NextGens to Watch 2019

Introducing exceptional successor-generation family members, ages 35 and under, who are making a significant impact in their family enterprises.

Young family business members must prove themselves to a variety of constituencies: their parents, other relatives, non-family employees, community members and others who might prejudge them because their last name is on the door of the company. While they are learning about the family firm, they must also learn how to manage a variety of relationships.

The 25 people spotlighted in this special feature have gone way beyond earning credibility. These up-and-coming leaders are bringing their families and businesses into the future.

Our NextGens to Watch Class of 2019 includes standout individuals who represent the second through fifth generations in their family businesses. On the following pages, you will get to know these young people — their extraordinary contributions to their family enterprises and their passion for the legacy they have inherited.

Ted Schnuck, 34
Schnuck Markets Inc., St. Louis

After starting his career at Bain & Company and Procter & Gamble, Ted returned home to St. Louis in 2015 to work for Schnucks, the grocery business founded by his great-grandmother in 1929. Since joining Schnucks, he has worked across the company’s supply chain, business development and marketing functions. He currently serves as vice president, brand marketing for Schnucks Markets.

“In my roles, I’ve developed new ways to serve our customers, through growing our Schnucks Delivers online shopping platform, launching our Schnucks Rewards program and supporting the acquisition of 19 Shop ’n Save store locations,” Ted says.

“I’m honored to work alongside my teammates to impact an important part of our customers’ lives. Food is central to bringing families together, celebrating special occasions, building culture and sustaining good health.”
Ted led the development of the Schnuck Family Council in 2013-14 and continues to serve on the council. “Ted was the first chair and was instrumental in getting the council off the ground,” says Todd R. Schnuck, who is Schnuck Markets’ chairman and CEO and Ted’s uncle.

Ted is a graduate of the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “Ted prepared himself well through his education and outside work experience prior to joining our company,” Todd says.

“Ted is incredibly humble and thoughtful in his interactions with the teammates here. He asks a lot of questions and doesn’t assume he knows everything even though he has learned a lot through his outside work experience.
“Ted has taken on increasingly responsible positions since he joined the company, moving from a project director of a major IT integration effort to addressing our logistics issues to now running our marketing department. He has the ability to take on more responsibility in the future.”

“I’m proud to strengthen the legacy of ‘Nourishing People’s Lives’ carried on by three previous generations over the past 80 years,” Ted says. “We are uniquely positioned to impact people through not only the food that we sell, but also the job opportunities that we offer and the communities that we support.

“We consider ourselves both a family company and a ‘company of families,’ as we have countless teammates who have mothers, uncles, sisters and sons who also work for the company. I feel there is no better way to serve a community of families than to be a community of families.”

Sam and Luke Jordan
Electro Acoustics Inc., Fort Worth, Texas

“Sam and Luke are radically different personalities with the same family business values. They make an incredible leadership team,” says their father, Chris Jordan, who founded Electro Acoustics with his wife, Sue, in their garage in 1984.

The company provides audio, video and theatrical lighting for larger-scale commercial projects, such as performing arts centers, convention centers, churches, sports stadiums and arenas, and educational facilities. Electro Acoustics has equipped the Bass Performance Hall and Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and Texas Christian University’s Amon G. Carter Stadium, among other high-profile venues in North Texas.

Under Sam and Luke’s leadership, Electro Acoustics was recognized in 2017 as one of the top family businesses of the year by Fort Worth Business Press and received the Well-Managed Award in Baylor University’s 2018 Family Business of the Year Awards competition.

“Morale, talent development, profit and organizational excellence are at an all-time high, while turnover is at an all-time low,” Chris says. “They have implemented a former career-development plan, helping people with high school [diplomas] or community college degrees become professionals and provide for their families. They have made Electro Acoustics a great place for people to have lifelong careers.”

Sam Jordan, 34

Sam is Electro Acoustics’ general manager, responsible for the company’s strategic direction, personnel needs and financial management. He spearheaded the leadership team’s work in developing a new management and operating system.

With his brother, Luke, he implemented several key initiatives to prepare Electro Acoustics (EA) for future growth, including rolling out a sales customer relationship management system, new estimating and proposal generation software, time-tracking software and new project management tools. Under his leadership, Electro Acoustics has positioned itself to achieve consistent growth in the future, as Luke and Sam become second-generation owners.

Sam served as a Judge Advocate Officer in the U.S. Air Force for six years and was deployed to Afghanistan before joining the family business. “On top of his law degree, Sam is currently working towards his executive MBA at Texas Christian University while being our full-time GM and also serving in the USAF reserves,” Chris says.

“Sam has led our company for the last two years to achieve record sales and record profitability while establishing an organized leadership team structure, resulting in the highest level of efficiency and quality in our 35-year company history.”

“Electro Acoustics serves Fort Worth by crafting communication tools that strengthen the city’s incredible community and culture,” Sam says. “Being a part of EA allows me to join in my family’s multigenerational contribution to the region.

“I left a career as an Air Force officer and attorney to build something that would have a lasting impact. Being in a family business allows me to patiently pursue the long-run good of the company and the community.

“My passion is developing others to achieve their full potential. Through EA, we create a family culture that expands my family to include our entire team!”

Luke Jordan, 30

Luke is an account manager at Electro Acoustics. After graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in leadership studies, Luke began working at the family business in an entry-level technician role. Over time he led several notable projects, worked as a project manager and grew the customer support department.

“Luke is currently serving in our sales department and has successfully identified and created a completely new vertical for the company,” Chris says. “Traditionally, we have targeted performance-focused clients. As Luke has taken more of a leadership role and moved into sales, he has developed an interest in corporate projects,” such as boardrooms and training centers.

