These companies represent some of Northeast Ohio’s successful family-owned businesses that are growing for the next generation.
Here are the 2021 Family Business and Business Longevity honorees:
Chet and Rheta Ahola founded Ahola Corp. in 1967, providing keypunch services for clients in Lakewood, Ohio. The company was the industry pioneer in recognizing and designing software specifically for the PC as early as the 1970s.
In 1980, the business passed to the second generation of four siblings, and it began to focus solely on payroll processing. A member of the third generation joined the company full time in 2017.
Today, led by CEO Jeff Ahola, the company has grown to employ nearly 60 payroll, tax and HR professionals serving thousands of businesses in Northeast Ohio and across the country. Its team of experts supports clients by helping them with their human capital management needs, managing over $1.5 billion of payroll and processing nearly 2 million payroll checks annually. Ahola’s services have expanded to include time and attendance tracking and software, HR software, employee onboarding software, applicant tracking systems, benefits administration software, 401(k) transfer software, human resources consulting services and more.
Ahola has been awarded the IRS Quality Supplier award several times for timely and accurate reporting, and the company is a six-time recipient of the Weatherhead 100 award recognizing the 100 fastest growing businesses in Northeast Ohio. ●
Barnes Wendling is proud to be celebrating its 75th year in business, serving the Cleveland area since 1946 with its offerings of accounting, tax and advisory services.
The firm’s dedication to its clients, its teams and its communities is evident in everything it does. For its clients, Barnes Wendling has one goal in mind — to build and maintain the client’s net worth. All of its service offering have been carefully developed to help accomplish that goal. To facilitate that process, it has developed its proprietary BRISE planning model to achieve the firm’s client service goal.
For its team, it provides a positive work environment that fosters a balanced and successful team. It wants every member of the team to be successful in their careers and to achieve all that they desire. Barnes Wendling is proud to have been recognized by the Employers Resource Council as one of the top 99 best places to work in Northeast Ohio for 10 years.
For its communities, Barnes Wendling is dedicated to improving and bettering them. The firm encourages and supports its team members’ participation through personal volunteering, nonprofit board membership and financial support. ●
Brennan Industries was founded in 1953 by Michael Brennan in the basement of his home, selling steel hydraulics, and six years later, hired his sister’s husband, David D. Carr.
Today, Brennan Industries, led by President and CEO David Carr, is a manufacturer and distributer of hydraulics, maintaining the positive aspects of a family company while constantly growing. Brennan Industries has kept the family company feel by seeing every new hire as a new addition to the family and valuing them as if they were part of the Brennan and Carr lineage. The growth of the company is also the result of staying on the industry’s leading edge of innovative business practices through bringing in consultants and other resources to help it succeed.
Brennan Industries now has more than 15 locations and 500-plus employees. It has always emphasized planning for the future and knows the importance of true dialogue among all employees at every level. The company has an open-door policy that allows for a more interactive community nature, all the way up to the president. In addition, it hosts roundtable discussions during its annual global management meetings, allowing for new ideas to emerge from managers located across the U.S. and around the world. ●
James A. Barry founded Delta Systems in 1972 in a small garage in Twinsburg, Ohio. With just eight employees, Barry and his team began designing and building switches for niche markets, mainly for the outdoor power equipment industry. These humble beginnings never dulled the shine from grander ambitions.
Within just a few years, Barry and his growing group of ardent associates steadily grew the company’s customer base and diversified its product offerings. As a result, the company grew to the point of needing more space, so in 1995, Delta Systems launched a new building project. doubling the size of its plant on Frost Road. Then, just a few years later, it doubled its manufacturing footprint again. Today, Delta designs and manufactures quality switches and electronic components for the top outdoor power equipment manufacturers and neighboring equipment and vehicle markets.
In 2017, the founder’s son, Dean Barry, assumed the helm. Along with his wife and Delta President Elizabeth, the company is investing in its talent and technology and positioning itself for solid growth into the future. Delta’s leaders are proud that this commitment to grow the organization also creates new jobs and economic opportunities within the community. ●
Privately owned and family held for over 92 years, Ferriot Inc. succeeds through innovation and change. Through macro level economic shifts, Ferriot keeps adapting so its role endures as a trusted, value-added partner to original equipment manufacturers.
