Through his leadership, the portfolio experienced significant improvements in operational and financial performance, and the corporation returned to long-term stability.

Following CMC’s delisting as a publicly traded company in 2020, Sullivan was elevated to CEO. He is now focused on growing the portfolio, both through organic growth of its businesses and by targeted acquisitions that will diversify the portfolio’s risk profile and provide opportunities for long-term sustainable cash generation.

Prior to joining CMC, Sullivan was president and managing director of Kingspan Insulation North America, where he led the introduction of numerous commercial insulation products to the North American market, fueling growth and improving profitability of the business. He also oversaw the completion of a significant capacity expansion in the Winchester, Va., reduced manufacturing costs and enabled market share growth for the core business.

He joined James Hardie Building Products in 2004 as manufacturing manager and advanced through several progressively more impactful roles over the next 12 years with the company. As executive vice president and North American president and a member of the global executive management team, he held full P&L responsibility for the North American business with annual revenues of approximately $1.5 billion and growth rates of more than 10% per year.

Earlier in his career, he held various positions with Marconi Communications, Westinghouse and Quantapoint.

Mark Kwilosz of Duff & Phelps notes that the company’s change from public to privately held “saves significant costs and eliminates distractions.”

In addition to shifting CMC to a private company and revitalizing its portfolio through the divestiture and acquisitions, in just over three years Sullivan has “led a complete restructuring of the management team from corporate down to each portfolio company, assisted in the creation of a private company family board with independent directors and continues to be the facilitator of family values and goals within the company’s corporate strategy,” Kwilosz says.

Brad Fitzpatrick of CVC Search Partners calls Sullivan “an extremely bright and driven individual who knows how to lead a team and can achieve top-tier results.” Fitzpatrick adds that Sullivan “has transformed an older family office to a progressive, profitable and growth-oriented organization.”

“I am proud of the history of CMC and humbled by the confidence that shareholders have placed in me to lead the company forward,” Sullivan says. “Throughout my career I have been a part of many different types of companies — small and large; public and private; narrow and diverse; employee-centric and bottom line-fixated — and I truly believe that at CMC I have found the perfect combination for me, my leadership style and our shareholders.

“We believe in long-term ownership of U.S.-based businesses so that both employees and shareholders can capture value through strategic initiatives. We value and champion the entrepreneurial spirit and flexibility inherent in smaller companies while appreciating the stability and security that comes with being part of a larger holding company. We focus on operating with the standards and relationships of a world-class family business without losing sight of our fiduciary responsibility to shareholders.

“CMC has built a very impressive and passionate team across all our business units who are driving our company forward. I am very excited about the future and all we will accomplish together.”

Donna A. Peterson
Second generation
World Innovators Incorporated, Roxbury, Conn.

Peterson is leading World Innovators into a rapid growth phase and ensuring the company evolves as fast as the marketing industry.

The company, which recently celebrated its 41st anniversary, was a list management and brokerage firm at its inception. Today it is a strategic marketing company that assists clients in reaching specific niche areas worldwide.

Peterson has been with the company for 33 years. “Having graduated from Connecticut College with an economics degree, she was always looking forward to getting things done more efficiently and quickly,” says her mother, company founder Anne M. Peterson. “She started by doing small backup tasks, such as filing, copying and collating mailings.

“She quickly learned more of what my husband (who joined me) and I were doing — contacting prospective clients and meeting their needs for mailing lists that were clean, responsive and relevant to their offers.

“Donna moved forward, helping clients find their own set of responsive names, and started to handle the whole process — from searching for the right list to getting the mail piece approved and in the hands of the prospective customer. She frequently traveled to Europe to visit potential publishers in specific industries to convince them to rent their house files.

“Donna has kept up with the trends and has driven the company into the 21st century. Having created and designed our entire website with her added skill set of HTML coding, she has put our firm on other firms’ radars. This has greatly helped to expand our reach all over the globe.”