“Luke has developed relationships with IT managers and believes this corporate business is one we can easily handle with our existing team. He has already sold several large projects and has more on the way.

“Sam has interviewed some of our key vendors about this market, and we have heard a consistent answer from them that this is indeed a viable market and under-served in our area. Sam has established some sales goals for Luke in this vertical, and Luke is ahead of expectations.

“I am not only excited about Luke discovering this market, but how he and Sam have worked together to make this a reality.”

Luke was instrumental in Electro Acoustics’ receiving the highest-level certification in its industry from the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA). He has received several honors from the association and currently serves as chair of the AVIXA Systems Integrators Council as well as chair of AVIXA’s 2019 Certification Committee.

“Family business is one of the greatest adventures,” Luke says. “Growing up with your boss, you learn firsthand the values that shaped the company, so the culture and expectations in the workplace feel like home. The challenge to continue the legacy is also very real and daunting, but also attainable and wonderful!”

John Aaron Jovaag, 26
A. Duda & Sons Inc., Oveido, Fla.

John Aaron, a member of the fifth generation, is an accounting systems analyst in A. Duda & Sons Inc.’s finance and accounting systems department. He serves as an intermediary between the developers of new accounting software and its end users throughout the farming and real estate company.

“He works with many different branches of the company, helping end users to troubleshoot problems in the system, helping design solutions and implement these strategies,” says Stacy Mello, the family council chair. Currently, he is designing reporting solutions and adapting reports into the company’s new report-writing software.

“John Aaron has served on the 12-member family council for three years and has proven to be an active participant and mentor for other young members,” says Mello. “He leads the family employment policy committee and is forging ahead with an important ‘remodel’ that will help shape family employment for generations to come. He is doing this by meeting with top management (including the president and leaders in human resources) and shareholders and surveying more than 150 family members. He and his team are strategically working to build a sustainable framework for summer employment, internships, the family rotation program and permanent employment.

“Although young, John Aaron takes his roles as family council member, Duda employee and mentor very seriously. He is eager to help with the educational pieces of the biannual family meetings, he is engaged with the annual shareholder meeting and is always sharing history with younger members of the family.”

John Aaron graduated from Tulane University in 2015 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in piano performance and a bachelor of science in management degree in finance. He is currently pursuing a professional MBA at the University of Central Florida.

After graduating from Tulane, John Aaron wasn’t interested in joining A. Duda & Sons. “A full-time job at my family’s business was, to me, a handout, a cop-out and flat-out not an option,” he says. “Today, I have a blossoming career, a wedding on the horizon and a deep sense of gratitude towards A. Duda & Sons. The company afforded me an internship opportunity that opened my eyes and developed a viable skillset, created meaningful relationships and built my career. My passion is to show my generation there is value in an opportunity from A. Duda & Sons.”

Lisa Wojcik Kiser, 33
Beacon Adhesives, Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Lisa, a fourth-generation family business member, is the director of marketing for Beacon Adhesives, which manufactures specialty adhesives for consumer and industrial markets.

Lisa holds a degree in marketing from Tulane University. Before joining the family business in 2013, she worked for five years at Deutsch Advertising Agency in various positions, including producer, project manager and account manager.

At Beacon, “She has professionalized our marketing efforts, increased our digital marketing and social media presence, and built a proper department to support these innovative efforts,” says her uncle David Mesh, the company president. “Under Lisa, we have grown and added new social media channels, participated in multiple trade shows which generated sales, created new product brochures and sales materials to increase sales and brand credibility, and increased our presence in digital marketing.

“While Lisa started working in marketing, she has transferred to shadowing in a leadership role,” her uncle says. “She is actively learning the business and absorbing all she can. She makes an active effort to take on large projects, work with all employees regardless of department, and establish relationships with all of our internal and external business stakeholders.”

Lisa is the first member of the fourth generation to join the family business. “Lisa made a proactive effort to have conversations with senior generations early and often in regards to the future of the company,” Mesh says. “Lisa has encouraged the family to openly discuss succession planning, as well as creating bylaws which will be helpful for any other generations who hope to enter the business.”

Lisa serves on the board of the New York City Family Enterprise Center and the Association for Creative Industries. “Lisa has made an active effort to become more involved in the industries that we serve,” Mesh says. “Lisa attends multiple trade events, networks within several industries and gives 100% to learning all she can.” He adds that Lisa is working toward a certificate from the Adhesives and Sealants Council “to further her knowledge of the industry.”

“Working at my family business was originally a very difficult decision,” Lisa says. “After college, I was on a great career path in advertising, but when the opportunity presented itself to work in my family business, I knew it was the right decision to make.

“Upon entering the business, I soon learned how glue, a seemingly common item, truly impacts businesses of all shapes and sizes. Being a part of a family business is just that. At Beacon, we work as if we are all family, and that is what makes our business successful.

“I am forever grateful that I have had the experience to learn firsthand from my now 92-year-old grandfather, who is a brilliant chemist and sharp businessperson. As the fourth generation of this business, I will do my best to sustain the morals and values of this business and grow it for generations to come.”

Jeremy Kanter, 34
Rookwood Properties, Cincinnati

Jeremy is the director of acquisitions and multifamily at Rookwood Properties, a diversified developer, owner and manager of residential and commercial properties in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, Dayton and Columbus markets. His duties include sourcing value-add multifamily apartment opportunities and overseeing management and renovations. To date, Jeremy, who represents the third generation in the business, has been responsible for more than $75 million in acquisitions and a portfolio exceeding $200 million under management.

