NextGens to Watch: Class of 2018
In order to sustain your family business for multiple generations, you need NextGen members who are prepared to serve as responsible stewards. This extends beyond the financial aspects of ownership and governance. Young people in successor generations must also learn to manage relationships among a diverse and growing group of family shareholders.
In this inaugural special section in Family Business Magazine, we honor young people who are serving their family enterprises in a variety of ways. Some are working in their family companies. Others serve on their family council or board of directors. Several of them have helped craft family governance documents or taken the lead in their family’s community service or philanthropic work.
According to a study of NextGen family business members published in 2017 by PwC, 75% have big plans to take their family business forward, and 82% believe innovation is key to the future of the business. But 26% of them said they struggle to get the senior generation to give serious attention to their ideas. The young people featured here have broken through that barrier.
Here you will get to know our NextGens to Watch Class of 2018 — how they have helped to move their family enterprise into the future as well as their passion for this work.
CHANCE CARPENTER, 30
Big Island Jewelers, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Chance is working as a goldsmith apprentice at the jewelry store founded by his father and uncle in 1983, creating
one-of-a-kind fine jewelry pieces. He also manages and creates all of Big Island Jewelers’ branding, designed and maintains the website, and produces all photography, graphic design, social media, newsletters and ad copy. His prior experience as the owner of a boutique creative advertising and marketing agency and the co-founder of a surf culture publication has served him well. Chance has begun to focus on new business partnerships and distribution opportunities for his family business.
Chance and his wife, Tammie, will purchase the store from his father, Gale Carpenter, via a process set to begin Jan. 1, 2020. “From the initial carving to the end of time, I want to create meaningful expressions of elegance and expertise, continuing the ageless traditions of craftsmanship and quality,” Chance says. “I am honored to be on the lifelong journey of a goldsmith.”
CAM MURPHY, 30
FEAM, Miami, Fla.
Cam is the managing director of FEAM.Aero, which provides line maintenance, repair and other MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) services to domestic and international commercial and cargo airlines. The company was founded by his father, Fred Murphy, in 1992.
Cam, who holds an MBA in aerospace and defense from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, grew up working in every area of the family business, from janitorial services and a stockroom clerk job to various management positions. Prior to becoming the managing director of the business, Cam started a niche aviation staffing company, Global Inflight Services, with the help and direction
of his mother, Rivien Murphy. Cam, his mother and their team oversaw the growth of that company from 30 to 300 employees before he departed to rejoin the family’s core business of maintenance in 2011.
At FEAM, which has more than 850 employees in 30 U.S. cities, Cam helped institute many organizational and cultural changes, including rebranding corporate logos, building brand awareness, instituting employee and customer relationship and retention strategies, and upgrading the company’s IT infrastructure.
“Cam is a person of deep integrity and respect,” says his friend Christopher Martin, president of American Health Associates in Miramar, Fla. “He has done much in his life but is a person of deep humility. Cam is one of the youngest members of YPO globally and is a rising star in our chapter.”
“I grew up in a humble, hard-working family that provided me with opportunities and values that have guided me to where I am today,” Cam says. “My mother and father taught me two fundamental lessons: how to treat people and how to be the best at what we do. Their hard work, sacrifice, dedication
and continual support empowered me to believe that no matter how big the task, a focused team can accomplish great things. And that’s exactly what the FEAM team does every day!”
CHRISTOPHER MARTIN, 29
American Health Associates, Davie, Fla.
Chris joined his family business, American Health Associates (AHA), in 2013 to help the company acquire MEDLAB from bankruptcy. AHA made the acquisition by teaming up with Marathon Asset Management, a New York-based hedge fund. The combined company is a clinical reference laboratory serving the long-term-care market, with 15 regional laboratories serving 22 states. Chris’s mother, Debbie L. Martin, founded the company in 1990.
In January 2015, Chris was named president of the company, with the goal of continuing its growth and consolidation of the long-term-care diagnostic testing market. His plan involves organically growing the company in its existing markets by partnering with strong skilled-nursing providers as well as acquiring other diagnostic companies with nursing-home-facing services.
After graduating from Duke University in 2011, Chris started a software company with two college friends in New York City before joining AHA to help with the MEDLAB acquisition, which closed in October 2014. In 2015, Chris entered the Health Sector Management Program at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. He graduated in May 2017 and returned to AHA. He is a member of the executive committee of the Miami Chapter of YPO and is attending the Owners and Presidents Management program at Harvard Business School.
