Since 2012, the Family Business Conference & Family Business Achievement Awards is an interactive workshop with leading industry experts that provides the type of actionable insight necessary to plan for a smooth transition of family businesses.
Beginning with our event in 2019, we have combined the Business Longevity Awards with this conference to also recognize non-family organizations who have reached at least 50 years in business and learn how they have evolved through the years.
Hear from a dynamic line up of panelists as they share real life examples of what separates success stories from failures. This networking breakfast and interactive workshop on Thursday, Sept. 19 at The Westin Cleveland Downtown will offer perspectives from both industry experts and actual family business owners to address this and other issues facing both family-owned and non-family businesses every day.
Below are this year’s Family Business Achievement and Business Longevity honorees.
2019 Family Business Achievement Award Winners
Founded in 1953 by Michael Brennan, Brennan Industries has grown from a small basement operation selling steel hydraulics into an $89 million global manufacturer and distributor of hydraulic solutions. Still under family leadership, its success is attributed to an unwavering commitment to being at the industry’s leading edge of innovative business practices.
Leveraging consultants and other outside resources, Brennan Industries has expanded well beyond its Solon headquarters with more than 15 locations spanning the United States, Canada, China and the United Kingdom. However despite employing more than 500 associates, the company hasn’t lost its family values.
Led by President David M. Carr, the company has been key to the Brennan/Carr family since Carr’s father, David D. Carr, took over leadership from brother-in-law Brennan. David M. Carr — who stepped into the role of president in 2008, working alongside his father — has passed on the tradition of introducing his children to the offices and warehouses from a young age; they now work for the company, as well.
Additionally, Brennan Industries treats every new hire as an addition to the family for life, prioritizing personal connections from the top down across all locations. Keeping longevity in mind, Carr has formed an annual succession planning conference to bring managers together to help plan for the company’s continued success into the future.
Ken Campbell started Campbell Mechanical Services, Inc. in 1968 as a simple “plan and spec” plumbing business. However, as the company grew, he saw a need to add diverse mechanical disciplines to meet expanding customer needs. His son, Keith — who worked with the company as a general laborer before moving on to both the sales and finance divisions, and later the role of president and CEO upon his father’s retirement — helped realize this vision.
Keith created a service department in 1982 that helped shift the culture to long-term, service-oriented partnerships and catapulted the company to become one of the area’s largest mechanical services contractors. Today, it is both a single-source mechanical services provider and a provider of a complete range of commercial, industrial and institutional plumbing services.
Keith son, Kris, has since picked up his family’s legacy of excellence through evolution, following in his father’s path by first working as a Campbell laborer before joining the sales department and then becoming a journeyman technician. Through strong mentorship and a strategic transition plan, Kris took on leadership as principal upon Keith’s retirement in 2018.
In its third generation of family leadership, Campbell Mechanical Services is focused on further expanding business operations through strategic acquisition and development of company headquarters to meet the current and future demands of its client base.
Starting Foundation Software as a one-man operation in 1985, Chairman and CEO Frank Ode has grown the national seller of software and payroll services to employ a growing team of 300, including eight members of the Ode family spanning three generations.
The company’s success stems from Ode recognizing early on the accounting complexities faced by the construction industry and focusing on creating contractor-specific software solutions. He’s also made it a priority to hire for talent over blood, ensuring roles are filled by the best candidate, family member or not.
Staying on top of shifts in both the industry and technology, Ode continues to fine tune his signature FOUNDATION construction accounting software solution to meet user needs. He’s built out Foundation’s Research and Development Department to develop complementary products, features and services that have generated continued growth and development. He also added division Payroll4Construction.com, a payroll service specifically tailored to the needs of the construction industry.
As a result of the success of his fast-growing family business, Ode created the Ode Family Foundation last year to give back to his community. Dedicated to helping remove crippling obstacles between underprivileged individuals and their educational or career goals, this charitable organization is another rallying cause for Foundation’s family-oriented staff.
Great Lakes Cheese was founded more than 60 years ago when Swiss immigrant Hans Epprecht secured a $5,000 loan to purchase a single food stall in the Northern Ohio Food Terminal.