Jeremy graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelor of science degree in finance and real estate in 2007. After graduation, he joined Rookwood’s multifamily division.

“His first job that summer was painting speed bumps yellow at one of our apartment properties,” says his father, Fred Kanter, a partner in the family firm. “He quickly moved to leasing, where he learned the fundamentals of the business.

“We had a position open up at a 122-unit town house property, so Jeremy became the property manager.” During 18 months in that position, “he was able to reduce expenses and increase the rents and occupancy,” his father says. “This particular property experienced sluggish performance for many years but soon became one of our better-performing properties.”

Jeremy was promoted to district manager when his immediate supervisor abruptly left the company.
“While it seemed almost too early for this promotion, Jeremy quickly began working with his property managers and made several staffing changes that improved the performance of the multifamily division,” Fred says.

“After Jeremy had organized the multifamily division from a property management perspective, he started focusing on acquisitions. Through the network Jeremy had established with real estate brokers, he identified and led the negotiations that resulted in our multifamily division more than doubling in size. We expanded into three new cities in the process.”

The company is currently planning to acquire a large portfolio of apartment properties, the largest acquisition in its history. “Jeremy has taken the lead role in the strategic plan for the repositioning and financing of this portfolio,” his father says. Fred adds that Jeremy also helped develop and execute a renovation strategy for multifamily properties “that has enabled us to increase the value of our existing portfolio and acquire additional properties in need of repositioning.”

“It is wonderful that I get to work with my dad every day and night, and that we both enjoy working on the same sorts of things,” Jeremy says. “It is a lot of fun to work with my dad, and I hope one day to have the opportunity to continue the tradition.”

Kayla Kersey, 31
TLC Plumbing & Utility, Albuquerque, N.M.

Kayla is the chief administrative officer on the executive coaching team for her father, Dale Armstrong, owner and founder of TLC Plumbing & Utility. Since the summer of 2006 she has been supporting Dale’s companies.

Kayla has participated in the creation and implementation of multiple systems across many of Dale’s companies. She served as project manager for the implementation of a new enterprise software system for a company with more than 500 employees. She created information-sharing tools throughout the business. On her own initiative, she created an on-site health clinic for the company that has curbed costs, improved employees’ access to healthcare and contributed to greater job satisfaction. She also serves as a mentor and coach, helping leaders become “leaders worth following.”

“Kayla’s authenticity and sincerity are unique in the business world,” says Robin Dozier Otten, executive director of the Parker Center for Family Business at the University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management. “She juggles many different roles in her family business with amazing grace. She will always let you know what is on her mind without coming off as abrasive or blunt. She has an unparalleled ability to get things done.”

Kayla serves on the board of the Parker Center. She and Otten worked together more than a year to launch a next-generation peer group. “We could have never launched the NextGen group without Kayla,” Otten says. “Her natural leadership skills were indispensable throughout the process.”

“TLC Plumbing & Utility is known for our amazing people,” Kayla says. “Every day I see a large group of people who want to be better, who want to serve our customers better and who want to raise their own families in a way that improves our community as a whole.

“I am blessed with the opportunity to work for a respected company that provides essential goods and services. The hard work is done by some of the most talented, hardworking and respectful tradesmen. TLC has someone who could do just about anything you could dream of. I am humbled every single day by the people at our company.”

Brent Thompson, 28
Thompson's Welding Services Inc., Hamilton, Miss.

Brent, a third-generation family member, is the finance manager at Thompson’s Welding Services. He focuses on improving financial processes, managing internal controls and increasing business performance. He works toward achieving those objectives by creating financial models, implementing cost-control measures, establishing budgetary guidelines and analyzing forecasting procedures.

He assists the CFO in matters concerning capital expenditures, strategic business planning, tax strategy and resource allocation. Other responsibilities include oversight of accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, human resources and compliance.

In May 2018, Brent created NexGen Crane & Rigging as a subsidiary of the family company. “We now have three cranes (valued at over $3 million) with additional employees and support equipment,” says his father, Barry Thompson, vice president of Thompson’s Welding Services.

Brent implemented and managed the transition of the company’s retirement plan from a SIMPLE IRA to a 401(k), his father says. “We had only 20% participation in our SIMPLE plan, and we have over 90% participation in our 401(k) plan,” Barry notes.

Barry adds that Brent is a member of a regional workforce committee that is working with local community colleges “to produce students that will graduate with the needed skills for our company and the entire region.”

“Thompson’s Welding Services was created in 1972 by my grandfather. It has grown from one man and one truck to a business of 95 employees and a crane and rigging subsidiary,” Brent says. “The opportunity to work alongside my father, uncle, brother-in-law and three cousins with the hopes of continuing my grandfather’s legacy is extraordinarily special.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the third generation of Thompsons in this business. Thompson’s Welding Services will last into the fourth generation if we remember one truth: The business isn’t ours, it’s just our turn.”

Brandi Marek, 34
Magnolia Gardens Nursery, Waller, Texas

Brandi is the corporate business manager and interim general manager at Magnolia Gardens Nursery, which was founded by her father-in-law, Tommy Marek, in his backyard in 1978. Today the company operates on more than 150 acres in Waller, Texas, and also owns and operates a tissue-culture lab in Magnolia, Texas.

Brandi is a 2007 graduate of Sam Houston State University, where she majored in political science. During college, she was the office manager of a CPA firm, where she learned firsthand about business finance and reporting. She planned to pursue a career in public administration, “but there were other plans in the works,” she says.