Chris’s friend Cam Murphy, managing director of Miami-based FEAM, notes that Chris took a major risk in purchasing MEDLAB out of bankruptcy. “In combining the geography and expertise of MEDLAB and AHA, Chris realized very quickly that the new company would have the ability to achieve the scale needed to become a true partner to these corporations,” Murphy says.
“When I first met Chris, his intelligence and perspectives blew me out of the water,” Murphy adds. “His ability to grasp extremely technical concepts and articulate them is outstanding.”
“My mom founded American Health when I was 2 years old,” Chris says. “Watching her grow this business was the greatest possible guide to me in understanding how best to lead American Health. The combination of my mom’s legacy in this business and the centrality of the clinical infrastructure to the patients we serve are profound motivators for me to bring my best to this business and do what I can to help us execute our ambitious goals.”
ERIK KESTING, 35
E. Ritter & Company, Marked Tree, Ark.
Erik is a fifth-generation Ritter family member. His service to the Ritter family began in 2008, when the business was growing and ownership was beginning to shift to the fourth and fifth generations. Erik joined the Family Council Charter Drafting Committee. Through family meetings and surveys, the committee established a tentative but formative structure that quickly became a vital element of family unity and helped shepherd important family decisions.
Erik has been a member of the Ritter Family Council since 2013 and is now in his third term. During his tenure, the family held their first Family Summit, revised their shareholder agreement and established a professional position for family education and engagement. During the past year, Erik has been working on a task force establishing direction for a new division of the company. He was elected to the E. Ritter & Company board of directors in May 2017 and continues to serve on the family council.
Erik is an implementation executive at Epic, an electronic health record vendor in Verona, Wis.
“Erik has a good understanding of our company’s lines of business,” says his father, Roderick Kesting. “Erik has taken on individual and committee projects while a member of the Ritter Family Council and has an appreciation of the ‘business of the family’ and the ‘business of the business.’ He has shown much innovation.”
“The opportunity to be involved in my family’s business is a privilege and a joy,” Erik says. “Private businesses have an incredible opportunity to excel in quality and innovation in their industries, and I’m very excited about what our family’s businesses are doing. By engaging with my family business, I’ve made so many amazing connections with relatives I would have otherwise never known. I love that.”
HEATH NUNNEMACHER, 31
Galland Henning Nopak Inc., Franklin, Wis.
Heath is a fourth-generation owner and a director of Galland Henning Nopak Inc., a manufacturer of scrap metal balers and hydraulic valves and cylinders for various industrial markets. He serves as chair of the board’s executive compensation committee, which establishes annual performance targets for management, and as administrator of the company’s phantom equity plan.
In 2014, he drafted and drove shareholder approval of the Nunnemacher Family Constitution, which includes conflict resolution, family employment, shareholder education and board compensation policies.
Heath works outside the family business as a product manager for Milwaukee Tool, a manufacturer of heavy-duty
power tools, accessories and hand tools for professional users. Previously at Apple, he managed global iMac product quality within the desktop operations group. He holds an MBA and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Michigan Technological University.
“Heath has spent a tremendous amount of time working on the board while developing a long-term strategic plan for GHN, which included a significant transformation of the historical business,” says Bryan Cieslak, a member of the company’s board since 2010. “The transformation came with many challenges and demands, which Heath, the board and the GHN management team have met.
“GHN is now working on adding a new strategic product line, which, once completed, will provide great opportunities for future growth,” Cieslak says. “Heath has been working very closely with the GHN management team to develop the plan to launch this new product line. Heath has a bright future, and there is no doubt in my mind he will continue with great success.”
“In 2017, our family’s business celebrated our 130th anniversary,” Heath says. “I am very proud of our accomplishments, but I don’t take the longevity for granted. As an owner, I stay focused on good governance and making sound decisions.”
MARISA SERGI, 24
L’uva Bella Winery & Bistro/RedHead Wine, Lowellville, Ohio
Marisa, a third-generation winemaker, is the sales and marketing force at her parents’ winery, L’uva Bella. In high school, she discovered a passion for using her creativity within the family business. She earned a specialized degree in enology and viticulture from Cornell University, which encouraged entrepreneurial thinking along with her participation in business plancompetitions. Her capstone project, RedHead Wine, became a business opportunity.