Since then, the family- and employee-owned company has grown into the largest natural cheese packager in the world, packaging and manufacturing natural and processed bulk, shredded and sliced cheeses.
While it has evolved over the years, the Epprecht family continues to run the business with a small-company feel built on Hans’ founding philosophy: Reinvest in the business, supply quality products with exceptional customer service and always take care of the employees.
The Epprechts do just that, welcoming all 3,100 Great Lakes Cheese employees into their family by providing a supportive and collaborative culture, as well as providing an Employee Stock Ownership Plan to ensure staff are taken care of not only during employment, but also upon retirement.
These efforts helped see the business recognized recently among The Plain Dealer’s “Top Workplaces” list for Northeast Ohio companies with 500-plus employees.
Ultimately, Great Lakes Cheese’s ownership culture encourages long-term thinking to ensure good stewardship of the business for the many generations to come.
Family and nonfamily employees alike understand the legacy they are protecting — a legacy of family, service and excellence.
Lucky Shoes began in 1919 when Joe Luck opened a modest dry goods store, The Lucky Store, in Akron. Two of his six children, Milton and Leonard, took over the business in 1946, growing it to hire the first employee from outside the family in 1948.
Continuing the tradition of goodwill established by their father, they made their first employee and all of those who followed feel like part of the family, extending benefits and compensation far ahead of industry standards — a legacy continued today under current brother duo Tom Luck, CEO, and John Luck, president.
Lucky Shoes has evolved significantly over the past century, expanding across the Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Columbus markets to offer a mix of merchandise, providing customers with quality products, expert fit and conscientious service.
The company has continued to adapt to changing consumer needs, expanding into athletic footwear and orthotics in the 1990s, handbags and accessories in the early 2000s and Vionic Shoes retail stores in 2016.
A critical component of the company’s longevity is its proven ability to transition from one generation to the next. Tom and John are strategically focused on continuing this success. They participated in the National Shoe Retailers Association’s 2010 NexGen pilot program around succession plans and strategies for shoe retailers, with John now chairing the NextGen committee.
Mar-Bal Inc., a second-generation, family-owned business, was founded by Cleveland-based tool and die engineer Jim Balogh in 1970. Balogh employed his two sons, Scott Balogh — current president and CEO—and Steven Balogh—executive vice president—in his plastic and injection molding company from an early age, through junior high and high school. The brothers rejoined the business in their 30s after graduating college and working elsewhere.
Since their involvement in the business, Mar-Bal Inc. has more than doubled its sales. The Baloghs have found success through constant process innovation and improvement.
Leading the largest capital expansion in the company’s history last year, they now boast ownership of the leading integrated composites compounding and molding facility in the world, from a technology standpoint, out of Painesville, Ohio.
Today, the business employs 500 people across three manufacturing facilities in Ohio, Missouri and Virginia; a research and development center in Ohio; a plant in Taizhou, China; and a sales office in Shanghai.
Recruiting leaders in the plastics industry, the Balogh brothers have built up their father’s business to serve a number of industries, with most clients ranked as Fortune 1000 companies. Focused on innovation and new product development, as well as integration within customers’ operations, the pair carry on Mar-Bal’s proud legacy of excellence and value.
Marous Brothers Construction was founded in 1980 by brothers Scott and Adelbert “Chip” Marous Jr. when they were 23 and 19, respectively.
They started their business offering home remodeling and carpentry for small projects but quickly expanded into commercial projects and then historic restorations. Joined in 1997 by a third brother, Kenneth — who contributes experience in excavating, site preparation and underground utility installation — Marous Brothers has since expanded its footprint not only into new sectors but into new regional markets, including New York, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Washington D.C.
Today, award-winning Marous Brothers Construction is known as the leading construction firm in the Midwest, offering integrated services for complete construction solutions. With a reputation for integrity, professionalism and quality, the company can field large-scale and technically complex projects from design through to construction. It has also invested in a Special Projects Group to provide clients with budgets of up to $3 million with the same level of quality and service as larger projects receive.