After completing her degree, Brandi joined Magnolia Gardens Nursery to temporarily assist in transitioning the business to a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. “Temporary became permanent,” she says. She spent four years as the payroll and HR manager and five years as the customer service manager before being named to her current ­positions.

“Brandi creates a positive family climate with her open communication,” says business adviser Rob Ferguson of Ferguson Interests. He says Brandi is aware of what she and her husband, Neil, need to do to develop as the future leaders of the business.

“Her focus on the shared values of the business and family are just as important to her as the financial health of the family business,” Ferguson says. “Brandi is a collaborative decision maker.”

“While I certainly never saw myself working within my husband’s family business, it has allowed me to grow and stretch myself professionally in ways that I could never imagine,” Brandi says.

“Managing a family business takes on a dynamic unlike any other. There is a personal commitment and dedication to the employees that work with you each day. There is a larger purpose in providing not only for your own family but for the hundreds of family members of your employees, who are just as important. It is what drives me every day to make sure why we do what we do is remembered.”

Garrett, Travis and Spencer Stier
Nassau Candy Distributors Inc., Hicksville, N.Y.

Lance Stier, president of Nassau Candy Distributors, says his three younger brothers “collectively and individually are each leading operating groups at our family business.”

The company — purchased in 1984 by their father, Lesley Stier, and his brother-in-law Barry Rosenbaum — is a diversified specialty confectionary, gourmet and natural food manufacturer and distributor. The family enterprise has expanded to become a vertically integrated company that offers customized edibles, hard goods and apparel to the promotional products, hospitality, souvenir and specialty retail industries.

Lance and his three brothers form a second-generation leadership team that has led the business to major growth and diversification. “Since the second generation ascended into leadership roles in the company,” Lance says, “we have collectively completed 14 acquisitions and have grown the business from three distribution centers and one manufacturing facility to seven distribution centers and two manufacturing facilities; employee headcount from 300 to 1,000; and revenue by nearly four times.”

“Each of the brothers has a passion for leadership, quality and excellence. They’ve driven operational improvements, sales growth and quality across our business.”

Garrett Stier, 33

Garrett leads all manufacturing efforts for Nassau Candy and its associated family of companies. He oversees a team of more than 400 associates in manufacturing across the edible, hard goods, apparel, and health and beauty categories, driving production of more than 300 custom orders daily, plus manufacturing for major retailers, corporations, and Nassau Candy’s independent distribution network.

Garrett joined Nassau Candy 10 years ago, working on the factory floor to learn all jobs and aspects of the business. He has led the building of the supply chain in the all-natural, non-GMO and fair trade segments. This “has been very important to our business growth,” Lance says.

Garrett has also been instrumental in the development and introduction of thousands of new items and edible products.

“He oversees our quality and safety efforts and co-leads product development with me,” Lance says. “His accomplishments in each are substantial.”

“On a daily basis, I am amazed and humbled to be part of a company that my father and uncle built from nothing 30-plus years ago,” Garret says. “I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with my three brothers to help continue to grow our candy, food and promotional product businesses.

“I pride myself on leading with passion, commitment to quality and excellence, but most importantly, having compassion for my amazing team. I have the utmost confidence that together with my three brothers, we will continue to take Nassau Candy to the next level.”

Travis Stier, 29

Travis helps manage the financial, operational and systems-related aspects of Nassau Candy and its affiliated companies. He finds opportunities for the enterprise to expand in its existing business segments and identify new areas of growth.

“Travis is intelligent, insightful, hardworking and driven,” Lance says. “He leads our IT efforts (including our ERP system overhaul), web technology platform and finance team. Plus, he oversees 300 associates in our distribution business across six national distribution centers and 500,000 square feet of distribution space.

“As a Wharton grad and former Blackstone banker, Travis also works closely with me on M&A. We have completed 10 acquisitions and integrations together since he’s joined Nassau Candy across promotional products, distribution, business-to-consumer e-commerce, specialty food and more.”

“As a kid, I was always interested in the business,” Travis says. “I would always ask questions in an effort to learn. Since joining the company, I have learned more than I would have ever imagined.

“I have the utmost respect for my father and uncle. They have built a great company through hard work and strong business acumen. I am excited to be part of a company that has grown over the past 35 years and will continue to grow.

“Nassau Candy was built on good principles — quality, consistency and service. The future of the company will follow those same principles.”

Spencer Stier, 27

Spencer leads Nassau Candy’s gourmet food division. He manages a team of more than 30 field sales reps and is focused on driving sales across retail grocery, specialty foodservice, airport stores and more.

The gourmet food division has doubled in revenue and number of associates since Spencer joined the company in 2013. “He is responsible for introducing hundreds of new products each year, plus working hand in hand with our sales force,” Lance says.

“We also have a growing hotel presence that Spencer, a Cornell hotel grad, is helping to drive. Spencer is a combination of each of his older brothers — passionate, smart, great leader.”

“I am blessed to work with my father, uncle and brothers to strategize and continue growing Nassau Candy’s footprint and take the family business to the next level,” Spencer says.

“I am a true believer in leading by example and treating everybody with respect. By staying focused on the competencies set forth by my father and uncle and continuing to build an industry-leading team, I have no doubts Nassau Candy will continue to thrive for generations to come.”

Kaarin Birch, 35
All Seasons Garage Door Company, Ramsey, Minn.

Kaarin is the controller at All Seasons Garage Door Company. “But, as any small-business owner knows, one job title does not cover it all,” Kaarin says.

