Written by Cathy Baines
The Hungry Years
Much too often, a person’s dreams are shelved because of duty, obligations or the need to get by. You get through the daily grind to pay bills, you work to put food on the table and you say, “Someday, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to make my dream come true.” A few of us are lucky enough, smart enough or have people who believe in us enough to help us follow our passion.
Prairie State Packaging was one such lucky dream. Jim Baines wasn’t the lead dog for a long time, and knew that if he didn’t become the lead dog, “the view would always be the same.” So, on a “wing, lots of prayers, and a strong support group of one,” Jim moved to the head of the pack.
With limited funds, but lots of product knowledge and guts, Jim started his company. There was no fancy office, no secretary, no coffee machine in the beginning; those luxuries came much later. In lieu of bells and whistles was a strong determination and will to make it work, no matter what. When no one else thinks that you can, then say, “I know I can.”
Thirty-one years later, that “I know I can” business venture thrives and provides an income for 15 employees who support and work each day at Prairie State Packaging (PSP).
Not that the spirit isn’t willing, but the body often likes to enjoy the fruits of its labor.
Enter the second generation for Prairie State.
Mike Baines officially joined the business in 1997. Technically, Mike started “hanging” around the office at age 12. By this time, PSP had purchased a building with official offices and warehouse in Batavia. Mike would sweep floors in the warehouse, organize product and snack on the free candy bars and Cokes. When he could drive, he became the delivery guy for the company (a rite of passage for both kids was to make a nighttime delivery in the worst part of Chicago on the day they got a driver’s license; Jim believed it made them stronger). Upon graduation from Purdue University, Mike joined the company as a full time sales person.
In 2003, Sara Baines Stockdale came into the business. Sara’s degree in education allows her to understand her dad and brother’s differing “learning styles,” apply “conflict resolution” between the two and maintain order in the office. Sometimes in the business world, you just need to wipe noses and offer a listening ear.
Truthfully, running your own business requires a sense of humor. All of you who have a family business know that it’s serious and hard work. Every day is tough; every night is sleepless; every month a challenge. Keeping employees happy and on task takes an enormous amount of energy. The toll on your family is high—yet, the rewards are huge.
From the beginning to the present, the success of Prairie State Packaging was, is and for the rest of its being, will continue to rely on hard work and perseverance from each family member. Mike is working to fulfill his own dream of growing and developing his spinoff company, Aerocell. His workday is not 8:00 to 5:00 or Monday through Friday. It’s usually 24/7, just like his dad in the beginning. Sara works to promote her special interest of Pelican products. She travels from Indiana on Monday, works all week in the business, and travels back home on Friday night. Jim continues to keep tabs on the company on a daily basis. It’s hard to give up “your baby.”
Prairie State Packaging has been very blessed with support from family members, mentors, employees and business associates throughout the years. Thanks to everyone involved, the dream did come true.
From bottles you could drink, to chemicals under the sink.
Nyco Products Company has come a long way from its original roots as Chippewa Water distributor, which sold bottled water in Chicago during the 1920s. Vincent Nyad (thus the origin of Nyco) saw the need for this product due to Chicago’s notoriously unpleasant drinking water in those days. Eventually, Vince started selling a powdered cleaner known as Beck Cleaner to some of his best customers. Luckily for Chicago, the water purification systems improved around the same time Beck Cleaner was being sold by Vince. He quickly found the cleaner more profitable to the business than bottled water, thus Nyco Products was born and began selling cleaners only.
In 1954 Vince sold the company to Alex Evans and the business opened a new location at 1801 S. Jefferson Street in Chicago. Meanwhile in 1963, Bob Stahurski Sr. and two partners had started a company, Service Chemical, which unfortunately went out of business in its second year of operation. Shortly after this, Bob Stahurski Sr.’s experience with chemicals and cleaning products appealed to Alex who asked him to come join Nyco Products.
Ten years later, Alex sold the company to his brother-in-law, Ray Novy. Ray was a retired accountant for the railroad, but his knowledge about chemicals and cleaning products was limited. Luckily for Ray, Alex structured the sale to include Bob having a minority interest and keeping Bob’s formulation and product knowledge with Nyco. By 1984, Bob Stahurski Sr. reached a decision to purchase the majority stock position or leave and start a new company. Bob structured the purchase deal along with the Sales Manager and Production Manager, purchasing Nyco from Raymond in February of 1985. During this purchase, they created a highly structured buy-sell agreement. Sadly, tragedy struck at the very same time as Bob Stahurski Sr. was diagnosed with terminal cancer that same year. In April of 1986, Bob Stahurski Sr. passed away at the age of 54.
At a shareholder meeting shortly before Bob Sr.’s passing, it was decided that Bob Stahurski Jr. would become President of Nyco upon his father’s passing. The shareholders had named Bob the successor to his father, but Bob Jr. was never made aware of this decision. Over a weekend, Bob Jr. transitioned from leading Nyco’s marketing and graphic design department to presiding over a company he had 10 years of experience with but no succession or management training. Within the first two weeks of being President, Bob dove right into the role, including refinancing the business from the initial shareholder buyout. Having no family estate or succession plans in place he also was challenged to transition stock shares from his mother, Mary Ann.