In March 2021, Donna Peterson launched “The World Innovators Podcast,” in which she and industry leaders discuss the rapidly changing nature of the marketing industry. “Because of these initiatives, we have a whole new set of clients in the industrial equipment auction space,” her mother says.

Peterson was instrumental in producing online business-to-business direct marketing courses, which teach people how to advertise effectively in the B2B space. She’s planning a book and a conference centered on teaching business-to-business direct marketing worldwide.

In her previous role as executive vice president, Peterson handled day-to-day sales. She has formed long-term relationships with customers, which she calls the key to success.
Peterson says businesspeople must be educated about how to find and research quality marketing lists. “No one is teaching the skill of finding quality response lists, and it will be a lost art if people are not taught how to do it properly,” she says. “Direct marketing is still one of the most effective advertising channels available, but only when executed properly.

“Family is important to me, and I was blessed the day I joined World Innovators in 1988. I may not have realized it back then, but I certainly do today. I have been able to celebrate my successes and commiserate about my failures with the people I am closest to in my life. My family keeps me grounded and staying within the mission of our company: To inspire, educate, nurture businesses to build valuable relationships that will stand the test of time.

“My passion for marketing grows every day as I figure out the best ways to educate business-to-business companies on how to increase sales using responsive tactics that will save them time and money. I look forward to seeing what direction the next generation takes the company and continues the World Innovators legacy.”

“Our business has now become very time-sensitive, as clients place orders via email and expect their orders to be email blasted within three days,” Anne Peterson says. “Given that we have many international clients, it also requires responses at all hours of the day. The dedication and time Donna have put into the firm over the past 33 years has been truly admirable.

“I can confidently say that the company would not be where it was today without her. I can’t imagine a better and more qualified CEO to take over the legacy I’ve built here at World Innovators Inc.”

John C.L. Darby
Third generation
The Beach Company, Charleston, S.C.

Darby, a native of Charleston and a graduate of The Citadel, started his career in banking with First Union Mortgage Corporation in residential and commercial financing. He worked  for First Union in Greensboro, N.C., Winston-Salem, N.C., Orlando, Fla., and Columbia, S.C.

In 1988, the family approached him about working for The Beach Company, the family’s real estate development firm. In 1990, Darby moved back to Charleston and joined the family business. Darby was named CEO of The Beach Company in 1999 and has since expanded the company’s presence throughout the Charleston region and Southeast.

Darby has grown the business from 18 to more than 300 employees and diversified The Beach Company’s investments, transforming it into a full-service real estate business with a portfolio including residential and resort properties, office buildings, shopping centers, industrial parks and land across the Southeast.

Darby also expanded the firm’s construction company, Gulf Stream Construction, and its property management company, Beach Management.

Under his leadership, The Beach Company has expanded from a multimillion-dollar, multifamily portfolio to a $1.5+ billion portfolio of Class A multifamily and mixed-used properties. It has developed and built more than 20 ground-up “trophy properties” across the Southeastern United States.

Darby is co-chair of the Mother Emanuel Memorial Foundation, which planned and raised funds to create a memorial to the nine African-Americans who were murdered on June 17, 2015, at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston — just blocks from The Beach Company’s corporate office at the time.

Darby established the Beach Real Estate Fund, The Beach Company’s first investment fund, which has contributed significantly to the company’s operational expansion and helped diversify its income stream through new investments and acquisitions.

Despite the challenges of the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, The Beach Company continues to expand its operations in the Southeast with land acquisitions and development plans for projects in Richmond, Va., Huntsville, Ala., Asheville, N.C., and Johns Island, S.C. The company also welcomed the first residents and tenants at The Jasper, a 12-story luxury mixed-use building in downtown Charleston, in February 2020 after 12 years of legal proceedings and community meetings. The Beach Company relocated its corporate headquarters to The Jasper in early 2021.

Darby is managing partner for Kiawah River, a new waterfront community near Charleston and the area’s first agrihood.