Over the last 15 years, she has worked in all areas of the company — which was founded by her grandfather, Wayne Northfield, in 1981 — to help the business expand and diversify, stand out from its competitors, and create fulfilling careers for employees.

“Kaarin has taken a leadership role in a traditional male-based industry and made her mark as a young woman in the industry,” says her mother, Dara Northfield, vice president of the company.

“Kaarin plays a role in all major decisions of the company, including marketing, purchasing, HR and all financial decisions in the business.”

During the 10 years Kaarin has spent as controller, she has “gained the expertise to bring the business into the next generation as the CFO,” Dara says.

Kaarin’s father, company president Mark Northfield, asked her to join the business in 2005, after she graduated from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.

“Growing up in the family business, I’ve watched it grow from my grandfather’s home to my parents’ garage and now a building that houses a staff of 25 and 15 service trucks,” Kaarin says. “The years of hard work and time that my parents and family have put into the business to not only grow it within our community, but create a fantastic work culture, makes it a legacy worth continuing.”

Matthew Neretlis, 17
Rowntree Enterprises Inc., Toronto, Ontario

Matthew is a third-generation member of the Rowntree family. His grandfather Bryan Rowntree started in the retail automotive business in the early 1960s. Rowntree Enterprises exited the automotive worked in 2013 and shifted to real estate development.

“Matthew has actively participated at the Rowntree family assembly since its inception (he started at 11),” says his father, John Neretlis. “Over the years, Matthew has helped organize family weekend activities, led agenda items and made his opinion known to the nine other G3s. Matthew has also taken it upon himself to share the knowledge he has picked up at conferences and courses by writing and distributing a newsletter.

“Matthew has worked diligently at becoming more educated about family business. He has attended a variety of family business conferences since the age of 12, actively participating in conversations, in workshops and at networking events.”

“I am 17 and currently the second-youngest member of the Rowntree family; however, my age gives me more time to work with the family in transitioning forward and broadening our development,” Matthew says. “Our semi-annual family meetings focus on the importance of communication.

“This past year after attending a program at Queens University, and in partnership with my sister, we were able to discover our family council’s unique form of ‘getting the message across.’ From this we learned that, because of our age, sometimes our voices aren’t always going to be heard. I now try to represent the introverted younger members of our family so that everyone is heard in the way that they feel most comfortable.

“I know that I lack experience but try to make up for it with my open-mindedness. Whether it involves finding new ways for everyone to get in touch or rebuilding connections lost with past generations, it is the vision of an actively present family that keeps me inspired.”

Jordan Thieme, 31
Amigo Mobility International Inc., Bridgeport, Mich.

Jordan is the director of operations at Amigo Mobility, which was founded in 1968 by his father, Al Thieme. The company makes mobility scooters, motorized shopping carts, and motorized carts and carriers to move materials efficiently and reduce worker fatigue.

Jordan has worked in the business full-time since graduating from Saginaw Valley State University. He spent most of his time on the product side of the business, working in production, purchasing and engineering. As director of operations, he oversees more than a third of the company, including the engineering, shipshipping, production, purchasing and building maintenance departments.

His focus, he says, is on “growing the Amigo team to provide the highest-quality products to our customers.”

His older sister, Jennifer Thieme Kehres, Amigo’s director of business development, notes that Jordan has risen quickly through the ranks at the company, which has nearly 100 employees, and now serves on Amigo’s leadership team. Among other community activities, he volunteers as a mentor for students at the local high school and helped set up a manufacturing lab to encourage trade careers; he also teaches a leadership class at the school.

“In 2016, Jordan represented Amigo Mobility on a segment selling our product on QVC,” Jennifer says. “Although he isn’t on our sales team, his product knowledge and passion for Amigo made him the perfect person to represent us on national TV.”

“I have grown up in our family business and love the team we have here,” Jordan says. “My parents taught me early on the importance of your team and the quality of your product. It is great that we get to build a product that helps people. My dad started the business 50 years ago, and I am excited to work with my parents and siblings to continue to grow the business into the next 50 years.”

Sabrina Fung Co, 28
Manly Plastics Inc., Manila, Philippines

Sabrina is a third-generation member of her family’s diversified plastics manufacturing firm, based in Manila. After completing a BBA degree in accounting and finance in Canada, she rotated across different functions within the company for five years before leaving to pursue her MBA at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.

She returned to the family business to work in the supply chain as a procurement manager. She handles direct material purchases for manufacturing sites across the Philippines. Sabrina also serves as the administrator of the CBT Scholarship Fund, the family initiative that offers financial aid to employees’ children attending universities.

“Sabrina has a firm grasp on the challenges and opportunities that await her in returning to her family’s business,” says Daniel Van Der Vliet, the John and Dyan Smith Executive Director of Family Business at Cornell. “Additionally, she brings a pragmatism that stems from her time as an MBA student at Johnson.

“She is beginning to implement some family governance with the goal of separating some family issues from business issues.”
Sabrina was president of the Cornell Family Business Club at while attending Johnson. “Sabrina helped to grow the club, clarify the role of president and set up the club for future success,” Van Der Vliet says.

“My passion for the family business comes from seeing the number of people we support — not just by the number of our employees but, by extension, their families as well,” Sabrina says. “Through my work with our scholarship fund, I get to mentor our employees’ children as they pursue their college education. For many of them, getting even a small amount of aid, such as transportation allowances, can change which university they could now attend — and change the course of their lives.

“The greatest joy is when our scholars choose to come work with Manly — a true reflection of what family businesses are.”

Luke DeFisher, 28
DeFisher Fruit Farms/Rootstock Cider & Spirits/Apple Country Spirits, Williamson, N.Y.

