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.