“First and foremost, John Darby’s focus for the family business is centered on aligning the business with shareholders’ interests and values,” says Dan Doyle, The Beach Company’s chief operating officer. “He continually ensures that the company is performing at its best — through good economic times and difficult ones — on behalf of its shareholders.

“One of John’s most remarkable skills is his ability to challenge employees to accomplish more than they believe they can achieve. His ability to motivate comes from the care and compassion he demonstrates daily to employees of The Beach Company. As a result, many of the company’s employees have a very long tenure with the company.

“Lastly, John has achieved great growth for the company during his time as CEO. The Beach Company’s real estate development footprint was formerly 98% within the Charleston metropolitan area, and today, its portfolio is stretched across the Southeastern U.S., as the region has experienced the fastest growth in the country. The company’s revenue has also grown in tandem with the geographic expansion. Over the past five years, The Beach Company has successfully developed more than $1 billion in real estate, with another $500 million currently in the pipeline, and we are well positioned for future expansion.”

“Leading my family’s business has been and continues to be a formidable blessing,” Darby says. “Fortunately, my predecessors showed me the way by sharing the ins and outs of the company’s history and walking me through generations of both successful and challenging times, which helped to establish my sense of purpose and vision for the future of The Beach Company.

“My grandfather and my uncle, who led the company for its first two generations, are both well-known for their business savvy and their dedication to public service, which helped shape Charleston’s landscape, politics and philanthropy.

“Their heart, determination and tenacity inspire me and help set my focus as I guide The Beach Company for future generations. Building a great team to carry out the vision of the company also fuels my passion. We have proven talent on our team. Our company’s sense of family and history inspires our staff and truly sets us apart from other businesses.”

Junai Maharaj
Non-family
Bulab Holdings Inc. (Buckman), Memphis, Tenn.

Bulab Holdings Inc. (known as Buckman) is a global specialty chemical company that serves customers in the paper industry, water treatment, the leather market and other chemistry industries. Maharaj became president and CEO in May 2017.

“Since becoming CEO, Junai has achieved record business performance while also building a new, innovative digital services business,” says Gregg Sutherland, chair of the board of directors. “While achieving these unprecedented results, Junai is shifting the company to an innovation culture, with more attention toward employees and communities.” Profitability under Maharaj’s leadership has increased by more than 50%.

Maharaj, a grandchild of immigrants from India, grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era, in an environment of discrimination and unequal access to education and opportunities.

Maharaj attended university in South Africa from 1992 to 1995. These were some of the most violent times in South African history, including the collapse of apartheid in 1994. He became a Chartered Accountant in 1996 under the South African Public Accountants and Auditors Board. In 2011, he completed the Stanford University Executive Program.

In 1996, Maharaj was hired by Arthur Andersen in South Africa, where he was  introduced to chemical market clients, including Buckman. He served as training officer and on the firm’s internal practice review team for the Middle East.

He joined Buckman in 2002 as Buckman Africa’s finance manager. He was named general manager of operations in 2006 and then advanced to general manager. As general manager he transformed a struggling business in a tough market, improving profitability by 700% and free cash flow by more than 3,500%.

Maharaj was promoted to managing director of Buckman Europe, Middle East and Africa in 2014 and moved with his family to Belgium. The region went from recording a loss to one of the most profitable and fastest-growing businesses in the company.

“In 2017 the board of directors launched a search for a new CEO. Because of Junai’s track record of success in many dimensions, his strong principles and his strategic vision for the future of Buckman, Junai was appointed by the board of directors as the first non-family CEO of Buckman,” Sutherland says.

As CEO, Maharaj developed a vision for aggressive growth and innovation known internally as Buckman 4.0.

“Junai’s strategy includes innovating as a digital leader, building corporate capabilities, modernizing operations and revitalizing the company’s innovation culture. This new strategy is transforming the company both internally and externally,” Sutherland says.

Early on as Buckman’s CEO, Maharaj oversaw the company’s first significant acquisition, adding sensing technology, which has been a catalyst of growth for the company.