Traditional “in-person” marketing along with extensive social media marketing have successfully positioned RedHead Wine and L’uva Bella in a positive light among multiple wine consumer demographics. Marisa has captured the attention of major retail partners and Fortune 100 companies. Sales have increased by more than 400% (currently in Ohio only), which has opened up distribution avenues in other states.
“She had added a new way of thinking about how we should conduct business and a long list of new contacts,” says her mother, Ruth Sergi, co-owner of L’uva Bella. “She pushes the use of social media and other marketing ideas of this current generation. She has pressed us to move forward to grow our business and look to new opportunities.”
Ruth Sergi notes that Marisa took the initiative to approach Walmart to distribute RedHead Wine. Marisa also met with Mel Dick, senior vice president of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of America, the world’s largest wine distributor, to discuss national distribution.
“Our daughter is taking us places!” Ruth Sergi says. “She has added to the talent of our team, and we are thrilled to be able to work and spend time with her.”
“I look for opportunities to combine passion, creativity and innovation to pursue the American dream through RedHead Wine and L’uva Bella Winery,” Marisa says. “I take on projects using my entrepreneurial mindset to stand out to expand business in a crowded wine market. My goal is to continue to work hard by utilizing my competitive spirit to catalyze our momentum and sell nationally.
“My enthusiasm is rooted in my grandparents’ dream of a better life for their children and future generations.”
ALEX JACKSON BERKLEY, 28
Frieda’s Specialty Produce, Los Alamitos, Calif.
Alex is the eldest daughter of Karen Caplan, CEO of Frieda’s, and granddaughter of founder Frieda Rapoport Caplan. She joined the company in 2001 after graduating from George Mason University.
Alex started in Frieda’s marketing department. During her first year as trade show manager, Frieda’s exhibit won “Best in Show” at the largest trade show in the industry. She also created retail promotional planning for some of the company’s clients. To support events across Southern California, she developed and directed the company’s first “street team” for retail support and consumer engagement.
After three years in marketing, Alex moved to the sales department in 2014 as an account manager. She grew her territory to become the company’s largest. Last year, she was promoted to assistant sales manager. She was instrumental in the company’s rebranding in 2015.
“She bridges the gap between generations here at Frieda’s, understanding why things are the way they are and how the company needs to be viewed to be relevant to younger consumers,” says Oakley Boren, trade show and communications manager at Frieda’s. “As for us at Frieda’s, we feel that Alex is truly the cultural glue of the company. Everyone finds her wit and sense of humor refreshing, and people truly enjoy working with her.”
“I was born into produce, and never took it for granted,” Alex says. “When I decided during my last year of university to join the family business, I did not expect to become a person of passion about fresh food, feeding consumers around the world and becoming part of a revolution to inspire new food experiences.
“Being part of an industry that is now the trendiest hobby and heals people naturally is a dream. No matter how hard some days can be in an industry controlled by nature, I always come back to what we’re working towards: increasing consumption of fresh fruits and feeding people food they love and want to feed their loved ones.”
TAYLOR MERRITT, 34
Merritt Aluminum Products Company, Fort Lupton, Colo.
Taylor is chairman and CEO of Merritt Aluminum Products Company, a manufacturer and distributor of products for the trucking market. His responsibilities include stewarding core values (both family and business), modeling high-performance culture, leading strategic planning and driving and driving results.
Previously, he was CFO of Merritt Equipment Co., his family’s original manufacturing business (founded in 1951). Taylor started working at age 9, mowing the grounds and sweeping floors. He ultimately worked in all areas within the company.
Taylor also leads the family’s investments, concentrating on commercial real estate and private investments. He completed the Owner President Management Program at Harvard Business School and holds bachelor’s degrees in finance and management from the University of Denver.
“Taylor is a lifelong learner and committed to expanding his knowledge and skill set to support his ability to be an effective emerging family leader, business owner and next-generation family member,” says Kristin Keffeler of Illumination360, who has worked with the Merritt family to begin the process of creating an intergenerational governance system, next-generation education and onboarding protocols.