Based in Akron, Ohio, since its founding, Ferriot and its150-plus employees face a massive — but exciting — challenge as they continue building upon the company’s legacy. Today, Ferriot employs third-, fourth- and fifth-generation family members, including its current president, Craig Ferriot.
As a vertically integrated manufacturer, Ferriot aligns people and processes, resulting in flexibility to meet the changing needs of its customers and the fluctuating conditions of its markets. Ferriot’s recipe for adaptability is to stay small but make big investments in products, technology and the development of human resources.
It has made large investments in assembly-line improvements, including robotic technology, to increase the efficiency and capacity of its manufacturing operations. Knowledge is another critical element in positioning the company for future growth. Ferriot’s team works hard to stay current on industry trends in both the plastics industries and in those of its customers and suppliers. That need to attain knowledge extends to all corners of the company, including team members on the shop floor, where Ferriot strives to maintain a skilled and up-to-date work force — its biggest challenge. ●
Founded in 1983, Fire-Dex is a family-owned, global manufacturer of personal protective equipment and an Independent Service Provider for first responders. The business is headquartered in Medina, hometown of owner and Chairman Bill Burke.
His daughters Lauren Burke DeVere and Taylor Burke Gilman joined the team in 2019, with Burke DeVere serving as president of Fire-Dex and Burke Gilman as president of Gear Wash, the clean and repair side of the business. Burke DeVere has brought an aggressive approach to managing Fire-Dex’s large metro accounts and brings an intensity to her leadership style that sets the organization up for even higher growth expectations.
Burke Gilman’s competitive nature and her passionate relationship skills are perfect leadership assets in developing the company’s service business. She has led the onboarding of two acquisitions for Gear Wash and will be adding to the service network.
With stable leadership, these changes will take Fire-Dex to the next level of generational development as it continues to thrive through expansion, increased sales and dedication to the fire industry. Fire-Dex strives to grow, improving its environment by implementing feedback and continuous improvement from employees and maintaining the strong core values it was founded upon — fun, integrity, respect and excellence (FIRE). ●
Fleet Response is a family-owned company founded by Ron Mawaka Sr. in 1986 as Rental Concepts Inc. Since then, Fleet Response has continuously evolved to meet the needs of its customers, but its values never change.
It has consistently added capabilities and fine-tuned industry standards by applying the founding principles of innovation, professionalism, accountability and effectiveness. Today, the company provides claims management, accident management, driver safety training, subrogation and other high-value services.
Fleet Response, helmed by President and CEO Ron Mawaka, not only strives to meet the needs of customers but its employees, as well, operating on the founding principle of innovation with a culture that places clients and employees at the forefront of the business. As it continues to grow, Fleet Response maintains a family-like culture with beliefs that focus on employee and customer satisfaction. One of the key things in creating this culture is ensuring that all employees feel their voices are being heard and paid attention to. The combination of its people and culture gives it the most powerful source of competitive advantage.
Fleet Response’s mission is to provide innovative and effective service to clients and maintain a high standard of professionalism and partnership in an environment that fosters opportunity, integrity and excellence. ●
Gillmore Security Systems was founded in 1971 by Alan H. Gillmore Jr. under the clear directive to focus on quality and customer experience — not revenue or profit — as measures of success. From its origins, the power of the Gillmore Security model has been to take incredible care of its associates so they, in turn, can pass that feeling of investment and care onto its customers.
This investment creates a culture dedicated to Heroic Customer Service, which translates into growth for a business that has thrived for over 50 years. However, the Gillmore family is most proud of the company’s ability to maintain its focus on excellence and an unparalleled customer experience.
Gillmore Security has recently completed its transition to the third generation of ownership/leadership, with Alan H. Gillmore III serving as CEO, Alan H. Gillmore IV as president and Ryan Gillmore as executive vice president. The move included succession, tax and operations planning for a smooth transition to the next generation. This plan has also accommodated for transitions to subsequent generations at the appropriate time when specific criteria are met. This early planning and collaborative approach has removed the strain and ambiguity about succession, allowing the leadership team to confidently move forward and focus on growing the business. ●
In the early 1990s, W. Michael Jarrett had quickly progressed in his career at a large third-party logistics provider (3PL). When it was acquired, Jarrett knew he would have to eventually relocate, and he and his wife, Diane, began discussing options to stay in Northeast Ohio.