Notable projects among the Marous Brothers Construction portfolio include Jacobs Field, Gund Arena, University Hospitals Lerner Tower, The Arcade and the Central YMCA. Its continued success can be attributed to leadership’s commitment to offering the highest quality products and services possible, exceeding clients’ expectations and offering expanded opportunities for staff personal and professional development.
Milbert Morit founded Mill Supply in 1944 as Mill Auto Supply, initially supplying auto body supplies to shops in the Cleveland area.
In 1956, he hired Joseph Shega Sr. in 1956 and in the early 1960s hired Joseph Schuld to assist in the growing business, which expanded into supplying parts for mail delivery trucks and stepvans locally, then nationally.
Evolving from a mail-order catalog business, the company has continued to expand into additional parts and markets across geographies, as well as the internet.
Following Morit’s retirement, Mill Supply transitioned to ownership under Shega Sr., Schuld and Meyer Koh, with the children of the first two joining the company in the mid 1970s in various roles.
Today, the company’s reach extends internationally, supplying stepvan parts, mower parts, autobody restoration parts and snow plow parts.
It employs 27 people, including vice presidents John Shega and David Schuld.
This next generation has grown Mill Supply using the principles set by Moritz and the first generation — quality parts, competitive prices and fast shipping. Many nonfamily employees have been with the company for at least 30 years, as well, upholding the business’s ongoing legacy of success.
After spending 25 years running factories for a Cleveland display manufacturer, Founder Vincent J. Tricomi decided to launch his own family business in 1970. Unlike some entrepreneurs who start a business with the end goal of selling it, Tricomi’s goal was to establish a sustainable and successful company for multiple generations.
What began as a small operation providing custom-designed-and-built displays for faucets, car stereo systems and tools out of a local barn has grown into PFI Displays, Inc. — a designer and manufacturer of point of purchase displays, custom fixtures, branded environments, trade show exhibits and more operating across two facilities spanning more than 125,000 square feet.
As the business grew, each of Vincent’s three sons joined the company. As CEO, Anthony, ensures the company continues to grow under the family’s keen eye for detail and thorough knowledge of manufacturing procedures. Second-generation family members include Jim, who serves as senior vice president of sales and Ray, who is retired. In 2004, the first member of the family’s third generation, Vince, joined in an entry level sales role. He now serves as vice president of business development.
A custom manufacturer, PFI tackles complex challenges ranging from installing client product to wiring and plumbing and solving logistical challenges.
Key to this family legacy of success is PFI leadership’s vigilant focus on Vincent’s founding commitment to work ethic, particularly with succession planning. Tricomi family members who want to join the company must first attain at least three years of outside business experience after earning a college degree to ensure they bring experience and best practices to the table and fuel growth. Additionally, PFI benefits from strong team of nonfamily employees who have been with the company for decades, playing pivotal roles in its long-term viability.
Although Ray Fogg Sr. founded Ray Fogg Building Methods Inc. in 1959 as a dealer of metal buildings, within six months he had begun what would become a decades-long legacy of service expansion to meet the ever-growing needs of his customer base.
Today, Fogg is known for its real estate development and leasing, as well as for its work as a design builder of conventional industrial, office and retail facilities, among other services.
Fogg Sr. began his first real estate developments in the late 1960s and in the decades since has developed numerous industrial and business parks, flex properties, industrial facilities, office buildings, retail properties and recreational facilities.
Then, in 2000, after spending eight years in various positions with the real estate division of his father’s company, Ray Fogg Jr. took his own entrepreneurial leap and purchased the real estate division of Ray Fogg Building Methods to form Ray Fogg Corporate Properties LLC.
Fogg Jr. now has primary responsibility for Fogg’s real estate business, which includes approximately 2 million square feet of commercial and industrial real estate held by more than 30 Fogg-affiliated companies.
He also serves as CEO of numerous real estate limited liability companies and is a past chairman of the NAIOP Business Parks Forum, a group of prominent real estate developers from across the country.