With Bob Jr. at the helm as the first second generation president in the company’s history, Nyco was now truly a family business and looking forward to the future.
Overcoming tragedy to become a leading cleaning brand supplier.
Bob demonstrated from the start that he was a capable leader as he confidently guided the team at Nyco Products. To strengthen his leadership, Bob surrounded himself with resources and fellow leaders by becoming involved in several outside organizations. Eventually, Bob was able to buy out the other two original partners, but he also ensured that any of their family working in the business maintained shareholder status. Bob’s open door attitude with his experienced employees and willingness to adapt in changing times allowed Nyco Products to flourish.
In 1999, Nyco sold its master wholesale division, ReDex, which represented over 30 companies in the janitorial/sanitation industry. At the same time, the company moved its manufacturing facility from Chicago to a building adjacent to Nyco’s Countryside, IL distribution center. These two changes caused Nyco to take a hit on revenue, but it allowed the business the opportunity to shift its focus back to its sweet spot: specialty chemical manufacturing and helping companies build better brands. With a degree in marketing from DePaul University, Bob was able to bring his expertise to this aspect of the business and drive the business forward.
Nyco Products not only helps companies with formulating their cleaning products, but also creates the marketing strategies behind them. This includes everything from marketing materials to launching products into the marketplace. Nyco believes these marketing strategies increase the shareholder value and builds a better brand. In recent years, the marketing details have been fine-tuned and strengthened even more, and this attention to detail continues to elevate Nyco brands.
On September 26, 2012 Nyco Products launched Ownership Thinking. This program creates a culture and process for building profitability by providing financial disclosure within the company. As Bob explains, there can often be a disconnect between owners and employees. The Ownership Thinking platform provides both shareholders and employees complete transparency in how the company is performing. Nyco has made it a priority to allow their employees (some with up to 45 years of tenure with the company under their belts) to prosper when the company reaches its defined profitability goals. By measuring critical KPI’s, Ownership Thinking increases communication for the entire team at Nyco and ultimately keeps them working smarter. The program also helps employees find creative ways for both the company and all employees to make more money, even when the economy isn’t at its strongest.
Nyco’s most recent product launch project involved working with a brand new molecule known as Omnia™ which was developed by Eastman Chemical. As the first company to formulate with Omnia™, Nyco has created a new series of safely responsible cleaners called OM1. Working on this project has given Nyco an ‘innovator’ position in the industry and Bob describes the OM1 Series Cleaners as the most fun he and his team have had in his 34 years at the company.
Bob isn’t the only family member to work in the family business since his father’s passing in 1986. Both of Bob’s sisters have worked for Nyco Products, but only his older sister, Jeanne, is still involved in H/R and administration. Additionally, his mother, Mary Ann, worked on the A/R team until she was 78 years old. Today, Bob’s wife, Colleen, works on the strategic planning team along with running process improvement implementation. John Wunderlich, Executive Vice President of Sales, and Mark Houston, Purchasing Manager, along with Bob’s sister Jeanne all own shares in the company. Nyco has multiple plans in place for worst-case scenarios to avoid pandemonium in the event of one of the Four D’s: Death, Disability, Divorce or Disruption. And to further ensure Nyco’s continued success, Bob remains very involved in other charities and communities, which gives him motivation and passion to bring back to the business.
Chicago Family Business Council: A sacred forum with a sacred team.
Bob has found a special place in the Chicago Family Business Council (CFBC). Bob describes his Forum as sacred, and finds great value in the shared experiences he receives from his Forum mates. Not only that, Bob says that being involved in the CFBC has improved his relationships and made him a more objective and better person. All of this is carried back to Nyco with him, and it really shows when he talks about his passion for his team members. In addition to the CFBC, Bob has also been heavily involved with the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) and Cleaning for a Reason.
Today, when you ask Bob to tell you about Nyco Products, he first speaks of the people, not the buildings or the equipment. At Nyco, everyone is treated equally and it is clear to see Bob’s passion for his team. So what’s next for Bob and the team at Nyco Products? Bob has no intention of leaving the business anytime soon. None of Bob and Colleen’s three children are actively involved in the business, although they all worked summer jobs at Nyco during college. It’s uncertain if Nyco will remain under the family name. Nyco Products is looking at potential opportunities to relocate to a larger facility and exploring acquisition possibilities as well. As the company continues to grow, processes evolve and the team is constantly working to become more efficient.
No matter what challenges Bob faces in the future, he is confident in Nyco Products’ five-year Strategic Long Range Plan and strives to reach the goals that are included within that document. What is the biggest plan of all? Bob remarks, “To stay humble, stay focused and continue to serve Nyco’s customers and employees.”
What started as a construction company in the 1940s would eventually grow to be two businesses serving both the construction industry and the wood box business. Frank G. Ockerlund founded Ockerlund Construction just before World War II. With the war underway, there wasn’t a need for construction which prompted Frank to start producing wood boxes. At the end of the war, Frank was essentially left with two businesses and two sons. Both of his sons left the Navy and each took charge of one business. Frank G. Ockerlund II, took over the construction business and Robert C. Ockerlund, took over the wood box business.