He transitioned the business from a regional to a global operating model. Incubators were launched to develop new businesses within the company. Buckman opened a water treatment R&D chemistry and digital insights lab in India and a digital innovation hub in Memphis.

In addition, Sutherland notes, Maharaj developed long-range acquisition and capital investment plans; worked with the owners and board to form the first fully independent board and management team in company history; and launched new liquidity options for shareholders that balance owner liquidity with the need for investing in growth and innovation.

Under Maharaj’s leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion became a new focus area within Buckman Cares, a global community relations initiative that promotes responsible corporate citizenship.

“Junai understands the importance of people and culture and is passionate about investing company resources and his own time in both,” Sutherland says. “He has shown commitment and results in developing Buckman’s people and promoting the company’s values.

“Junai has been successfully leading Buckman to record results, while also transforming the company to have an exciting long-term future driven by digital services and innovation.”

“In May 2017, I was deeply honored to become the first non-family CEO of Buckman, a 72-year old global company,” Maharaj says. “The shareholders and board entrusted me to lead and grow this great company through the fourth industrial revolution. My personal obsession with technology and the art of the possible has fueled a passion to deliver for shareholders as well as employees, customers, suppliers and communities.

“The last 20 years with the company inextricably intertwined my personal and work lives, as my family moved around the world. While each move created a new professional opportunity, it also afforded my children the occasion to develop a global mindset and life skills that no school could teach. I strongly believe ‘We strengthens Me,’ and I consider myself blessed to be working with great Buckman associates. Teamwork and collaboration combined with a culture of learning, agility and innovation will sustain our business for years to come.”

Scott Felsenthal
Fourth generation
Whitmor Inc., Southaven, Miss.

Felsenthal became the first fourth-generation member of his family to join the business after he graduated law school in 2009. Whitmor, a mass-market organizational and services company, is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2021;

Following in the footsteps of his father, Peter Felsenthal, who retired as CEO in 2020 after 39 years with the company, he learned the business through the eyes of its employees, working across all departments.

Scott currently serves on the board of directors for several companies, including a New York-headquartered direct-to-consumer home essentials product company called SNOWE, a Montreal-based public real estate technology company called Urbanimmersive and a Memphis-based designer and distributor of decorative lamps and lighting, Grandview Gallery.

“During his time at Whitmor, Scott had been groomed from the outset to become a member of the senior leadership team,” his father says. “His quick grasp of the business and, in particular, his focus on understanding and building upon the strong culture of our organization led me to the realization that I should seriously think about grooming Scott to become my successor to the CEO role.”

Scott Felsenthal led the 2017 acquisition of Neat Method, the first acquisition in the company’s history. “Scott recognized a need for our business to become more diversified and sought an opportunity for us to acquire a business that was in the service industry, particularly a company that engaged in home organization services,” his father says. “This acquisition has proven to be highly successful and has grown from a limited number of independent contractors to a franchise model with now over 80 franchises in the U.S. and Canada. Neat Method has also launched a highly successful ecommerce site with product development and production handled by Whitmor’s experienced team of product designers and operational staff.”

Scott also assumed a key role in overseeing the company’s manufacturing operation in Mexico, which was acquired in 2019. That acquisition enabled Whitmor “to diversify its manufacturing base and move sourcing of strategic product from Asia to direct manufacturing in Mexico,” Peter says.

Scott took the initiative to hire a head of people operations and organization development, who focuses full-time on the culture of the organization, including the development of an in-house program to develop future “people leaders,” Peter says. “This effort has played a large role in Whitmor achieving recognition as a Top Workplace in the Memphis and Mid-South for multiple consecutive years.”

Peter says his son has earned the respect of team members, particularly the leadership team. “Scott has learned and understands the dynamics and challenges of operating a family-owned business. He has spent much time furthering the culture of the organization to embrace the nuances and challenges of running a family business.”

Peter’s brother, Sandy Felsenthal, continues to serve as president and has also assumed the role of chairman of the board. “Scott and his uncle make up a strong leadership tandem who understand their roles and play upon their strengths to ensure a strong future for Whitmor,” Peter says.