“Taylor actively seeks out information on best practices for multigenerational affluent families and families in business,” Keffeler says. “He does the hard work of figuring out how to apply these best practices in the messy laboratory of real-life family and business. He is committed and tenacious when it comes to the success of his family and his family’s business.”
“Being part of our family’s history and legacy within the transportation industry and our local community is such an honor for me,” says Taylor. “My grandparents started with nothing; they were ultimately successful in starting and growing our original business through sheer determination and grit, which was carried on through my father and uncle.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a family that has believed in me and given me so many opportunities, both in leading our businesses and investing our family’s resources. Commitment to lifelong education drives me to get better every day and to steward the enterprise for the next generation.”
SCENIC ROOT, 16
Root Glass Company, Ormond Beach, Fla.
Scenic is a fifth-generation steward of Root Glass Company. Her great-great-grandfather, C.J. Root, founded the company in Terre Haute, Ind., in 1901. Root Glass Company designed, patented and manufactured the original 6½-ounce Coca-Cola bottle in 1916. The company relocated to Florida in 1950 and started to build what would become one of the largest independent bottlers of Coca-Cola in the United States. Today, the family enterprise invests in commercial real estate and includes the Root Family Foundation.
Scenic has been actively involved in non-profit work for six years. She started by volunteering at an equestrian camp for intellectually and developmentally disabled children while learning to be an advanced Western-style rider herself. Her father, Preston Root, president of the Root Family Board of Directors, notes that Scenic has taken charge of the family’s sizable charitable donation to promote animal welfare and has spoken on numerous occasions to large crowds about this effort.
Scenic has also participated in the family’s new video-based grant-making program, called WeChoose, which brings together the geographically diverse family to actively involve the NextGen in philanthropy.
Scenic, whose high school GPA is 4.2, has volunteered for more than 100 hours a year at various school, community and charity events. On her own initiative, she started Scenic Root Sportswear, a line of athletic wear for young women that will be sold via e-commerce. The line is designed “to solve the challenge younger ladies face in choosing age-appropriate active wear,” Preston says.
“Scenic has been committed to our sixth-generation family business since attending her first family meeting at 13 years old,” her father says. “She now is part of our investment summaries and participates in her own financial planning future.”
“I grew up being a part of a family business, which in certain aspects makes me believe that I have opportunities to grow closer to my family, not only personally but on a business level,” Scenic says. “We have time to play and times where we can just be work colleagues, but we never lose our bond even in times of seriousness.
“I was raised by parents who both grew up contributing to charities, so I was of course raised with these values as well. The fulfillment you feel is not something the world should know about; it should be personal and cherished.
“The best part of being in the Root Family Foundation is the ability to work with the organizations you feel passionately about without worrying the news will get out. The personal satisfaction is all you need. If you believe this, then your acts are selfless.”
CLARKE NELSON, 30
Nelson Ag Companies, Long Island, Kan.
Clarke represents the sixth generation of farmers in the Nelson family. He graduated from Kansas State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and a specialty option in animal sciences. He and his wife, Julia, also a graduate of Kansas State’s College of Agriculture, married in 2010 and joined Clarke’s father, Terry, in the family enterprise. The family’s agricultural businesses in Northwest Kansas (Nelson Farms, Nelson Cattle, Valley Feeds and Husky Hogs) are involved in raising cattle, raising hogs, farming, ranching and making livestock feed in five rural communities in Kansas and Nebraska. Also part of the family enterprise is First State Bank, with five locations in Kansas.
Clarke manages the 8,000-acre row-crop operation and is part of the leadership of the 15,000-head feedlot and the 15,000-sow farrow-finish livestock operations. Julia manages human resources and environmental compliance and assists in other functions. They hope their three daughters will become the seventh generation of Nelson family farmers.
“Clarke has been integral in the development of the unique leadership and management culture in the businesses,” says Lance Woodbury of Ag Progress, a consulting firm. What’s more, Woodbury says, “Clarke recently became a significant owner of part of the hog business, after a devastating fire in one of their hog complexes.”
The family’s decision to have a NextGen member take on ownership as part of the rebuilding is due in large part to “Clarke’s ‘showing up’ in the business since his return from college and the confidence it inspires,” Woodbury adds.
“I have always loved the opportunity to work with the land since I was first physically able to be involved on the farm and operation. I couldn’t wait to see what the next day brought in terms of opportunities, challenges and adventures that come with production agriculture.