Robert passed away in 1980 and his right hand man in running Ockerlund Container took the lead in running the business for more than 10 years. Eventually, the Ockerlund family decided that it was best to liquidate Ockerlund Industries. At the time, Robert’s son, Guy, was living and working in Washington DC in the marketing department of Hopmann Corporation. Before the family made their final decision on the business, Guy decided it would be best to come back to Chicago for a month and take a look at the state of Ockerlund Industries. What he learned was that the company had great potential. The decision was made to return back to Chicago with his wife, Sandra, and revitalize the family business.
At this time, Guy was the only active family member in the company; his three older sisters weren’t interested. Guy’s grandmother, Florence Ockerlund, was his biggest advocate as he began to take the reins of the company. Since both of Guy’s parents had passed away, his grandmother was his connection to the history of not only the business, but to his family as well. She supported and guided Guy as he navigated the company back to success.
In 1993, Guy and his sister Tracy (who acted as a silent partner) bought out their two sisters in 1993 and purchased half of the Ockerlund Industries facility located in Forest Park.
By 1995, the business started to take a new direction by creating a specialized product for United Airlines. In addition to this newer air cargo division of Ox Box, the company was also producing wood boxes and heavy-duty corrugated products. However, after 9/11 the airline industry changed dramatically and the air cargo division of Ox Box was dissolved as a result. This prompted the company to go back to its roots and reinvent itself in terms of wood boxes and corrugated products. Ox Box was forced to downsize from 50 employees to 25.
Despite many challenges, Ox Box grew and in 2005 purchased Tracy’s shares of the business, moved to a larger plant in Addison and invested in new manufacturing equipment. All in 60 days. Despite the chaos, Ox Box never missed a delivery to a customer.
With the company’s focus shifting, how would Guy keep Ox Box successful and innovative?
Luckily, in 2003 Guy was recommended to the Chicago Family Business Council by StandFast Packaging. The CFBC gave Guy and Ox Box the support they needed to get to the next phase. Guy was able to walk through issues and processes with his Forum which was perfect timing with all the changes he was facing. Today, Guy is also a member of his Trade Association and recently joined a CEO group for the corrugated box industry which provides him additional support and insight into the industry.
Five years ago, Ox Box introduced Eco-Shield weatherproof corrugated crates which enables Ox Box to serve customers that it could not before. Many of these customers need specialized packaging that can withstand the harsh conditions of the outdoors, including the South Georgia Heritage Trust’s rescue mission on South Pole Island.
The opportunity that this product provides is a huge success for Ox Box. However, it has been a challenge to change consumers’ perceptions of corrugated materials. Many people don’t believe that the boxes will be durable enough to replace wood boxes. To combat this misperception, Ox Box has worked hard to reassure consumers through testimonials and product sampling which show that the Eco-Shield crates can indeed do the job.
Luckily for Ox Box, Guy was able to see the potential of his family business and allow it to flourish in its niche market. It is still too soon to say if it will remain in the family but Guy has run the business with the intent of having his son come on board one day. Whether or not this happens, Guy is proud of how far the company has come and is confident that Ox Box will continue to be ‘strength you can depend on’.
Bone Roofing Supply was founded in 1971 by Clay Bone when he decided to finally follow his entrepreneurial dream of owning his own roofing supply business. He immediately recruited his twin sons, Jack and Jim, who both left college in the first week of their sophomore year to join the business. Together the trio launched what has become a successful business for more than 40 years (and counting!).
Although the timing may be a bit startling, it was really no surprise that the twins would join with their father in business since when they were just nine-years-old they started a business delivering newspapers. That entrepreneurial spirit was alive in all three of them and when Bone Roofing first started, Jack and Jim drove the trucks while Clay made the sales.
Right off the bat, Jack gravitated toward the mechanical side and Jim was more inclined to sales which made them a great team. As the brothers began to transition into leadership roles, their parents allowed them to make their own decisions (and mistakes) because, as their mother Hope pointed out, it was their business too. These decisions included purchasing a $30K truck with a crane. Even though Clay thought this would be a mistake, it ended up being one of their best purchases as it greatly reduced injuries from physical labor.
When Jim and Jack took over the business after their parents passed away, there were some surprises in the succession plan that presented a great deal of challenges for the brothers as they took full reins of the company. This difficult period would influence the way they decided to transition their business in the future.
As Jack points out, the roofing industry (like any industry) is a tough business with days beginning at 3:00 am. On this schedule, it is challenging to maintain a healthy balance between work and family. Jack and Jim quickly knew they had both made a huge sacrifice with their families in order to run Bone Roofing, and this was carefully taken into consideration as talks of bringing in the third generation began.
The very first discussion of the third generation began in the mid-1990s when Jack’s daughter, Jackie, and Jim’s two sons, Dennis and Jason, were still young. It had always been presented to them as an opportunity and not an expectation to work for Bone Roofing. However, if they wanted to enter the business there was a strict policy set in place. Each had to finish college followed by two years at another company outside of the roofing industry, including a promotion within that company. Only then could a third-generation member work for Bone Roofing, and only if there was availability.
Initially, none of the children had any interest in working for their parents. But right about the same time that Jim and Jack were looking for young energy to liven up Bone Roofing, Jason and Dennis realized that it was important to them to keep the family name in the company. They wanted to be part of upholding a family business that had been successful for more than 30 years.