“As I sit back in retirement and observe from the outside how the company is progressing under Scott’s leadership, I am exceptionally proud of the leadership he has provided during his early term as CEO.”

“My passion for Whitmor is deep-rooted through three prior family generations who have poured their heart and soul into allowing for Whitmor to become what it is today,” Scott says. “Continuing to build a successful business so that future family generations can continue to contribute to our success is very important to me.”

Phil Houser
First generation
Document Solutions Inc. (DSI), Albuquerque, N.M.

Houser’s father used his business acumen to become successful in a number of ventures, such as selling property in northern New Mexico and starting a turquoise jewelry right before the start of the 1970s turquoise jewelry craze. These early experiences proved to Houser that with enough belief, willingness and hard work, any amount of success could be achieved.

Houser worked in corporate America as an office equipment salesperson followed by a role as district manager for his company. After 13 years at the job, when his four children were toddlers, he took the funds out of his 401(k) retirement plan and started DSI without a single customer lined up. In those days, DSI existed solely as a toner cartridge remanufacturer; work was hard to find. Phil and his wife, Theresa, kept at it, and their tenacity has been rewarded with increasing amounts of success over the years.

“He is innovative and not scared to change,” says his daughter Jocelyn Gorman, vice president of sales at DSI.

“Over the last 10 years DSI has diversified into many different technologies. We now have an imaging division (copier and printer sales and support) that is top dealer in the region for Konica Minolta; an IT division that has had over 50% growth year over year supporting over 8,000 devices throughout the state and 2,500 VoIP systems; and a security division that supports video surveillance access control, etc., with over 125% growth during COVID.

“We went from a 10x10-foot office to six offices in New Mexico, 70-plus employees. three of four kids in the business and six other family members.

“He is a leader that trusts his team to do what they need to. He is still willing to go into the field with his employees. He is investing in growing and continuing to find new ventures and technologies to help us be leaders in our space and not behind the curve. He makes sure we are a part of the community, not just selling in a community. He is fair, approachable, innovative, supportive, smart and a leader in our industry across the country.”

“I’m proud to be the founder and CEO of the award-winning DSI team that helps businesses leverage best-of-breed technologies to save money, drive efficiency and mitigate security risks,” Houser says. “DSI customers say they enjoy dealing with a local, family-owned business that’s flexible, provides the resources of a national organization and gives back to the communities where we work, live and play.”

Steve Sukup
Second generation
Sukup Manufacturing Co., Sheffield, Iowa

Sukup became president and CEO of Sukup Manufacturing Co. on Feb. 1, 2020, when his brother Charles transitioned to chairman of the board.

Sukup Manufacturing Co. makes grain storage, grain drying and handling equipment and steel buildings.

Sukup began working at his family business full-time in May 1978 after graduating from Iowa State University with a degree in industrial engineering.. His previous positions at the company were industrial engineer, vice president of manufacturing and chief financial officer.

He has also received the Process in Engineering Award from ISU and served as president of the Iowa State University Research Foundation. He served in the Iowa legislature from 1994 to 2002 and currently serves on the State of Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission.

“A truly great CEO has so many hats to wear, from providing vision and leadership to being willing to ‘get their hands dirty’ on the front lines when the situations call for it. Not only that, but they are asked to serve and lead outside their own firm, in the community, state and beyond. In my opinion, Steve Sukup does all of that and more for Sukup Manufacturing Co.,” says Dan Beenken, director of the University of Northern Iowa Family Business Center.

“His visionary leadership has been the catalyst for Sukup’s growth and diversification over the last 20 years. They have grown by over 800% as he has guided Sukup into new product lines and markets in that time. Sukup has grown to become an economic engine for north central Iowa and the state as a whole.

