Posted: 12:48 p.m. Wednesday, July 17, 2013
By Em Maier
Building a family business has unique challenges. Here's how these nine families have made it work for up to 15 generations.
In 2010, 33% of all companies in the S&P 500 index were family-owned. Working alongside your parents, children, and siblings can have both advantages and disadvantages, but these nine families have found ways to make their businesses succeed for generation after generation. Here's how they've done it.
In 1623, an Armenian alchemist named Avedis Zildjian used a precise alloy of copper, tin, and silver to create cymbals. For generations, the instruments made by his family were cherished around the world. But it took a friend of the family to make the business truly take off: after being asked to help a group musicians create a new sound, they began producing thinner and, as it turned out, even more popular cymbals. Now based in Norwell, MA, the Zildjian Cymbal Co. has stayed in the family for 15 generations.
After surviving a shipwreck in 1635, apprentice barrelmaker John Tuttle decided to stay landbound. He staked a claim in Dover, DE, and started what is now America's oldest farm, selling fresh fruits, hand-spun wool, candles, and maple syrup. Unfortunately, a deed restricting inheritance to male heirs has helped put the farm is in negotiations to be sold, meaning the eleventh generation is likely the last.
The oldest inn in the country, the Seaside Inn in Kennebunkport, ME, was built by John Gooch in 1667, when King Charles II sent him to settle Maine. Nine generations later, Trish (née Gooch) and Ken Mason continue the tradition, after Trish's parents retired. The Gooch family is firmly entrenched in the Kennebunk area--Trish recalls reading Kenneth Roberts' novel Arundel and recognizing several characters and the familial property.
After fighting for America's independence, Christian Bixler III opened up a jeweler store in 1785. But business was decimated by the Great Depression, and it took a highly persuasive aunt to convince her niece to pick up the baton. The niece and her husband spent five years managing the debt and salaries, and by 1950 they had restored the showroom to its former glory. Six generations in and 225 years later, the company holds the title of America's oldest jeweler.
In 1872, Joseph Maloy and Jacob Bertschmann began a partnership as insurance underwriters. Within the five generations of company, Maloy bought out the partner family and transformed Maloy Risk Services into a traditional insurance company, providing services in four industries: hedge funds, venture capital, technology, and life sciences. Richard Maloy, Jr. commented to PR News Wire in 2007, "We continue to operate under the motto of my father: This is a business run by a family ... it is not a family business."
Austrian immigrant John Michael Kohler's purchase of the Sheboygan Union Iron & Steel Foundry in 1873 created a company that would last through four generations of Kohlers. While the firm's original products were cast iron implements for farmers and factories, one day Kohler decided to coat an iron hog scalder with enamel. The bathtub became a blockbuster, transforming the company. A few years later in 1888, he created the trademarked Bubbler, or a drinking fountain. And Kohler hasn't stopped innovating. When the current owner wanted a chocolate "turtle," he asked the chefs at one of his resorts to create a perfect delicacy, and in 2007, the kitchen and bath company began a chocolate division.
In 1886, Samuel C. Johnson picked up a flooring business in Racine, Wisconsin. He quickly began developing his own products and offering paid vacations, promoting the workplace. SC Johnson helped build the local YMCA and was one of the first American companies to offer profit sharing for all employees. The fifth generation continues to commit to sustainability, protecting two reserves in Brazil's Caatinga region and promoting steel can recycling. The company has also created the the world's largest private, urban entomology research center to combat diseases carried by insects.
26-year-old William Henry Belk opened a small bargain store in 1888 with $750 in savings, a $500 loan, and $3,000 worth of goods taken on consignment. His brother joined in and the business began flourishing, expanding throughout the Carolinas. Devoted to the clientele, Belk's secretary would scrutinize birth announcements in the local paper; new mothers would soon be sent a free pair of infant overalls, with an invitation to visit the store. The personal touch worked: after three generations, the company boasts four flagship locations and has acquired over 50 Proffitt's and McRae's department stores from Saks Incorporated.
The first clients of Samuel and Cora Spence were Kansas City bachelors who didn't want to do their own laundry. In 1900, the Spences started expanding across the Midwest. The fifth generation now maintains six facilities, servicing medical and hospitality organizations. It's not just the owners who make this a family business: many of the employees are second and third generation Faultless workers themselves.