“My family takes great pride and honor in positively influencing our local communities, economy and the lives
and families of our employees,” Clarke adds. “There is nothing more rewarding than being stewards of the land and serving the consumers with a safe, wholesome and very economical protein source.”
CHRISTOPHER PLETCHER, 32
Allegheny Coatings & Assured Testing Services, Ridgway, Pa.
Chris joined his father-in-law’s industrial coating and testing companies, Allegheny Coatings & Assured Testing Services, after working for Dow Chemical for five years. He transitioned to the companies in 2014 during summer internships while earning his MBA full-time from Cornell University.
Upon graduation, Chris became the general manager of Assured Testing Services, growing the company’s sales and leading the enterprise through its recent move to a new, purpose-built facility. He was also heavily involved in Allegheny Coatings’ recent acquisition of a competitor, which doubled the company’s footprint.
Chris continues to work alongside his father-in-law, Steve Quinn, who has owned Allegheny Coatings since 1994, and other family members. A leadership succession plan is in place to continue to expand Chris’s role in the coming years, culminating in his elevation to president. Chris was also recently elected to serve on the city council of his small community, St. Marys, Pa.
“My dad has done a fantastic job of getting us to where we are now. However, there was never a clear path to the second generation of our business — that is, until Chris became interested in the opportunity,” says his brother-in-law, Jonathan Quinn.
“Chris immediately made a significant impact,” Quinn says. “He brought clear direction and structure to the business, and business is booming. He brings a fresh perspective to our company that will help propel us to greater heights. Not only does he make a large contribution to our business, but also with my family and our small community.” Quinn sums up his brother-in-law’s major contributions by citing three concepts: “fresh perspective, leadership and family values.”
“I saw a wonderful opportunity in the family business to put my leadership and business training into practice in a meaningful way,” Chris says. “The business had grown successfully and was on the verge of the next wave of expansion. It was a fortuitous match: My father-in-law sought continuity to the next generation and I desired to lead a business of my own.
“The mutual commitment we established paved the way for several large-scale investments for the company, positioning the business, its customers, its employees and its family for a bright future.”
MADISON ZIMMERMAN, 24
Zimmerman Farm, Waseca, Minn.
Madison represents the sixth generation of ownership of the family farm. The Zimmerman Farm, which dates to 1863, grows crops and raises pigs.
Madison is in her second year of employment outside the family business, as required by the Zimmerman family’s employment policy. She’s working in Cargill’s Kansas City office in a management rotational program. She also is a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve. Madison graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where she studied entrepreneurial management, international business and applied economics and served in the Army ROTC program.
“My dad and I speak on a weekly basis about the current challenges and wins on the family farm,” Madison says. “During our weekly conversations, I have challenged him on how we view success and what we are doing for future change. These conversations have led us to add specialty crops to diversify our portfolio and the creation of an onboarding process for future generations.”
Madison instituted quarterly family conference calls “to discuss important movements happening in agricultural and general business practices,” she says. The first call focused on business culture in successful organizations, and what the family farm could do to model strong and positive cultures.
“She sent out read-ahead packets and lists of questions and asked for best practices that we could use in our own company,” says her father, Paul Zimmerman. “Then she worked with me on how to do a culture study of our company and get feedback from our senior managers. Lastly, she worked with me to take that data and incorporate it into our leader and manager training. We just finished year two of that program, and I have learned so much and can see the impact it is having.”
Madison has had a “dramatic effect” on the senior generation’s plan for onboarding NextGens who are expected to join the family farm within the next 12 to 24 months, her father says.
“She has strongly pushed for us to adopt a program built upon what she has experienced both at Cargill and in her work as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, where you get extensive training and education across all business units and up and down the organization,” Paul says. “This has moved us dramatically beyond what we had first developed for the returning NextGens. We now have learning modules for each business group with testing performance measures at the end.”
“My passion for my family business stems from my earliest memories,” Madison says. “I remember walking the fields and hearing stories about how my dad planted that forest with his grandpa, and how my great-grandfather weathered the Great Depression. Each generation has improved our farm and left it better for future generations. I hope to be a part of that tradition.”