“One area of special emphasis for Steve and Sukup Manufacturing has been a focus on natural disaster response around the globe. In response to the devastation faced by the people of Haiti in 2010, Sukup saw an opportunity to get involved with their expertise and resources. They began manufacturing metal homes for those displaced by the earthquake. Sukup has subsequently produced these life-saving shelters all over the world when disasters occur and people are left homeless.”

“It has been incredible to experience Sukup Manufacturing’s growth from its founding to now the world’s largest family-owned manufacturer of grain storage, drying and handling equipment,” Sukup says.

“Innovation has always been ingrained at Sukup, and that has been the key to our growth. Eighty percent of our products were new since the year 2000. We stay very close to the farmers and the ag industry and really focus on what equipment they need to maximize efficiency and profits.

“It will be exciting to see the third and, hopefully, fourth generation continue Sukup’s tradition of innovation and tackle the future challenges and opportunities within agriculture.”

Robert Buddig
Third generation
Carl Buddig and Company, Homewood, Ill.

Buddig has spent his career in the family business and previously served as co-CEO, vice president and foodservice coordinator and in a foodservice sales role.

Carl Buddig and Company produces Carl Buddig lunch meats, Old Wisconsin sausage and Kingsford ribs and BBQ, as well as many retailers’ private labels. The company serves variety of channels, including retail, convenient store/drug, big box, club and foodservice, throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. The company operates out of 10 facilities in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin and has approximately 2,500 associates.

Buddig has served on the board of directors of the Loyola Family Business Center for four terms and as chairman for two terms. He is nominating/governance chair and vice chairman of the Private Directors Association.

“Bob describes himself as the chief emotional officer as well as the chief executive officer,” says Alan Aldworth, former CEO of the Private Directors Association. “What he means by that is he is not only responsible for managing the company, he is also responsible for ensuring the emotional success of his family as family business owners. He puts his money where his mouth is and invests significant personal time and money in creating a strong family business culture within the family and throughout the company.

“Bob happily shares the spotlight and accolades for the company’s success with his siblings, who are also involved in company leadership, and the employees. He stresses it is not about him but about the team.

“Bob and his siblings focus relentlessly on the family dynamics as a fundamental necessity in creating an environment for a successful and sustainable business. All family members, whether actively involved in the company or in understanding their roles as good stewards of the business, receive ongoing training, support and communication about the business to ensure everyone works together harmoniously and typical family business discord is minimized.

“The culture and ethos of the company has created an environment for long-term success.”

“I am part of a third-generation sibling owner/operator team,” Buddig says. “Our goal is to be good stewards and pass the business to the next generation in as good a condition as possible.  As a team, we support the idea of developing good governance and being the best owners possible of the business. This includes offering the next generation all the support to succeed as owners and even as employed leaders. Creating a high EV (emotional value) will aid in the passion to succeed to be the best owners.

“Transitioning from a sibling owner/operator team will require an ever-changing role of the board of directors. The support of our outside board members, consultants and our associates will play a key role in each family member’s development.”


Jordan Jayson
Second generation
U.S. Energy Development Corporation, Arlington, Texas

Jayson had been working on Wall Street for 10 years when his mother called him in 2009 and said she and his father needed his help in running the family business. U.S. Energy Development Corporation, founded in 1980, is an exploration and production operating company that designs and manages direct investment opportunities in energy for investors and institutional partners.

Jayson has led the company to its strongest financial position since its inception. In 2014, Jayson’s father appointed him CEO and chairman. As CEO, Jayson has led U.S. Energy to invest in, operate or drill more than 2,400 wells in 13 states and Canada, deploying more than $1.5 billion on behalf of the company’s partners.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Jayson led the firm to adapt quickly in order to minimize losses as oil reached negative $37 per barrel in April 2020. The response focused on the company’s core value of “Investors First.” Jayson and his leadership team identified wells that were unprofitable at low oil prices and shut them in, in order to maintain positive free cash flow. He took additional steps to ensure the company’s financial resiliency, which included reducing 2020 corporate expenses by 30%.