Luke represents the fifth generation in his family’s fruit farming operation, DeFisher Fruit Farms.

“In 2012, we looked into ways to expand our Williamson, N.Y., business, and saw an opportunity in the state’s growing craft alcohol industry,” Luke says. “I was studying biology at Cornell University, and knew my education would be valuable.

“I graduated in 2013 and spent a year launching our first value-added venture, a farm distillery.” Apple Country Spirits produces spirits made from the fruit grown on the family farm.

After the launch of Apple Country Spirits, Luke wanted to bolster his background in business management. “I took some time away from the farm and spent three full years working in commercial lending,” he says. “At the same time, I helped expand our craft beverage business and launched Rootstock Ciderworks in 2014. The farm cidery flourished, and to help manage its growth, I returned full-time in 2017.”

Luke serves as the primary bookkeeper for Apple Country Spirits and assists with spirit production at every step, from growing and harvesting raw materials to labeling, bottling and selling the finished product. He also handles all compliance- and licensing-related paperwork associated with running a distillery and maintains ACS’s social media pages.

In addition to his responsibilities on the farm and with the distillery, he works on manufacturing and marketing for the family distillery’s hard cider brand, Rootstock Cider & Spirits. He organizes, orders and maintains equipment; researches alcohol production technologies; prepares tastings; analyzes trial blends; develops product recipes and protocols for consistency and serves as brand ambassador.

“Luke’s efforts to learn all aspects of his family’s businesses, willingness to take on any role and to fill in where he is needed most take him from a key player in the family’s success to a crucial one,” says Erin Kelly, an associate of the Smith Family Business Initiative at Cornell.

Kelly cites Luke’s “tireless efforts to integrate himself into his family’s existing businesses while working to be an asset in their growth and movement forward.”

“I joined the family business because it was a once-in-a-generation opportunity for all of us,” Luke says. “For me, I’m able to be part of a new business — new growth on a legacy that goes back over 80 years. For my family, I’m the first generation to have a college degree, and to have worked in another field.

“But more than that, it’s being a part of my family’s life. Whether it’s grafting trees with my grandfather, traveling to conferences with my dad or going over accounts with my younger sister, I’m thankful for the memories we’ve made, and continue to make.”

Jamie Daubendiek, 35
Jefferson Telecom, Jefferson, Iowa

Jamie, a fifth-generation family employee, is the chief operating officer at Jefferson Telecom and is being groomed to succeed his father as general manager of the business. Jamie is also a director on the board of WesTel Systems in Remsen, Iowa.

Jamie grew up in the business by spending summers digging ditches. He returned to the family business after earning his MBA in telecommunications from the University of Colorado.

In recent years, Jefferson Telecom has completed a major billing conversion and has installed fiber for all its customers. Jamie presses management to offer higher internet speeds, streaming technology, hosted phone systems for business customers and Internet Protocol television (IPTV).

He played an integral role in the opening of a 5,200-square-foot retail showroom in 2011. The company is an agent for U.S. Cellular, and the showroom provided more space for cellular specialists and inventory.

He is active in the Jefferson, Iowa, community as president of Jefferson Matters: Main Street, which aims to strengthen, support and energize Jefferson’s downtown through historic preservation. “He has been instrumental in growth opportunities for our community,” says his sister Jody Schulte. “As a fifth-generation leader, he realizes the importance of building a stronger community and recognizes how our family’s telecom business in intertwined in the heart of economic growth.”

“I am fortunate to be a part of a family business that has made it to the fifth generation,” Jamie says. “It has not been an easy journey. A lot of hard work was put in by many people to get to where we are today.

“My father has done a great job leading the company, and succeeding him as CEO will be a tough but exciting challenge. I am honored to work with my siblings as stewards of our family legacy and want to see this continue and benefit future generations.”

Sonya Ahola, 25
Ahola Human Capital Management, Brecksville, Ohio

Sonya, a third-generation family member, is responsible for communications and brand strategy for the Ahola Corporation. She manages all external communications, rich media content, social media, trade shows, website content and traditional marketing campaigns.

The company, founded in 1967, provides cloud-based technology to manage payroll, HR, benefits and time and attendance. It also offers services designed exclusively for family businesses.

Sonya joined Ahola after working in corporate retail — specifically in e-commerce sales analytics — where she was responsible for inventory management across three buying offices totaling annual sales of $250 million. She partnered with cross-functional teams including logistics, pricing, omni-channel fulfillment and more than 300 national vendors to achieve strong sales results and healthy inventory projections.

At Ahola, “She is leading the charge on the rebranding of the company,” says Lorri Slesh, strategic planning director. “This is not just a logo change, but a company-wide effort that will ultimately change and enhance the company culture and how we sell and serve in this industry.”

Sonya earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a specialization in marketing from The Ohio State University.
“With the addition of Sonya, the company has been encouraged to find ways of attracting and retaining more millennials and Generation Xers and prepare for the Generation Z workforce,” Slesh says.

“Growing up, I always had an itch to join the family business,” Sonya says. “It’s extremely rewarding to be making visible impact at my organization at such a young age. Being given the freedom to run on projects and ideas is both exciting and intimidating, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m excited to see what I can do over my career at Ahola, and am grateful for the supportive team and family behind me.”

Stephen Grantham, 28
Tec Laboratories Inc., Albany, Ore.

Stephen, a third-generation family member, is general manager at Tec Laboratories, which manufactures over-the-counter pharmaceutical dermatological preparations for poison ivy and oak and other ailments suffered by people who spend time outdoors.