Paul, who refers to Madison as his “reverse mentor,” says, “Through her work at Cargill, she has challenged us to think about the future of food production and how it will be sustainably sourced. She has convinced me that almost all food will soon be tracked from field to fork through blockchain management, and that I need to position our company to be a ‘provider of choice’ for food companies that are striving to source their ingredients in the most sustainable manner possible. She is helping to position our company to be a leader in the future — a future which I sincerely hope she will be a part of.”
ADAM POVLITZ, 34
Anago Cleaning Systems, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Adam left a position at IBM in New York City to join Anago Cleaning Systems in 2009. Anago, a commercial cleaning franchise company, was founded in 1989 by his father, David Povlitz.
Adam started out scrubbing toilets at a daycare center. After several promotions, he was named president of Anago in 2015. In that position, he oversees all aspects of the company, including operations, finance and the marketing programs designed to attract franchisees. He has focused on technology, investing in his IT team.
Adam holds an MBA from the University of Miami and earned a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt (certification in using statistical analysis to solve business problems) from Nova Southeastern University. He is a Certified Franchise Executive and an ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standards Expert.
“I realized after working in the financial space that my true passion rested in the business my father started almost 30 years ago,” Adam says. “Not everyone is given the opportunity to help evolve their parents’ business, so when I was presented with the chance to do so, I never looked back. Though there is always added pressure in making your family business a success, the reward for leading your employees in a familial environment is extraordinary.”
EMILY SUKUP SCHMITT, 32
Sukup Manufacturing, Sheffield, Iowa
Emily is in the third generation of family active in Sukup Manufacturing, the U.S.’s largest family-owned, full-line grain drying and storage equipment manufacturer. She serves as the company’s general counsel, managing a wide variety of legal issues, including intellectual property, litigation, public policy and human resources. She spends significant time promoting and speaking about the Sukup Safe T Home, a hurricane-proof home manufactured by the company, and has placed nearly 300 homes in Haiti.
Emily earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Iowa State University and a juris doctorate from the University of Iowa College of Law with high honors.
“Emily is a driving force behind Safe T Homes,” says Stephanie Larscheid, former executive director of the Prairie
Family Business Association. “These are homes for those without a home and are resistant to termites and moisture. They are virtually earthquake proof.
“Emily has a bright future ahead of her as she impacts and grows the family business.”
“My grandpa Eugene founded Sukup Manufacturing in 1963, and he has always impressed in us the importance of taking care of our employees,” Emily says. “Employing more than 600 people in a rural Iowa community with a population of 1,200 is a responsibility, and we like to say that treating our employees well is ingrained at Sukup.
“From providing a frozen turkey to every employee at Thanksgiving to opening an on-site health clinic at our manufacturing facility, I’m passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of our employees and empowering them to grow and innovate.”
TOLLEFSON FAMILY 4th GENERATION
Tollefson’s Retail Group, Minot, N.D.
“This NextGen group has gone through a tremendous amount of effort to be prepared to take over the family business, which has been in the family for 93 years,” says Agatha Johnson of Generations to
Generations LLC, a consultant who has worked with the Tollefson family.
“Each one not only works in the business, they put in the effort on their own time to understand the company and to grow as a professional and leader for the company as well as the family,” Johnson says. “Combine the family values with the unique qualities each person has, and it turns the team into a strong, united force.”
Tollefson’s began in 1925 as a single furniture store and today has more than 200 employees in three states (North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana) and multiple locations. Tollefson’s Retail Group encompasses four businesses: Slumberland Furniture, The Carpet Garage Flooring Center, Tollefson’s Carpetland and Tollefson’s Contract Flooring.
EMILY MACKNER, 35
Emily is CEO of the furniture division of Tollefson’s Retail Group. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., with a double major in business and apparel/design. After college, she moved to Minneapolis to work for Macy’s in the buying office as a merchandise coordinator. She later joined Signature Sales Inc. as a business analyst.
In May 2009, Emily moved back to Minot with her husband, John, to join the family business. She began on the sales floor at Carpetland, collaborating with customers and designing their spaces. In July 2011, Emily began managing the Carpetland store until January 2013, when she became general manager of the Minot Slumberland location. She served in that role until January 2015, when she became CEO of the furniture division, which consists of 11 locations in two states.