Rogers Industrial Products Inc. was founded in 1951 by Clarence Cole out of the basement of his Cuyahoga Falls home. Producing pneumatic controls for tire curing presses manufactured by local companies, his operation quickly outgrew his home, prompting him to establish a company headquarters outside of Medina in the late 1960s.
Clarence’s son, John R. Cole, began working part time for the business while in college and came on full time upon graduation in 1970. Sharing a passion for engineering and manufacturing, as well as an affinity for Akron’s proud tire industry, the father-son duo further grew Rogers Industrial Products, with John purchasing 35 percent of the company and taking over day-to-day operations by the mid 1970s.
By the 1990s, the business was operating in a newer, larger headquarters as one of the most dependable sources of tire curing presses and rebuilds in the country, filling a void left by decreasing numbers of manufacturers of tire curing presses.
Embracing its third generation of leaders, in 1997, John’s son, Rob Cole, joined the company and assisted his father in discovering a niche in manufacturing rubber bladders used by every tire manufacturer in the world.
The resulting spinoff, Akron Curing Bladders Ltd., is showing signs of equaling and one day surpassing Rogers Industrial Products revenue volume.
Family business Sirna & Sons Produce has grown and evolved over the last 80 years from its humble roots as a small, one-aisle store in Chicago to a 105,505-square-foot wholesale distributor spanning three Ohio distribution locations with 86 trucks and more than 200 employees. Today, this staff has grown to include four generations of the Sirna family.
The company prides itself on providing the “freshest, finest, widest” produce selection possible, receiving fruits and vegetables every day direct from growers across the nation and around the world.
Sirna & Sons Produce then delivers that fresh produce the same day to health care facilities, restaurants, hotels, country clubs and institutions throughout Ohio, western and central Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, northern Kentucky and eastern Indiana.
To accommodate its ever growing operations, Sirna & Sons Produce’s latest expansion project saw the addition of 50,000 square feet of cooler and dock space, 13 new dock doors, 2,500 square feet of freezer space, 13,500 square feet of office space and 1,331 solar panels to its Ravenna, Ohio, corporate headquarters in 2016, in addition to ECO lighting and ECO-friendly gas for refrigeration needs.
That same year, the organization opened a woman-owned, Kosher- and PrimusGFS-certified produce processing facility, Christine’s Cuts, named for a late family member.
Bob Stark founded a business in 1974 with the purchase of a single-story retail location in Mayfield Heights while completing his J.D. degree at Case Western Reserve University. This first investment laid the groundwork for what would become Stark Enterprises, a full-service real estate development company built on values of strong faith and family.
These values translate to Stark Enterprises’ portfolio, which consists of lifestyle centers designed to spark pure enjoyment and special, memorable experiences for visitors.
Dubbing this family-oriented approach “Community Core” — dense, vertically integrated, mixed-use neighborhoods with a mission to create fully functioning work-life platforms—Stark is behind notable centers including Crocker Park in Westlake, Eton Chagrin Boulevard in Woodmere and Portage Crossing in Cuyahoga Falls.
As the company continues to evolve and grow into more states with more employees, Stark’s founding mission of building a close-knit, family experience continues to serve as the company’s guiding principal.
Joined by his son, Ezra Stark, as COO, Bob Stark has established a positive family lineage within the company that creates stability for the culture and its employees and encourages fresh ideas and different viewpoints.
The duo have collaborated to create a shared vision of what the company is and where they are going in the future, with “family first” rooted at Stark Enterprises’ heart.
Over the next few years, they went on to build award-winning custom homes throughout Summit and surrounding counties before branching into building affordable government housing for other developers. By the 1980s, the Testas had built and acquired enough multifamily rentals to create parent brand Testa Cos. to unify their diversified real estate development ventures, which today span 13 companies and divisions.
Family leadership continued to develop over the years as the organization did, with son Joel Testa joining in the late 1980s and taking over its residential construction arm in 1995, before rising to president and COO in the early 2000s.
