Wittwer Hospitality/Boulevard Home
Lester and Vanola Wittwer opened the Wittwer Motel in Las Vegas in 1948. After several years, the couple moved their family back to Southwestern Utah, the area where they were both raised. In 1955, they opened the Wittwer Motor Lodge in St. George, Utah, where the family business is based today. The Wittwer Motor Lodge, now the Best Western Travel Inn, is still in the family’s portfolio.
Lester and Vanola’s four sons, Royden, Tony, Mel and Sheldon, joined the business and helped it grow. Wittwer Hospitality continues to develop hotels under its own ownership and provides management services to other hotel owners. All told, there are nine hotels, with others under development.
In 1974, the enterprise expanded by adding a furniture store company, Boulevard Home. Boulevard Home has three store locations, a clearance center and consignment and flooring stores. The family enterprise also has a property management side.
In honor of its 30th anniversary, Family Business honored 30 outstanding family businesses:
Each of the second-generation brothers had six children. The G2 siblings had equal ownership and equal salaries. The 24 cousins in G3 have mostly equal ownership, although that is beginning to change. Nine of the cousins work in the family business.
The Wittwers have been taking steps to address the challenges that arise when a big family owns a small business. As of today, there are 75 G4s. No one in the fourth generation has ownership yet.
The need to update the family employment policy was a major impetus for the establishment of the Wittwer Family Council in 2005. Family members were asking questions about hiring decisions and salaries, and the younger G3s were concerned that they might not have an opportunity to work for the family business. At the same time, family members in leadership wanted to ensure they would have a qualified pool of family applicants; they also feared family members might expect positions they were not qualified to hold.
The family council borrowed copies of other family companies’ employment policies and determined the key points to be covered in the Wittwer policy. A family council member was assigned to draft the policy. The policy was added to the family constitution with board approval.
The family also created a policy governing compensation for family members who work in the business. Compensation is now based on job duties, fair market value and job performance.
The family employment and compensation policies have resulted in a substantial decrease in family employment concerns. Family members are seeking quality education and outside work experience, and those who return to the family business after gaining this experience are better qualified for their positions.
The Wittwer family constitution includes core values/guiding principles, family council bylaws and policies to cover a wide range of family and business situations.
The board consists of seven members: five family members and two independent members. Family directors are chosen through an application-and-interview process; non-family directors are chosen by a Nomination and Selection Committee.
In 2004, the family started paying annual dividends to family shareholders. The checks are distributed at the annual family assembly meeting, providing an incentive for family members to attend the meeting. Family members appreciate not only the checks but also the associated transparency. They are more interested in the company’s performance and recognize the benefits of business ownership. Because attendance at family assembly meetings has increased, the meetings are more meaningful.
The family introduced a stock buyback program in 2010. An amount to be offered is determined annually, with a discount applied. A policy was implemented to divide the amount fairly if more than one person wants to sell back shares. Stock buybacks have helped individual family members expand their own businesses, pay off student loans, reduce debt and buy homes.
A Compensation and Continuity Committee was created to oversee dividends, the family companies’ incentive plans and other complex, high-level issues. The incentive plan encompasses profit sharing and cash incentives and is open to family as well as non-family team members. A phantom stock plan, instituted in 2012, is open to family and non-family team leaders and executives. Partly because of the incentive plans, skilled family executives are choosing to remain in the family business or to return to it.
Recently added committees include Business Growth, Investment and Borrowing. An advisory board, consisting of the four second-generation brothers, has also been established. All of the G2s are retired from day-to-day operations, and only one still serves on the board of directors. The advisory board has provided the opportunity for the company’s founders to be involved and have a voice while enjoying retirement.
Programs and policies are in place to better develop family members of all ages. An education program is presented at the annual family assembly, with curricula for three age cohorts: 8-11, 12-18 and 19 and older. All have learned more about the company’s history, the family values, the company’s current operations and business basics. The older youth have opportunities for summer internships, mentorships and donations and have stock market investing competitions.