Stephen started working in the shipping department and moved through most areas of the company, including marketing, e-commerce, operations and accounting. “I feel the way I can really help the business is to build a deep understanding of what it takes to drive projects through the many parts of our company,” he says.

Gary Burris, Tec Labs’ non-family director of public relations, calls Stephen “a problem solver who brings clever and thoughtful ideas to the table.

“Stephen is a healthy risk taker. He contemplates the risks and rewards of a situation and makes his decision. Many golden opportunities for family businesses can be cast into the abyss of endless discussion and mind-numbing debate. Stephen helps us avoid that trap.”

“I have always had a passion for learning new things,” Stephen says. “In my current role I get the opportunity to be involved in many different parts of the company.”

“His enthusiasm and sincerity are infectious and inspiring,” Burris says. “I genuinely can’t think of any challenge he’s been presented with that he hasn’t tackled head on and with his typical enthusiasm.”

“At many companies a person is just another cog in the wheel,” Stephen says. “Being a family business really allows all of us here at Tec the opportunity to grow in the direction we want. And we can seek out the things we are most passionate about.”

Rebecca Binder, 31
RF
|Binder, New York City

As a strategic management consultant, Rebecca worked with a broad range of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies as well as non-profits and government organizations, with a focus on disruption and transformation. In these roles, she advised C-suite executives on developing long-term transformational growth strategies.

In 2018, Rebecca saw an opportunity to apply her perspective and consulting experience navigating transformation to her own family business, RF|Binder. In her role as senior managing director, strategic initiatives, she has worked closely with senior leadership team members to navigate disruption in the industry, set the future vision of the firm and position the organization for sustainable, future growth.

Rebecca’s mother, CEO Amy Binder, founded RF|Binder in 2001. The family’s heritage in the public relations industry dates to 1948. Amy’s father, David Finn, co-founded Ruder Finn along with Bill Ruder.

“Throughout my entire life I’ve been inspired and motivated by the impact my grandfather and mother have had in the communications industry,” Rebecca says. “My grandfather played a role in defining the early days of public relations, and my mother founded RF|Binder with the forward-thinking vision of building a fully integrated communications firm focused on driving business results.

“I am incredibly honored to spend each day following in their entrepreneurial footsteps and using my own experiences of navigating disruption and transformation in industries and continuing to embrace innovation, a value that is truly at the core of RF|Binder’s identity.”

Before joining RF|Binder, Rebecca worked at Innosight, a growth strategy consulting firm. Prior to Innosight, Rebecca worked with global management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. She began her career at The Corporate Executive Board. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her B.A. with honors in international relations from Brown University.

At RF|Binder, Rebecca led the creation of a three-year business plan (the firm’s first), addressing strategic positioning, business development efforts, talent strategy and the integration of data analytics.

Among other initiatives, Rebecca is spearheading the firm’s recruiting process with a particular focus on the company’s associate program, a career opportunity designed to introduce recent graduates to the world of communications.

“In proactively fostering an entrepreneurial, engaging internal culture, and working to curate a strong pipeline of talent, Rebecca is critical to ensuring that RF|Binder is positioned to realize its full value and potential and, ultimately, continued success and growth,” says Megan Manning, an associate at RF|Binder.

Richard Luck, 29
Luck Companies, Manakin-Sabot, Va.

Richard represents the fourth generation to take part in the Luck family business. Luck Stone produces construction aggregates, Luck Ecosystems makes environmental performance products and Luck Real Estate Ventures is involved in land development and management.

Richard is learning the business from the ground up and describes his work as “renew[ing] the Luck family commitment to develop a scalable company and culture where people come first, and associates perform in roles that invigorate their purpose, passions and competencies.”

Over the past few years, Richard has served in numerous operational roles in the company, ultimately preparing him to lead a location as a plant manager. Having acquired a solid foundation in the operations of the business, he recently transitioned to the sales side, where he is currently a key account manager.

Richard graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 2012, earning a bachelor of arts in business and economics and a minor in leadership. After graduation, he taught in the inner city through Teach for America. When his Teach for America stint was over, he co-founded UnBoundRVA, a non-profit that helps low-income adults transform their lives through entrepreneurship. He joined Luck Companies after working for two years at UnBoundRVA and transitioning its leadership team.

When he joined the family business, “Richard was dedicated to truly understanding the mission and values of Luck Companies — and, from a leadership perspective, how he was expected to show up. He built a foundation for his leadership based on what was most important to the company,” says Betsey Fortlouis, director of development and partnerships at the InnerWill Leadership Institute, a non-profit organization founded by Richard’s father, Luck Companies’ president and CEO Charlie Luck, to promote Values Based Leadership.

“Today, he unquestionably leads in alignment with Luck’s mission, vision and values. Richard exemplifies what it really means to have your last name on the company sign — it means taking on the increased responsibility to model leadership behaviors at the highest levels.

“His willingness to empower people at every level of the company to embrace their own leadership potential is driving engagement, growth and innovation for Luck Companies, while he continues to positively impact the community at large.”

“As I spent more time around the company, our associates would speak to me about how much working at Luck meant to them and their families,” Richard says. “They would share stories about the joy their job brought them, the things it has allowed them to experience and do, and the personal growth that has taken place in their lives.

“I feel so blessed to be a part of something that is so much bigger than just crushing stone, and I am so excited to have the opportunity to continue to build on our Values Based Leadership culture here at Luck.”

Alexander Sweetwood, 32
Unique Photo, Fairfield, N.J.