How has the third generation taken on leadership roles within Bone Roofing? What is the relationship between the second and third generation? And, what does the future look like for this 44-year-old family business?
In 2008, Dennis became the first member of the third generation to enter Bone Roofing Supply. Because he worked at Bone Roofing in the summers as a teen, he was already familiar with the products and systems in the warehouse. However, he needed thorough training in the office in order to understand the inner-workings of the business. After getting a feel for all sides of the company, Dennis gravitated toward sales and vendor relations which he is still involved with today.
Just one year later, Jason joined his brother, father and uncle at Bone Roofing in 2009. Like Dennis, he had worked in the warehouse for several summers but he too had to get acquainted with the office operations. He began working primarily on quoting and he eventually took over the banking side of the company, where his strengths were apparent.
By 2013, Jackie was the final member of the third generation to enter the company. Initially, she struggled with where she fit in the business and ended up creating a role for herself. Jackie has taken over HR, interviewing, internal operations and implementing a company culture. This position was the first of its kind at Bone Roofing, and a much needed role.
Dennis, Jason, and Jackie each bring their own strengths and backgrounds to Bone Roofing which is helping them guide the future for the company. With Dennis’ background in accounting, Jackie’s background in law, and Jason’s background in banking, they all bring important education and support to the business. Since they all come from corporate backgrounds, they see eye-to-eye on many issues and have the same vision for the future. Even so, they do sometimes struggle to implement their changes with their parents as Jack and Jim remain advisors yet slowly transition out of the business. Like Clay and Hope guided them, Jack and Jim know it is important for them to let the third generation make their own decisions – and even their own mistakes.
The third generation is currently focused heavily on implementing an organizational structure the company has never had before. They are shifting from working in the business to working on the business and improving the day-to-day operations. It is important for them to empower the employees to be leaders and play an active role in the company. They also have taken on the responsibility of a larger 88,000 square foot facility which was opened in 2014 – a responsibility that they all take pride in.
They are also finding it to be challenging to change the internal culture. With two different generations and two different management styles, it can be difficult to make decisions as a cohesive group of five. But they work hard to make this a priority. Both generations know they don’t have all the answers as they navigate the transition, and they have relied on several outside resources for support. The Chicago Family Business Council and Forum experience have also helped the family with listening skills and changed the way they talk and interact.
It is crystal clear that no matter the generational and leadership differences, the Bone family still places the top value on family. When asked years ago if their family was deteriorating, would they save the family or business, they unanimously chose the family. This was a true sign to the Bones that it is most important to all of them that the family has no hostility and maintains strong relationships and a teamwork attitude. There is open communication among all and they meet frequently to discuss the estate and succession plan of the future.
When asked about the possibility of passing Bone Roofing Supply to the fourth generation, they say that it is still too early to tell. The Bone family is primarily focused on the next ten years and the opportunity to expand and diversify the business. At this time, the third generation just feels fortunate to be in the business and work with family that they admire, trust and consider true friends. As for the second generation, they are completely optimistic for the future of Bone Roofing and proud of what the third generation has already accomplished.
After moving from Italy to Chicago in 1956, John Nitti started his own Italian grocery store, Nitti Foods, in 1957. For the next 30 years John successfully operated his store until he and his wife Janet moved to Italy for a year-and-a-half. While back in Italy, the entrepreneur in John could not be quieted and he quickly met contacts who helped him start a second venture, an importing business to bring the best of Italian goods to the United States. By 1992, John and Janet were back in Chicago selling products in a storefront and Isola Imports was born.
Importing Italian goods is not an easy task but John had a few natural advantages due to his connections in Italy, his knowledge of the language, and his familiarity with the business framework from operating his own store. When Isola Imports was just starting, English not being a prevalent language in Italy. This in conjunction with cultural differences made business deals much more difficult for many importers but John – a native Italian living in Chicago – was able to navigate the complexities from both sides of the ocean.
Eventually, it was time for John’s children to join Isola Imports. His youngest son, Jay, was the first to enter the company a few years after he finished college. With Jay in sales, the company began to expand and their first warehouse was purchased at Western and Ohio. A few months later, John’s daughter, Lisa, joined the business tackling sales and purchasing.
Isola Imports’ growth continued fueled by the unique products they brought to the United States from Italy. Due to their connections in Italy, Isola was often the first company to bring new products to the US market with other companies not catching on until much later. This helped Isola Imports create a strong, trusted brand with a loyal customer base. One of Isola’s most popular products, My Brother’s Olive Oil, is unique to the company because it is actually made from John Nitti’s brother’s olive grove. The olive grove was passed down from John’s grandfather to John and his brother. It is this type of product with a unique story to tell that truly makes Isola Imports stand out.
By 2003, Michael, John’s oldest son, had also joined the family business. Today, three out of five of the Nitti children work at Isola Imports. Michael joined the company with the task of branding and revamping the company’s website in order to continue the strong brand identity with consumers. The main goal with the updated branding was to create the ultimate Italian experience for consumers. Isola Imports wanted to be the hub where customers could get all their Italian products.
How is the branding of Isola Imports evolving today? What roles have the second generation taken on within the company? And what lies ahead for Isola Imports?