Consultant Agatha Johnson, who describes Emily as “determined and detailed,” notes, “In addition to overseeing Tollefson Retail Group, she oversees the furniture division by providing direction to the team, driving store performance and collaborating with the Slumberland team to ensure alignment. Emily is sure to take time to travel to each of her stores to know her employees. They see she is there for them and understands what is taking place in each of the communities. She will always look to grow as an individual by seeking out opportunities.”
“Growing up in our family business has provided insight and awareness as to the amount of work it takes to grow and run a business,” Emily says. “When you add passion for what you do, it no longer feels like work.
My passion for our team, our communities and our customers is what drives me daily to be a better person.”
JOHN MACKNER, 35
John — husband of Emily Mackner — is chief operations officer of the flooring division of Tollefson’s Retail Group. He graduated from Concordia College with a degree in economics. After college, he moved to Minneapolis to work for the Federal Reserve Bank as a bank examiner. He spent four years at the Federal Reserve, gaining valuable financial and personal experience.
In 2009, when John and Emily moved to Minot, John joined the flooring division of the family business and worked closely with Mark Tollefson, one of the owner/operators. Mark is a cousin of Emily’s father, Roger Tollefson.
John learned about the flooring division by helping Mark with day-to-day operations of the stores, including purchasing merchandise, negotiating freight rates and handling employee relations. Today, as chief operations officer of the flooring division,
John oversees all flooring stores (11 locations in three states) and works closely with his brother-in-
law, Brent Tollefson, on sales initiatives. John’s primary focus is daily operations of the stores: merchandising them, maintaining vendor relations and monitoring monthly and annual budgets.
Johnson describes John as “introspective and analytical.”
She says, “John encourages others to bring their best and to always strive to reach goals.”
“Seeing the joy on a customer’s face and hearing our employees talk with excitement in their voices is something
that is hard to describe,” John says. “Knowing we created it and put our name on it is the most rewarding thing about a family business.”
BRENT TOLLEFSON, 33
Brent — Emily’s brother — is director of sales at Tollefson’s Retail Group. Brent has spent most of his life immersed in every cornerof the family business operations, including mowingthe lawn at age 12, adorning the company mascot and helping assemble furniture in the back warehouse.
Brent attended Concordia College and majored in business management. He spent two years in different cities, working under Tollefson’s COO and helping to manage a struggling store. Both experiences helped him open and manage the newest location, where he increased sales by double digits each year. In 2016, he became director of sales.
In this position, provides sales training, product knowledge, support and leadership to the sales team.
Johnson describes Brent as “gregarious and energetic.” She says, “Brent brings his background in business
to the company. He attends builder’s association and other meetings to know what to expect for the business
and the communities and to align with the strategic direction of the company.” She adds that Brent takes seriously the responsibility to be visible as a business owner in the community.
“Customer service and sales have always come easier to me than riding a bike,” Brent says. “Business, however, goes beyond balancing the books. When you work full-time next to the team that assembles the furniture that goes out to your customer, you not only gain priceless insight into your own business, but even more perspective on your community and world. It’s important and interesting to me to hear about the lives our employees live outside our walls. What really motivates me is all the moving parts in our business: the investment in and management of people, assets, opportunities and risk.”
BRANDON TOLLEFSON, 30
Brandon — cousin of Emily and Brent and the son of Mark Tollefson — attended the University of North Dakota for two years before moving back to Minot. He graduated from Minot State University with a bachelor’s degree in business management.
After graduation, Brandon worked in sales at the Carpet Garage and then moved into an assistant management position. He later took on a management position at Carpetland. Her currently heads up the sales team at Carpetland and oversees Tollefson’s Contract Flooring. Before joining the family business full-time, Brandon held part-time jobs at the Carpet Garage, working in the warehouse and doing odd jobs. Throughout high school and in the summers during college, he worked in sales at a sporting goods store, where he gained the love of sales and learned the importance of great customer service.
Johnson describes Brandon as “creative and motivated.”
She says, “Brandon’s ability to juggle running the two different stores shows his dedication to growing the business and making sure the customer has a great experience.”
“Being able to be a part of a now 93-year-old family business is an amazing opportunity, and I do not take that lightly,” Brandon says. “As our business evolves, I will continue to push the limits with my ‘out of the box’ way of thinking, adding a different perspective to our company. I truly feel lucky to have great partners with a common vision that I know will take Tollefson’s Retail Group to the next level.”