During this time, U.S. Energy made strategic investments by acquiring more than $35 million in additional energy assets, while increasing the firm’s borrowing capacity by $12 million. By the end of 2020, U.S. Energy grew its production by approximately 15% year over year.

“As a young CEO, Jordan has amassed a war chest of experience in a brief few years,” says Matthew Iak, executive vice president of U.S. Energy Development Corporation. “In addition to stewarding the company from a Generation 1 to Generation 2 company, he has not just survived a pandemic and another epic crash in energy prices, but set the company up to thrive.

“Jordan has focused on the things that make a company last: culture, Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) process and, most importantly, people. I’m proud to call him my business partner and my brother-in-law, and our company is blessed to have him serve as our CEO.

“Most impactfully, I can say without equivocation that he is the most humble leader I have ever worked with. He is constantly looking to absorb the experience and wisdom of a wide array of successful people he surrounds himself with. If the value of someone is by the company they keep, Jordan is priceless.”

“Growing up, I was always proud of the company my parents created,” Jayson says. “I was undeniably flattered at their request for my help. Although I knew I would have to work twice as hard to earn the respect of my co-workers, as well as my family, I was up for the challenge.

“I worked for five years at U.S. Energy before becoming the second-generation CEO. Shortly after, both of my parents passed away. I was entrusted with the responsibility to continue my parents’ legacy. For me, there is no room for failure.

“I am committed to continuing to grow the company, provide employees with rewarding career opportunities and create value for investors who trusted us for more than 40 years.”

Gary Jalbert
Non-family
Lyman Orchards, Middlefield, Conn.

Lyman Orchards, founded in 1741, is one of America’s oldest family-owned companies. As the non-family president and CEO, Jalbert notes, he has to balance the wants and needs of the family with those of the business.

He joined the company in late 2018 as it was finishing up the worst financial performance in its long history. In the first six months on the job, he developed a strategic plan for all four of Lyman’s key business units, realigned the team to increase focus on the most critical key performance indicators and eliminated unnecessary positions.

Jalbert’s proactive stance contributed to a major turnaround in 2019, and Lyman finished the year with the best financial performance in the history of the company.

Prior to joining Lyman Orchards, Jalbert spent 20 years as a turnaround executive for several food and beverage companies. He was the vice president of sales for Carvel Ice Cream, which saw its revenues grow from $25 million to more than $70 million in four years. He then joined Steak-Umm Sliced Steaks in a similar capacity and oversaw strong revenue and profitability growth. The company ultimately was sold to Quaker Maid Meats Inc.

After Steak-Umm, Jalbert took over as the president of Just Desserts, an all-natural bakery on the West Coast, where he oversaw a 50% increase in revenue and a significant increase in profitability during his four-year tenure.

He began his sales career with Dreyer’s and Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, where the company grew from $250 million to more than $1.3 billion during his eight years with the company.

“Gary has turned around a ninth-generation family business in less than two years,” says Robin Ann Bienemann, entrepreneur in residence at the University of Connecticut. “Gary is a terrific CEO and a great example of the impact a non-family member can have in leading a landmark business into the future.”

“I can honestly say that this is one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had, but also one of the most rewarding,” Jalbert says. “Knowing that our efforts and the results that we have achieved over the past 2½ years are helping one of America’s oldest family-owned companies is special. 

“Early on one of my greatest challenges was trying to figure out how to work with our board, which is controlled by several members of the family. The company’s financial performance in the five to 10 years prior to my arrival was very inconsistent, and things needed to change quickly if we were to have any meaningful improvement. ‘Quick’ is an adjective that the board and family were uncomfortable with, especially with an unproven CEO. 

“With a fair amount of tenacity and an equal amount of frustration, we managed to move things forward, and over the past 2½ years we have had record breaking financial performance in 2019, 2020 and currently 2021, which has gone a long way towards building the trust with board and family.”

Scott Russell
Fourth generation
Cloverdale Foods Company, Mandan, N.D.

Cloverdale serves both retail grocery and foodservice channels and is known in the Midwest for traditional favorites like summer sausage, bacon, franks, brats and hams.

