At the Helm: Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the president and CEO of Earth Friendly Products, Cypress, Calif.

Generation of family ownership: Second.

About the company: We have manufacturing facilities in California, Washington, Illinois and New Jersey, and a global sales office in Athens, Greece. Our products are sold in over 60 countries.

Number of employees: Approximately 350.

Years with the company: Thirteen. I joined the family business in 2003 as director of public relations. After I graduated from UCLA, I was executive director of a political action committee and then director of public relations for a fashion company. Those positions gave me valuable experience in generating consumer interest in a brand, and in lobbying Congress, which I often do now on green issues.

First job at this company: Administrative assistant in the front office, at age 16.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: Compassion for people and the earth. He was a tireless protector of the environment.

Most memorable thing I learned from my mother: To find the good in life and persevere. My mother gave me a wonderful childhood despite having a difficult life herself. She grew up in foster care and battled cancer.

Best thing about this job: The opportunity to run a socially and environmentally responsible business. Our products are good for people's health as well as the planet, and we take care of our employees with "high-road employer" practices such as paying a living minimum wage of $17 an hour.

Our greatest successes: Our ECOS laundry detergent is the top-selling green laundry detergent in the world. When my father came to this country in the 1950s, he lived in homeless shelters and started the company in his garage. We're proud to celebrate our 50th anniversary next year.

Quote from our company's mission statement: Provide the highest-quality cleaning products that are safe for families, pets and the environment, made with sustainable ingredients and compete on performance, price and convenience.

On my wall: A photo of my father and me in Greece in 2013, standing against a tree next to the ocean. It appeared in People magazine in an article about the premiere of A Green Story, a movie about my father's life starring Billy Zane and Malcolm McDowell. It was the last time we returned to his homeland together.

Two of my greatest accomplishments: Successfully leading the company after my father's unexpected passing in 2014, and receiving the Safer Choice Partner of the Year Award from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2015.

Best thing about working in a family business: Being able to take the concept of family and apply it to the entire firm, supporting and valuing all our employees and family.

Worst thing about working in a family business: Keeping the proper separation between the business and personal lives.

My advice for other family business leaders: Have the younger generation work for other organizations before joining the business and learn the family business from the ground up.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: Global Green, the Environmental Media Association, Serious Fun Camps, the American Cancer Society, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Grades of Grain, to name a few. We also have several partnerships in environmental education.

Books I think every family business leader should read: Sustainable Excellence, by Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell, about the future of business in a fast-changing world. It makes the case for incorporating sustainability into your business.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation's shadow when. . . I became vice president of our company in 2013.

Future succession plans: I hope that my daughter will continue in the family business one day, but in the interim, it's important that operations continue smoothly, no matter what happens. I recommend meeting with an estate planning attorney to ensure that someone is authorized to vote your stock, so a court doesn't end up making important decisions for your company.

Copyright 2016 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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November/December 2016

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