With the second generation now in leadership roles, the three Nitti siblings are finding out how to utilize each of their strengths to further grow the company. John and Janet are still available as a resource to provide support when needed. However, they believe it is important for them to let the second generation fly and see their own ideas through. John does not have any trouble phasing himself out of the business – mostly because his entrepreneurial spirit is still going strong as he remains involved in several other projects.
One key insight the Nitti family learned from being involved with organizations such as the Chicago Family Business Council is that creating definitive roles and job descriptions for everyone, including the family members, is key to smooth internal operations. Jay now oversees the entire sales team of Isola Imports, an expanded role from when he first joined the company. Lisa has taken on the role of finance, purchasing, and implementing food safety plans into Isola Imports, including completing the C-TPAT certification process (which expedites the importing process from Italy through U.S. customs). Michael has focused on the operations and the branding of Isola’s products, including overseeing the redesign of packaging and marketing to the consumer. Even though each sibling has their own role, just like any family business, they all wear different hats on any given day.
Today, Isola Imports sells more than 200 unique products in their 50,000 square foot facility. Working with 17 employees, Isola Imports has expanded their reach and accomplished many goals. They are the first to admit that they’re not the biggest Italian Importers on the block, but that fact does not intimidate them. Just this year, Isola’s products were featured in the Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease cookbook and Mariano’s is implementing an innovative stand in their markets which allows consumers to try Isola’s many different flavors of olive oil before purchasing. These touch points with consumers are helping Isola Imports thrive and remain on the shelves where they’ve been for 22 years.
In the future, Isola Imports will have to work hard to maintain strong relationships in Italy and continue to bring new and exciting products to the United States. The Nitti family has also found that it is very important to keep the proper balance of family and business. With such a large and tight-knit family, it can be challenging to keep the pressures of the business separate from the personal relationships. But they all know it is vital to do so in order to keep a successful company and a loving family. As a matter of fact, the entire family believes that Isola Imports will remain a family enterprise for decades to come. The third generation is still 12-years-old and younger, but there is already interest. Lisa and Michael’s sons frequently visit the office to help with orders and are interested in the business. The old saying that blood is thicker than water certainly holds true for the Nitti family. For them, it could also be said that blood is as thick as a really great olive oil!
Even through tough times and with family members reluctant to let him into the business, Jeff Wisdom always knew he would work at the family business, Wisdom Adhesives. Jeff’s passion and excitement for the adhesive business, combined with his grit and determination, have made his dream a reality.
Wisdom Adhesives was founded 140 years ago in 1875 by Jeff’s great-great-grandfather, Phillip Wisdom. The business served graphic arts and book binding businesses and included many notable clients such as George Pullman.
From the beginning, Wisdom Adhesives focused on six guiding principles, known as “The Wisdom Way”: passion, action, reinvention, endurance, relationships, and generosity. These core values have always been – and still are — lived and breathed by all employees of Wisdom Adhesives and their customers would no doubt tell you the same thing.
As the second youngest of 25 children in the 5th generation, Jeff had the strongest interest in taking over the family business. Jeff purchased shares in the company and went through two buyouts with his father and two uncles before stepping up as Wisdom Adhesives 5th generation owner in 1993.
With Jeff as the new leader of the business, what changes would he bring to Wisdom Adhesives? How would the Wisdom Way continue to guide the future of the company?
Needless to say, Wisdom Adhesives is a very different company today than it was 1875. However, as Jeff explains, the beliefs and principles remain the same. The Wisdom Way guides the business and employees. In fact, The Wisdom Way is even stronger today than it was 140 years ago and has even been published in a book, The Wisdom Way: Six Guiding Principles for Success and Longevity from a 140 Year Old Adhesive Manufacturing Company, written by Wisdom’s own Chief Operating Officer, Tom Rolando.
When visiting Wisdom Adhesives (which was renamed to Wisdom Adhesives Worldwide in 2011 to reflect its expansion into the global market) you will find a passion present in everyone you talk to. Jeff radiates a zeal and excitement for his company that is very contagious among employees. The positivity, ambition, and passion that Jeff displays is something that he takes with him when visiting clients around the world. One would think it might be difficult to get people excited about glue but Cathy Westhouse, Chief Marketing Officer of Wisdom, explains that the 140-year-old family business is an interesting and inspiring story. It is actually hard not to become passionate about the company, especially when paired with the enthusiasm that employees bring to the conversation.
The underlying passion and the six guiding principles have made it possible for Jeff to change the business model and narrow its focus. Today, Wisdom Adhesives Worldwide focuses on the packaging and converting markets. This narrowed focus has allowed them to be the best at what they do and they have expanded globally to 24 countries.
The two buyouts that Jeff went through to take ownership of the company were trying times. Jeff wishes he had the Chicago Family Business Council and his forum as a resource to help guide him through that succession process. Today, Jeff values his involvement with the CFBC because he no longer feels alone and has an outlet to discuss the family aspects of a business with people that truly understand.
Looking to the future, the goal is to continue to grow and expand. There is a huge contrast between the successes of the business from when Jeff was growing up to the over $100 million dollar business it is today. Wisdom Adhesives Worldwide is doing very well and the leadership under Jeff continues to lay the foundation for the next generation. Whether his children take over or it is non-family members of the next generation, Jeff is confident that the business will be successful. He feels that the younger generation has a very open mind and a new way of thinking which will keep the company innovative while always upholding The Wisdom Way.