Throughout high school and college, Russell worked in various part-time roles at Cloverdale, including the warehouse, the production floor and back-office operations. Upon graduating from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, with degrees in economics and philosophy, Russell took a position in the entrepreneurial international division of Cloverdale.

Russell left the family company for a few years to pursue his culinary passion in the foodservice industry. Recognizing that his experiences in restaurant management could add value to the company’s growing foodservice footprint, he returned, and soon after managed an expansionary multistate area. With an adept understanding of the business and sound leadership qualities, Russell was quickly promoted to director of sales and marketing, then held the title of vice president of sales and marketing for six years prior to becoming executive vice president and chief strategy officer. He became president and CEO in 2016, succeeding his brother T.J. Russell, who became chairman.

In 2008, Russell returned to the classroom at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, and earned his Executive MBA. He credits this experience as a strategic turning point for himself and the company. In 2017, he engaged a consulting firm in a multiyear strategic commitment to foster and support healthy organizational behaviors, alignment and clarity. Along this journey, Russell has recast his own leadership style and today primarily focuses on what Cloverdale could become, and how to involve others in that vision.

Building on the history of the family business, which began as Mandan Creamery in 1915 and transitioned to meat packing, Russell recently began exploring a change in Cloverdale’s product mix to accommodate the heightened consumer demand for bacon.

“Scott believes in family business as well as creating and maintaining a legacy business,” says Stephanie Larscheid, executive director of the Prairie Family Business Association. “He is a constant learner and does all he can to lead well and grow their business.

“Scott took an active role in leading and communicating with all employees during the pandemic. From uncertainty to a boom in business, he led his team through it all.”

“Org health is the recipe; the design for leading,” Russell says. “It’s about getting the best out of yourselves and others.”

Eric Weisser
Second generation
Weisser Distributing, Tea, S.D.

Weisser Distributing was founded in 1978 by Weisser’s father, Bob, and for 35 years sold body shop supplies locally via a truck to body shops in the Sioux Falls area. Ten years ago, Weisser joined the company and brought those same products to marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Walmart. Since then, the company has expanded into multiple states, international manufacturing and brand creation. It now has 210 employees.

Weisser’s focus now centers on product development, sourcing, employee culture and the company’s own curated version of the entrepreneurial operating system called Traction. Most recently, Weisser Distributing acquired its first direct-to-consumer brand, FCGoods.com, which repurposes old baseball gloves and turns them into giftable products like men’s wallets.

Weisser, an active angel investor, is the vice chair of the Falls Angel Fund and a founding investor in a Sioux Falls haunted house, Terror29. He is very involved in the local entrepreneurial scene.

“Eric has significantly grown Weisser Distributing,” says Stephanie Larscheid, executive director of the Prairie Family Business Association. “They started in his father’s garage and have grown to a business that is hiring on average two people per week. Eric has strong vision for the business and has created a culture where employees want to work.

“Eric has led a focus on their core values, which are felt in every corner of the business. He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and small business owners and sits on several local and regional boards.

“Eric has the attitude that he can always learn. He is part of Prairie Family Business Association’s inaugural Board School and is bringing the tools back to his family and business.”

“When I look back at this chapter of my life, I will do so with no regrets,” Weisser says. I get to work with my father, sister and brother-in-law every day. My wife, Emily;  my mom, Kathy; my son, Liam; and my nephews, Jamison and Trystan, do not work in the day-to-day of the company, but they are still very important to what makes Weisser Distributing, Weisser Distributing.

“When I look at the core values of Weisser Distributing, I see my family in those values. I am proud of the fact that our business gets to elevate and promote them to our community through our work with many non-profits and community initiatives.

“As my dad finishes his transition from CEO to retirement, my sister and I will continue to look for his and my mom’s wisdom and guidance. It’s exciting to think about the future of Weisser Distributing, but it will be very nice to have Mom and Dad’s ear only a phone call away.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Issue: 
November/December 2021

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