As an executive leader and pioneer in the 3PL industry, Jarrett saw a glaring need. At that time, 3PL providers focused services toward large corporations. His goal was to provide small to mid-sized companies with the same technology, operational efficiencies and supply chain strategies available to large organizations.
Launched in 1999, Jarrett Logistics Systems took one year to begin a period of exponential growth. Today, Jarrett works with organizations of all sizes, from Fortune 500 to small, family-owned businesses. Since its founding, the Jarretts have expanded the Jarrett Warehousing, Jarrett Fleet Services and Jarrett Logistics Systems divisions under the parent brand, Jarrett, providing end-to-end supply chain solutions for the benefit of current and future clients.
Hiring values-driven people is a core business strategy, and as the business continues to grow, those foundational values will remain the same. Jarrett’s core values are character, respect, entrepreneurial spirit, compassion, courage, excellence, fairness and civic responsibility, and the company has prioritized succession planning through hiring people with those same core values. ●
Leppo Group was founded in Akron, Ohio, in 1945 by Roy Leppo, his wife, Stella, and Stella’s uncle, George Dimmick, as a local dealer for Oliver farm equipment. Today, Leppo Group has 10 Leppo Rents/Bobcat of (City name) locations, six in Northeast Ohio, two in Southeast Alabama and two in the Florida Panhandle, plus two Razor Rents facilities in Carrollton, Ohio, and Midland, Texas. Valco Equipment, acquired in 2019, rounds out its portfolio.
The company operates under The Leppo Way, which means meeting all commitments, being thorough, striving to make decisions that are in the best interest of customers, coworkers, vendors, community and the owners of the company, and asking questions when someone doesn’t know the “right” answer.
The Leppo Leadership Program addresses the company’s ongoing need to help operational experts become great managers. Fifty two-hour classes are held every other week for two years, led by internal experts with outside support. In addition, the company invests heavily in people development, looks forward, utilizes outside resources, invests in the community, is open with the team about successes and challenges, and lives its core values, allowing coworkers the freedom to do their jobs within those core values. ●
Founded in 1967, LoSchiavo Restaurant Group (Antonio’s Pizza) is Northeast Ohio’s oldest family-owned pizzeria.
Vince LoSchiavo, the third generation of LoSchiavos involved in the ownership of the restaurant, was working in real estate in the early 2000s when he found his grandfather’s restaurant was faltering. In 2005, LoSchiavo and his brother bought out their uncle’s stores and approached their father, who owned the other locations, about aligning the vision and mission of Antonio’s Pizza. He then set out to revitalize the brand.
Among the early steps was returning the original four stores to profitability, identifying and addressing each store’s weaknesses. With a firm handle on the operations of those stores, LoSchiavo focused on top-line growth, opening 14 locations in Cleveland and three in the Akron/Canton area. And he expanded the menu offerings, allowing the company to add catering services.
He then transitioned to improving the bottom line, implementing a customized POS system that provides real-time data to leadership, allowing them to monitor key metrics for each store and compare current and historical data to evaluate performance and trigger coupon mailings to select customers.
The LoSchiavo family has grown Antonio’s presence and its sales while maintaining family control of the restaurants, allowed the brand to maintain its quality and customer service. ●
Dennis Leebow started Majestic Steel from a phone booth in New Haven, Connecticut, with a focused vision, passion and persistence. He was previously a salesman at his grandfather’s company, Baldwin Steel, but took a calculated risk to leave the family business for his own adventure.
He took a gamble stocking galvanized steel to sell into the HVAC market. In 1979, he relocated his family to Cleveland and turned an idea and a dream into Majestic Steel USA. Founded on the principles of innovation, Majestic quickly grew into a leading national distributor and processor of prime carbon flat-rolled steel.
In 2007, Majestic Steel began investing in talent and technology to stay ahead of an increasingly volatile market, modernizing the way it does business. This move was sparked, in part, by a generational shift, with Dennis’ son, Todd Leebow, joining the company. He is uniquely positioning Majestic Steel for the modern economy at the intersection of talent and technology.