Daughter Julia Testa joined the company in 2002, now serving as the broker and president of its real estate division, daughter-in-law Cassie Testa joined in 2013, serving as director of Residential Sales and Leasing and this year marked the first third-generation family hire.
Named among the country’s fastest-growing privately held companies by Inc. Magazine in 2007 and 2008, Testa Cos. has undertaken many notable projects over the years, including developing the first AIDS facility in the country and partnering to create the first vegan restaurant in Akron.
John R. “Trip” Morris III started concrete paving and infrastructure contractor Tri Mor Corp. as a side business in 1981 while working for his uncle’s demolition construction company.
He transitioned his focus to developing the business full time seven years later and quickly hit upon success by developing trusting relationships with contractors, engineers, businesses and city service directors, and by providing consistent quality and value to customers.
In the years since, he’s grown Tri Mor into one of the largest concrete road contractors in Northeast Ohio, staying up to date on cutting-edge concrete paving technology, concepts and techniques.
Morris found further success through business diversification, founding three more companies — Cem-Base Inc., a soil stabilization company; NAJ Trucking Inc., a trucking company; and Integral Wetland Solutions LLC, a wetland consulting firm, uniting all alongside Tri Mor under the umbrella of the Tri-Mor Group.
To ensure the continued success of these ventures, Morris has employed a core family staff that includes his daughter and son-in-law in key leadership roles, as well as his wife in the billing department.
As part of his strategic succession plan, he is in the process of transitioning his daughter into the role of CEO of the Tri-Mor Group before taking on the role of chairman.
Founded by Anthony J. Asher nearly 50 years ago, Cleveland-based industrial property owner and developer Weston Inc. is today run by his children.
The family-owned-and-operated company owns a national industrial real estate portfolio of approximately 13 million square feet, serving more than 550 tenants, and provides a broad spectrum of commercial real estate services, including acquisition, leasing and management services.
While its core purpose is to provide homes for businesses and people by finding solutions that create value, the Ashers say that Weston is in the business of accommodating businesses.
This philosophy makes it a leading choice for businesses with a distinctive vision of their real estate goals that seek flexible, practical solutions to their space needs. Weston’s family-led staff provides this through a focus on continuous organizational and technical improvements, as well as continuous development of a diverse subset of real estate expertise.
Committed to providing efficient and effective execution of building ownership and operational details—and ultimately cost-efficient savings—for its tenants, the Ashers ensure Weston’s executive staff is available directly to answer questions or address needs.
Led by CEO James Asher, the tight-knit, family-oriented nature of this team positions the company to honor their father’s legacy for future generations to come.
Founded in 1916, Whitacre Greer is a small, boutique-type manufacturer of fired-clay paving brick and fire brick utilizing the dry-pressed manufacturing process. While fourth- and fifth-generation Whitacres have continued to modernize the company’s manufacturing facility and processes over the past century, ultimately, the family has maintained the quality of their ancestors’ craft.
Whitacre Greer pavers — renowned for their clean lines and crisp finish — are used in institutional, municipal, commercial and high-end residential projects throughout North America, including prestigious institutions such as Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Notre Dame.
The clay pavers meet the solar reflective index (SRI) threshold, which helps curtail the heat island effect in urban areas. Their design earned Whitacre Greer recognition as a best-in-class winner of a 2017 Brick in Architecture Award, presented by the Brick Industry Association to recognize outstanding and resilient designs that incorporate clay brick.
This high quality to meet client needs remains a key focus for fifth-generation family member Chris Kaboth. Having worked with the company for more than a decade in various aspects, he was named president in 2018 by the Common Stockholders of Whitacre Greer, joining Janet Kaboth in family leadership of the company. She remains CEO and chairman, overseeing and ensuring the long-term progression toward company goals.
2019 Business Longevity Awards
CELEBRATING 130 YEARS IN BUSINESS
Since its founding 130 years ago, Philpott Solutions Group Inc. has pursued a mission to make the United States highly competitive by applying innovative yet practical polymeric solutions.
Surviving two World Wars, the Great Depression and numerous subsequent recessions, the company has persisted on a legacy of keeping its promises to customers — delivering best-in-class customer service and high-quality, high-value products under dynamic leadership.