Tom Walter knew early on in life that he wanted to own a business. In 1971, with a $5,000 loan from his girlfriend (who’s now his wife), Tom made his dream a reality by opening Tasty Pup, a hot dog stand. In 1979, he forayed into nightlife, opening two bars strategically located near Loyola University and DePaul University, respectively. Since taking that loan from his girlfriend, Tom has started an impressive 30 companies and purchased three along with his brothers Kevin and Larry.
By 1989, demands for catering at the suburban Tasty Dawgs were so high, Tom and his brothers launched a new revenue stream, Tasty Catering. As the catering business continued to expand, by 2005 the company purchased a new building and Tom sold his remaining fast food restaurants. The future looked bright for Tasty Catering, but Tom knew there was a key element of the company missing. Right around the time the new building was purchased, disagreements began to erupt between Tom and his brothers Kevin and Larry. Tasty Catering was on the verge of a major change as the next generation was also entering the business. Tom’s son, Tim, and a close family friend, Jamie Pritscher, came into the business and almost immediately gave the three brothers an ultimatum: implement change or they were out.
The brothers of Tasty Catering, at the prodding of Tim and Jamie, knew to survive they had to create a company culture to ensure the business ran smoothly and the individuals who worked there could succeed. They recognized that if employees were empowered, the company would also succeed. As Tom pointed out, in 1971 when he started the business there was nobody to turn to for help on such matters like the Chicago Family Business Council. The brothers had to learn the importance of culture through trial-and-error.
How did Tasty Catering integrate a new company culture to better the family and business? And how did Tom, Larry and Kevin Walter use their time as a resource for others?
When the Walter brothers were prompted by Jamie and Tim to change “or else,” they turned to the philosophy espoused in the book “Good to Great.” They bought copies for every person in the company, and then organized a meeting to decide Tasty Catering’s core values. What the company didn’t foresee was just how impactful these core values would be to company culture across the world.
Today, new hires are taught the theory of Tasty’s culture within the first 30 days of employment. Their culture statement and core values are displayed prominently on the conference room wall and they are even repeated before each and every meeting of five employees or more. Tom explains that in order to keep the culture alive, everyone must live it fully every day. Additionally, artifacts such as photos, quotes and employee engagement boards are posted on all the walls. Employees are surrounded by this culture, which makes it easier for them to incorporate it into their every action and decision.
Tasty Catering is a people-driven organization. It values recognition and reward and encourages employees to think outside the box, chase their ambitions and embrace each other. It is clear to see that the Walter brothers treat Tasty Catering’s employees like family, and vice versa. Tom explains that it was the younger generation that taught them the value of culture and continuing education. This is what drives the success of the company and the family.
As for the impact that Tom and Kevin make on the community, it goes much further than the walls of Tasty Catering’s kitchen. Kevin is a licensed coach of the Great Game of Business (GGOB) and teaches its practice across the country. Kevin describes the GGOB as his passion and he believes it is important to keep the company involved at all levels. The GGOB board is displayed in the lunch room at Tasty Catering, along with a “Tasty Catering University” board, which tracks the educational classes that employees have completed.
Similarly, Tom spends a lot of time speaking coast-to-coast and mentoring young people (more than 50 have benefitted from his mentorship over the years). His reason behind it all? Tom says he knows what it’s like to look for resources at a young age when trying to be an entrepreneur. If others can learn from his expertise and experiences, he is happy to give back.
With such a successful company, it is hard not to ask what the future holds for Tasty Catering. Who is next in line to lead this innovative company with such a strong company culture? Tom says that there is no hard stop. The transition will be subtle and slow and in fact, it is already underway. Tom’s successor is already being trained to take over his position as Chief Culture Officer. Since both Kevin and Tom have such busy speaking schedules, and Larry is a national catering consultant, they are only in the office on average three days a week. Because of this, Tom expects the transition of leadership will be smooth and barely noticeable by the employees. After all, what matters most to Tasty Catering is not what happens when the brothers are gone. What matters most is the happiness, health and success of each employee who calls Tasty home.
The inception of the Roscoe Company is great insight into the values that the business still holds almost 95 years later. George Buik was a ‘gate waiter’ in the 1920s; waiting at the gates of factories, taking home the workers’ clothes to clean, and bringing them back early the next morning. George revolutionized the industry by changing his business model to owning the clothes and renting them to the workers. That commitment to longevity and to the community, culture of innovation, and vision for the future are still vital elements in the Roscoe Company today.
COMMITMENT TO LONGEVITY AND THE COMMUNITY
Fast forward to 1991: Jim Buik is now the third generation President of the Roscoe Company (one of the first, third generation presidents in the industry) and the business is operating in two buildings with seven family members involved. Like many Roscoe team members, Jim worked his way up from the bottom. In 1979, Jim worked part-time doing painting, maintenance, driving service trucks and office work. Roscoe’s culture has always been to promote qualified team members and Jim’s father, Don, started the 20-Year Club which honors team members with 20 years of service. Every year, active and retired 20-Year Club members gather for a celebration. Many team members reside in the neighborhood that Roscoe operates in, Lawndale.