Majestic’s technological advancements have developed a data analytics team that provides critical insights and understanding of pricing and industry trends to its customers. It has launched applications and created an online marketplace for the metals industry that makes the steel-buying process easy and allows customers to keep building. ●
Minerva Dairy is America’s oldest family owned creamery, with more than five generations of family ownership and more than 125 years in business. Founded in 1894 by Max Radloff in Hustisford, Wisconsin, Radloff and his family created a network of 26 farms — including the company’s single present-day location in Minerva, Ohio.
Siblings Venae Watts and Adam Mueller represent the fifth generation of Minerva Dairy ownership. Between their two families, there are a dozen more descendants in the sixth generation, some of whom are now involved in the business.
Minerva Dairy uses farm-fresh milk from pasture-raised cows and natural ingredients to turn out products that ensure the best quality and flavor. It manufactures and sells butter, cheese and other dairy products to customers throughout the U.S.
Minerva President Adam Mueller has strengthened the private label butter sales and sales of its family of kosher cheeses, increased the number of pounds of hand-crafted butter annually and developed unique recipes for using cheese ingredients in prepared specialty entrees, while Watts plays a pivotal role in helping to lead the sales team to growth while navigating Minerva Dairy through an ever-changing landscape. ●
Established in 1914 by Joseph Schrader, Peoples Cartage and Storage Co. was the first commercial trucking business in the Massillon area. Ray Sibila, owner of Sibila Trucking, bought the company in 1947 and changed the name to Peoples Cartage and Storage Co.
In 2010, the company nearly doubled its size when it acquired the assets of Terminal Warehouse, adding 2 million square feet. This was the first in a series of acquisitions over the last 10 years, and since then, it has been updating and adding food grade storage space the in its existing warehouses and purchased its first cold storage warehouse in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 2017. It has upgraded and expanded this warehouse to meet customer needs and has the option to expand as needed in the future.
Its last acquisition was another cold storage facility in Akron, continuing the strategy of further diversifying and expanding the food-related services it offers. Peoples Services earned Responsible Care Management System® certification from the American Chemistry Council in 2017, representing its commitment to safety. Its team worked hard to meet the standards to achieve this certification. It is one of only three warehouse companies in the U.S. to earn this certification and has recently been recertified. ●
Sandridge Food Corp. is a third-generation, family-owned business, founded by Vincent Sandridge in 1961 as a distributor of Carl Buddig Lunch Meats to grocery stores in the Cleveland-Akron, Ohio, area. The company moved into manufacturing in 1964 with the purchase of nine wet salad recipes and today has more than 650 employees and more than 650 recipes for fresh refrigerated salads, soups, sides and entrees. CEO Mark Sandridge and his siblings purchased the company in 1997, and with his two sons also working at the company, it is well positioned for third-generation leadership.
Recognized as an innovator in the fresh food space, its High Pressure Processing Technology preserves food without flavor-altering chemicals. Sandridge purchased the technology in 2008 and tested it for a year before manufacturing product for sale. It was the first to apply HPP in fresh, refrigerated prepared foods, including pasta, grains, and raw and cooked vegetables. It also invested in a state-of-the-art sous vide facility in 2013, providing access to the best way for prepared cooked proteins to retain moisture and flavor, while providing supreme food safety.
And to ensure smooth succession, off-site strategic planning sessions are key to future growth, preparing the next generation of leadership to succeed at the same level as current metrics. ●
Distillata has been in the same location for over a century, working in the building that used to house the horses and buggies that made the company’s water deliveries to Cleveland.
Owner Kevin and president Keith Schroeder’s grandfather purchased Distillata in 1950 when he saw industrialization turning the water brown and the city gray. When the river burned and Lake Erie was declared dead, he became obsessed with making sure Cleveland had access to quality water.
As Kevin and Keith prepare their children to continue their grandfather’s vision, family and community remain core values. The family believes that what they put into the city and family is what they will get out of it. They do this in four ways: By building reciprocal relationships with local businesses, supplying healthy hydration to local families, providing a positive work environment and building a strong groundwork, and initiating innovative business practices to ensure the success of the next generation.
Cleveland has a story of building things, and it is now a green city on a blue lake. It’s that spirit that has inspired the family to continue to produce the best quality product it can. Family. Hard work. Community. That’s what the town is all about — and the company, as well.