Family Business Awards: Gordon Flesch Co. posterizes its history

Every longstanding business has a story worth telling and knowing, and the perfect opportunity to do so comes during the Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Awards program, which recognizes the contributions of family businesses to their communities and to the state economy.

The deadline to nominate family-owned businesses for this year’s awards program is this Friday, March 31, so there are a few days left to self-nominate or nominate a deserving company. It’s a worthwhile process and led to some artistic expression, according to Tom Flesch, president and CEO of the Gordon Flesch Co., which was one of six family businesses honored last year.

Gordon Flesch Co. received a special “Wired for Success” award for excelling in technology, but even if the company hadn’t been an award recipient, Flesch says it would have been beneficial just to go through the application form and self-nominate. The benefits go beyond positive recognition and marketing opportunities and include a bit of self-discovery.

“You find out things about your company that you don’t often sit around and think about — where the company is going and where it’s been, the family that’s involved in the business, and family members in the business,” he says. “So going through this is an exercise in self-evaluating your business. It’s a way of introspectively looking at your business while you’re filling out the questionnaire. It’s a very good process.”

A timeline poster of the Gordon Flesch Co. was one of the results of the company nominating itself for the 2016 Wisconsin Family Business Award program.

In the case of Gordon Flesch Co., discovering and in some cases rediscovering company history resulted in a timeline poster, copies of which now hang in the lobby of every Gordon Flesch location. Realizing that company history was interesting and should be captured in some type of format, the marketing department “ran with it,” producing a collection of images and narratives that begin with founding father Gordon Flesch.

Tom Flesch is one of Gordon’s three sons — along with Bill and John Flesch — who run the business their father Gordon launched in 1956. Tom Flesch believes the poster yields benefits in staff morale and appreciation of the business among its roughly 20,000 customers. “That’s a real benefit from the standpoint that people like to do business with a family business,” he explains. “They like to see the history, they like to see the longevity, and they like to see the continuation of the family members in the business, as well.

“We know the history, we know a lot of the details because we’ve been with the business for such a long time — 50-plus years,” he adds. “You know the history and by going through the application, you can inform a lot of people, especially newer staff members, about the history and some of the events that took place, and that’s enlightening to them.”

When the company was founded, the office technology in play included typewriters and photocopiers, but today it means digital-imaging products, electronic content management software, and partnering with what Flesch calls “best-in-breed” vendors to provide IT services. Over the next decade it probably means helping businesses manage the large volumes of data they now generate.

One question on the Family Business Award nomination form asks how the family has developed innovative business practices that have helped the family business succeed from one generation to the next. For Gordon Flesch Co., staying ahead of the curve on emerging technological trends, especially as technology changes so rapidly, is simply part of doing business.

The trick lies in choosing the right direction, which involves some experimentation and educated guess work as to which emerging technology would be most useful. “It’s the business we’re in,” Flesch states. “We’re a technology business, so our business is staying on top of technology. If you think about it, even the first Thermo-Fax machine our dad sold was a technology breakthrough for its time. When you look at the products, we’ve been in the technology business since day one. Even back when the old typewriters went from manual to electronic, that was a big technology leap. That was huge. People thought that was advanced technology, too.”



Sizing them up

In addition to the special awards, the award program presents three grand awards in three size categories: large (200+ employees); medium (100–199 employees); and small (under 100 employees). Qualifications are short and sweet — you must be a Wisconsin-based, family owned company and intend to pass ownership to the next generation.

A panel of independent business leaders will judge the nominations — winners will be determined largely on the quality of completed nominations — and consider factors such as contributions to community and industry, business performance, innovative practices, and how the enterprise has overcome challenges. Self-nominations are encouraged, but business advisors such as bankers, accountants, or lawyers also can submit nominations.

The 2017 Family Business Awards presentation will be held on Thursday evening, May 4, at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. The event will not only feature the award winners, but also New York Times best-selling author Tom Farley, who will share stories of his family's enterprises and his experience as the head of the Chris Farley Foundation.

The entertainment alone makes the event worth attending, but the opportunity to compete for a family business award also is a rewarding experience, according to Neil Fauerbach, partner and director of business development and marketing for program sponsor Smith & Gesteland. “Rarely do they look backward at what has made them a successful family business,” Fauerbach notes. “This process has proven to be valuable and rewarding, win or lose. The independent panel of judges always comments on the things they learn when reviewing the nominations.”

For more information about the awards program and for nomination materials, click here.

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