The Roscoe Company has a history in the Lawndale neighborhood since 1926 and has always been fully-committed to the community’s well-being. Jim has played an active role in the Lawndale Business Renaissance Association which is committed to bringing in new business and retaining business in the area. It allows family businesses in Lawndale (there are many) to have a place to meet, connect, build relationships, and create a network of trust. Jim describes it as very similar to the CFBC (Chicago Family Business Council) community.
As a family business, Roscoe sees the value of small business and would say that family and small businesses are the “sweet spots” of their clientele. Jim says that the connections he has to fellow business owners are much deeper because of the personal experiences and commonalties connecting them. From these personal, face-to-face relationships, there is more of an opportunity to engage with forward-thinking leaders. Group involvement such as the LBRA, CFBC, WPO (World Presidents Organization), and the Business Executive Association helps the development and innovation within companies.
CULTURE OF INNOVATION
Innovation is no stranger to the Roscoe Company. Just like George’s innovative idea to revamp the laundering industry in 1921, Jim and his father Don carried on the legacy within the company. In the 1960s, Don integrated computers into the business and implemented a customized software. In 1972, Roscoe was part of the first water treatment system in the industry worldwide. In the 1980s, Jim wrote the industry’s first CRM (Customer Relationship Management) program on an IBM Personal Computer and moved to streamline and modernize the entire operation. In 1991, Jim saw an opportunity to innovate by purchasing a Motorola bag phone to help the professional communications of the company. Even when Jim’s father told him not to buy the phone, Jim went ahead with it anyway because he was able to see the benefits of integrating the technology. Like his grandfather, Jim had a vision for the future and a plan of execution. In order to keep the company in the Buik family and ultimately consolidate to one building and modernize the plant, Jim bought out his parents and siblings in 2000. With the support of his wife, Teresa, and his leadership team, Jim leads a great organization that services over 2,000 customers with uniforms, mats, towels and restroom product services.
NOW: VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The innovation that George Buik began in the 1920’s carries on today at Roscoe. The plant completed its modernization plan in 2009, making it one of the most sustainable and efficient operations in the nation. Roscoe is constantly improving their social media and SEO (search engine optimization) to help them get ranked on internet search engines, such as Google. Roscoe has found that blogging and participating in social media has helped communicate the company’s community involvement while also providing helpful information to customers and fellow business owners, such as information on fire safety.
With the heritage of innovation, community involvement, and vision, what does the Roscoe Company’s future hold for its 95th Year Anniversary in 2016?
Right now, Jim is preparing to position the company for what’s next. His two children, Julia and Dan, may be interested in joining the business in the next few years. From the CFBC, Jim learned that it is important to have the children work outside the family business before entering the company. Currently, Julia works in accounting at Tandem HR in Westchester. Dan will finish his degree at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2015.
Even if his children decide to pursue a different path, Jim is still confident in the future success of Roscoe. There is a strong team of senior leaders who have worked at Roscoe for as long as 25 years that can carry the company forward for many years.
When reflecting on the past, Jim is often asked why he decided to take on the risk of buying the business from his family when he could have sold it and walked away. Jim’s response? “The benefits and opportunity for my family and other families along with the personal satisfaction of working with my team and solving problems is far greater than the benefits of leaving.”
Sometimes it seems that almost every family business succession story leads with the trials and tribulations, but not Jeff Miller’s story. The transition of Miller Industrial from Bob, Jeff’s father, to Jeff was exceptionally smooth, and can be attributed to three main elements: communication, planning, and help from the outside.
Jeff’s grandfather, Sam Miller, started the family business in 1928 on the Southside of Chicago. Sam was a pioneer in the hardware industry; in the 1950’s he was the first to have a hardware store where customers could shop behind the counter. Sam’s entrepreneurial spirit carried through his whole family with Jeff’s father, Bob, being the sixth family member to join the business in the mid-1960s.
Bob had the insight to expand the business to the suburbs. With the help of outside resources, such as John Ward, Bob also had the foresight to implement a plan for bringing the next generation into the business. The basis of that plan included mandatory college and work outside the family business before joining. Above all else there was (and still is) NO EXPECTATION and NO GAURANTEE to be employed in the family business. Another part of the plan that Bob implemented involved having family meetings with his children early on to keep them updated on the status of the business. At one of those meetings in 1990 he let them know he would need advance knowledge if any of his children were interested in ownership of the company, in the next three-to-five years. These elements were key in starting the successful transition that would take place with Jeff in the future.
The transition truly started in 1987 following college graduation when Jeff joined ACE Hardware in a management training program and was quickly promoted to a regional position in New England, expanding his knowledge of the hardware industry. From Ace, Jeff went back full-time to earn an MBA double majoring in marketing and finance. He then worked in the marketing department for Schwinn Bicycle, another family business. After two years of working at Schwinn, the company filed for bankruptcy just shy of their 100 year anniversary. Jeff declined an offer to stay on with Schwinn and decided it was time to join the family business on February, 1, 1993.
As Jeff officially joined the company, he meticulously planned his entrance relying on his MBA education and the many conversations he had with John Ward on how to implement the transition. It was decided Jeff would manage marketing, computerize the business, and take over HR so he could build his own team. He also had the opportunity to open a second industrial store location on his own. Searching for properties, negotiating with landlords, and managing the store from its inception was a priceless learning experience for him.