Alexander is president of Unique Photo, a camera and video store in New Jersey that carries more than 20,000 products and offers services including repairs, rentals, a photo lab providing custom printing and framing, and photography education. The company operates a superstore in Fairfield, N.J., and a smaller store in Hoboken, N.J.

At a time when cell phone camera technology is forcing the closure of other photo stores, Unique Photo plans to open a third location in Philadelphia later this year. Alexander is overseeing this expansion. The new Philadelphia store will be comparable in size to the Fairfield superstore.

“He had originally set up our second location in Hoboken [in 2016], and based upon our success there, we’re now going to open in Philly,” says his father, Jonathan Sweetwood.

Alexander began his career packing boxes in the warehouse at Unique Photo, which was founded by his grandparents in 1947. He progressed from customer service to buyer to purchasing manager. In that position, he developed the team that is responsible for 20,000 SKUs and the company’s largest product lines. Prior to becoming president, Alexander served as vice president of operations.

Alexander holds an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance from Montclair State University.

“Essentially, for the last four or five years, Alexander’s been the driving force behind the business,” says Jonathan. “I’ve kind of stepped back, and he’s really taken over the reins.”

Jonathan says his son has championed the company’s expansion into new service offerings. “Four or five years ago, we were essentially only selling goods. He has since moved us into the service business, where we’re now doing custom framing, we’re doing printing, and we’re an authorized Apple repair center. That was 100% his idea.

“Our business has grown significantly because of it,” Jonathan says. “There’s a lot of synergies. It’s definitely been the correct move.”

“When you combine business with family, it is a way of life,” Alexander says. “You can enjoy both even more because of the flexibility. I grew up coming to work with my father as a child, and now I bring my own children to work even more frequently. I see my father, brother and cousins more because we work together.

“Additionally, knowing that my grandfather started Unique Photo and now I’m the third generation to lead is a tremendous source of pride and responsibility that drives me every day. Our employees also become our extended family, so we have a great commitment to them as well.”

Alexander Argianas, 30
Argianas & Associates Inc., Downers Grove, Ill.

Alex is vice president at Argianas & Associates, a real estate valuation and consulting firm founded by his father, Charles. He joined the firm as a full-time appraiser in 2017. Previously, he had been in graduate school, studying microbiology and immunology.

“Since then he has shored up his knowledge in finance and appraisal practice, taking a full course load while also working full-time at the firm,” Charles says.

In addition to providing consulting services, Alex assists with the firm’s IT services, human resources, marketing, asset management (commercial, residential and industrial properties) and sales/customer service support.

He has performed or assisted in appraisal and consulting engagements in Illinois, California and North Carolina. Clients he’s served include lenders, accounting firms, law firms, banks and private clients. Properties include single- and multi-tenant office and retail properties, medical clinics, commercial greenhouses, service garages, truck terminals, automotive dealerships and historic landmarked properties.

“Alex has taken on what is a serious and important role on the ‘front lines’ of the company,” his father says. “From sales, to marketing, appraisal, even cleaning the office at the end of the day, he will do it, and he’ll do it without an ego. Alex has taken this responsibility and, due in large part to his efforts, helped our practice grow by 20%.”

Alex has helped update internal processes, revamp the firm website and upgrade its phone system. He has created a variety of new marketing materials and has assisted in recruiting new talent.

“It is gratifying to have my son work with me, and more so to see the value he has added and created for our firm and team,” Charles says. “He is most certainly an asset, and we’re lucky to have him working with us. With all the future plans he has for our firm, I’m excited to see what he does.”

“Working for my dad now, I have a greater appreciation for how hard it was for him, and a greater appreciation for him and the business,” Alex says. “We’ve now entered a new stage in our relationship, as he is now grandfather to my son. I hope I am fortunate enough to share my career with my son as well.”

Jeff Lazerowich, 27
WSA Hospitality, Boston

Jeff runs the family company’s hospitality division, which focuses on selling custom furniture to the hotel industry. He joined the company about five years ago and served as a project manager and in a sales role before becoming president of hospitality.

Jeff’s father, Howard, who had been a representative for a major furniture manufacturer in the hospitality industry, started his own business in the late 1990s. There have been several iterations of the family enterprise since its inception, but WSA Hospitality was founded in 2004.

The company partners with factories in Ohio, Vietnam, Colombia and Montreal to manufacture and sell custom furniture to hotels and creative office spaces such as WeWork.

“We have been fortunate enough to work on such projects as The Ned London, The Breakers Palm Beach, The Edition New York, The Four Seasons Bora Bora, The Shinola Hotel Detroit, The TWA Hotel NY and hundreds more,” Jeff says.

“During my time at WSA, I have been involved in over $70 million worth of sales,” Jeff says. “A typical day for me is maintaining relationships with our existing portfolio of clients, forging new relationships with the global hotel market and managing the projects we are currently manufacturing for.”

“Jeff is personable, dynamic and a strategic thinker,” says Dana Bornstein, who has turned to him for assistance in building a professional network of NextGen family business leaders at a non-profit organization.

“Taking on the responsibility of a family company that is responsible for furnishing hotels means that Jeff’s loyal customers need to be able to work with their trusted partner at WSA for decades to come and continue their success,” Bornstein says. “As a family business leader who will continue building these partnerships for years to come, he is an ideal partner.”

“The ability to work for a family business is something I am grateful for on a daily basis,” Jeff says. “Although it comes with a great deal of pressure and anxiety, it also comes with a huge amount of reward and pride.

“I find motivation in trying to fill my father’s shoes and making him proud. Growing WSA and passing it on to the next generation would be considered an all-time win for me.”     

 

 

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