Initially established as a rubber hose and belting supply house serving Cleveland’s industrial complex, Philpott has evolved its polymer-based product line beyond industrial rubber parts over the past decade to keep pace with existing and emerging markets worldwide.
Its subsidiaries provide products and services that align with market segment-specific customer expectations in fossil and alternative energy, transportation, critical infrastructure, and medical and defense sectors, among others. And while Philpott’s focus is on customers operating in the U.S., it has shipped product to companies on every industrialized continent.
Under the direction of President and CEO Dr. Jim Vaughn, Philpott is in the midst of bringing its China manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. Purchasing, remodeling and equipping a new elastomer and thermo-plastic manufacturing facility with new molding equipment in 2017, the move reinforces Philpott’s commitment to manufacturing parts in the United States, and specifically in Northeast Ohio, whenever possible.
CELEBRATING 100 YEARS IN BUSINESS
Through this work, he learned that children with disabilities were often hidden from view and, inspired by this discovery, went on to found a small organization with a big mission: To help children and adults with disabilities throughout the world.
That organization has since evolved into Easterseals, a national organization still dedicated to that founding mission.
Easterseals works tirelessly to raise funds for services, education, outreach and advocacy to help people with disabilities address life’s challenges and achieve personal goals, and played a key role in lobbying for the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The local chapter, Easterseals Northern Ohio Inc., was established in 2007 with the merger of the Northeast and Northwest Ohio chapters, combining resources and programs to expand services and serve more people in need. The group’s lasting legacy as a leading disability advocate and service provider continues under new President and CEO Beverly Richards, J.D. She takes the helm from Sheila Dunn, who served in the Easterseals family for 43 years.
CELEBRATING 74 YEARS IN BUSINESS
Since its founding in 1945 by scenic artist Van Rogers, the Rogers Co. has been an award-winning designer and manufacturer of branded environments for essentially any place where communicating your brand is vital, including trade shows, corporate events, showrooms, customer experience centers, corporate interiors and executive conference centers.
The company’s continuity of excellence can be attributed to extensive industry experience across its staff. Both the company’s craftsmen and its engineering department average more than 15 years of experience in the industry, while its graphic and design departments average more than 20 years in the industry.
Additionally, the Rogers Co. has a strong, consistent ownership base in Nesco Inc., which has owned the company for the past 45 years.
Also critical to the company’s success is a strategic focus on process improvement, guided by President Rick Busby. To remain experts in experiential marketing to better serve clients, the Rogers Co. team offers a variety of state-of-the-art exhibit solutions, including lightweight fabrics, LED lighting and an array of digital products, including digital media, digital content and audio-visual equipment.
Continuing to expand its base of offerings and technology partners, the Rogers Co. is also extending its geographical reach, serving Northeast Ohio customers, as well as customers throughout the United States and globally.
CELEBRATING 67 YEARS IN BUSINESS
Founded by Denise Gray, New Avenues to Independence Inc. began in 1952 under the name Parents Volunteer Association (PVA).
Bringing together parents of individuals with disabilities, the group challenged the unfair treatment that their children received in housing, education and employment — making strides to educate legislators, speak out about negative public attitudes and provide Ohio institutions with necessary equipment and products that the state did not adequately provide for disability care.
In 1971, PVA became the owner and operator of the first private, nonprofit group home for individuals with disabilities in Cuyahoga County.
It has since grown to purchase eight additional homes, expanding services through Northeast Ohio. In 2000, the organization changed its name to New Avenues to Independence Inc. to better reflect the changing demographics of the individuals served and the array of services provided.
Led by CEO Karen Knavel, New Avenues embarked on a strategic planning process in 2018 to further align the agency’s vision with innovative practices shaping the field and respond to recent changes in the rules governing services to people with disabilities.
However, over the years, one thing hasn’t changed. New Avenues remains as committed, proactive and visionary as ever to the fundamental principles first established by the PVA, creating possibilities for individuals with disabilities to lead meaningful lives.