When Jeff reflects on the transition and buyout phase he says the biggest challenge was understanding which hat his dad was wearing when talking to him. Jeff explains that his father wore three hats, each with a different role: consultant, banker and father. Most of the time, Jeff felt that it was his dad talking to him rather than a trusted consultant giving him advice. In 2006, when Bob officially left the company and was no longer in the office on a regular basis, Jeff was able to see his dad as a mentor, consultant and resource instead of his father talking to his son.
By 2006, Miller Industrial was bursting at the seams and needed more space. Jeff’s father was still the landlord of the building and agreed to fund the expansion of the building, a win-win for everyone.
With the business growing, Jeff also realized that he needed to let go of the day-to-day management and step into the owner role (working on the business versus in the business). Again Jeff relied on his MBA and several outside resources such as the Great Game of Business, John Ward and the Chicago Family Business Council (CFBC).
The Great Game of Business encouraged Jeff to implement open book management at Miller Industrial and empower his leadership team. Jeff also retained his close relationship with John Ward, an expert in family business, who he credits as an integral resource.
Another resource, The Chicago Family Business Council (CFBC), gave Jeff a consistent place to meet with fellow business owners. Unlike other peer groups that Jeff had joined, he found that the CFBC demanded accountability. Forum taught him how to be a better leader by making people accountable for their actions and being accountable to himself.
As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, in 2006 Jeff also launched his own consulting company, GLB (Helping Grow Lasting Businesses) Consulting LLC. As an expert in B2B sales for the retail and industrial hardware industry, Jeff created the firm as a way to help others. By 2009, Jeff set up a consulting model with ACE Hardware conducting around 20 consulting visits a year. Today, he primarily conducts seminars across the country, training ACE teams and store owners to be better leaders. Jeff is passionate about his consulting business as yet another outlet to do what he loves.
As one would expect, as Jeff’s children get older he too has a plan in place to discuss the opportunity of taking over the business. He wants to emulate the process he went through with his father, letting his children know that there is no expectation and no guarantee for ownership. He plans to have the discussion this year with his oldest son, a senior in high school, that if there comes a time when he’s interested in owning the business, they can talk. Communication was key with Jeff’s transition and he is adamant the same will be true for the next generation.
In 2028, Miller Industrial will celebrate its 100th Anniversary. And as fate would have it, Jeff will be the same age as his dad was when he retired. After seeing Schwinn go bankrupt just shy of their centennial, Jeff is adamant that his family’s business will not suffer the same fate. He, along with the next generation of his family if they so choose, will celebrate Miller Industrial’s 100th anniversary as proof that some successions do indeed go smoothly.
In 1967, John Carman and his wife, Pat, had five children and one on the way. To many, this might sound like the worst time to leave a steady job and consider starting a business. Yet, to an entrepreneur such as John, this seemed like the opportune time to create StandFast Packaging with his business partner, John Morrice. And much to her credit – even expecting their sixth child – Pat agreed.
StandFast Packaging would grow over the next three decades to become a strong family business. By 1993, three of John’s sons, Jay, Keith and Scott, were working for StandFast and John bought out his partner, Mr. Morrice. The business enjoyed unprecedented sales for three years following the buyout. But as the company grew, StandFast faced new challenges.
In 1996, the company expanded from a 35,000 square foot facility to a 65,000 square foot facility. This move, along with the growth it represented, caused chaos in the company as well as the family. With the future of StandFast Packaging – and the Carman family – at a turning point, what would be the key to getting both back to a positive place?
In 1998, John Carman Jr. joined the business on the production side of the company. As a former officer in the Navy, John was accustomed to strict processes. Together, the second generation was able to see that the family business would benefit from an analysis to improve the company’s manufacturing side. Each of the brothers, Jay, Keith, Scott, and John, brought in outside resources to help bring StandFast to a stronger state of operation. The brothers also began to see the need for empowering the men and women who worked at StandFast to create a more valuable and seamless team-based company.
Change is never easy and with the help of a family business consultant, Dr. Ed Hoover, the Carmans were able to design a family business policy. This was a vital first step to set guidelines for the family to operate within the business. It opened the door to communication and stopped the “bickering around the family dinner table”. With the help of AFE (the Architecture for Excellence developed by Mr. Lynn Wright), the Carmans were able to increase production and efficiencies while giving responsibility of the tasks to the employees. And, with the help of the team-based system, the Carmans empowered and trained their employees to have a voice and sense of responsibility within the company. If you visit StandFast Packaging today, you’ll see the impressive systems and processes in place which allow the company to operate smoothly, all while supporting each individual and the entire team. What you don’t necessarily see is that though the process of transferring ownership was challenging and emotional, it was done with honor, respect, and dignity. The Carman family is whole and the business is thriving.
Seeking outside resources proved to be a valuable solution for StandFast when they faced tough times. As John and Keith reflect on the history of their company today, they recognize that being in a family business is an experience like none other. They instantly know when they meet another family business, as there is an immediate connection and feeling of commonality. By being open to others’ experiences and having a willingness to learn from advisors, they would counsel that you allow yourself to grow as an individual, as a business and, most importantly, as a family. This is what the CFBC has given the Carman Family and StandFast Packaging – connections to others and the mindset that above all else, it is the people that matter most.