Family Business Awards: The self-discovery of nominations

There is still ample time — more than one month, in fact — to submit a nomination for the 2018 Wisconsin Family Business Awards, and take it from past winners — the nomination process alone is well worth your time.

The deadline for nominations is Friday, March 30. As in past years, the 15th annual edition of this awards program will celebrate the accomplishments and impact of resilient, creative family owned businesses around the state.

Winners will be announced during an awards banquet on Thursday, May 3, at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, but in truth every family business that goes through the nomination process emerges as a winner in one sense — the self-reflection that’s required to complete the nomination form basically forces management and staff to ponder what has made their business special.

In 2016, the Gordon Flesch Co., a Madison-based office technology business, received a special “Wired for Success” award for excelling in technology, but even if the company hadn’t been an award recipient, its chief executive 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 worthwhile dose of 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,” says Tom Flesch, president and CEO of Gordon Flesch. “So going through this is an exercise in self-evaluating your business.”

For Gordon Flesch Co., discovering and in some cases rediscovering company history resulted some artistic expression in the form of a timeline poster, copies of which now hang in the lobby of every Gordon Flesch location. It’s a collection of images and narratives that capture company history, beginning with founding father Gordon Flesch.

Tom Flesch, one of Gordon’s three sons who run the business their father launched in 1956, believes the poster yields benefits in staff morale and appreciation for longevity among its roughly 20,000 customers. “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.”


With the strong belief that every longstanding business has a story worth telling and worth knowing, self-nominations are encouraged.

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

In 2017, a total of 31 family owned companies were nominated and eight were honored, including Wiedenbeck Inc., a 123-year-old, Monona-based distributor of metals and industrial hardware that’s now in its fourth generation of ownership. Wiedenbeck was the Grand Award winner in the Small Company category.

Several local companies received special awards, including:

  • Central Storage & Warehouse Co. Inc., Madison, which earned the “Service and Quality … Down Cold” award;
  • Stoughton Trailers LLC, a Stoughton-based truck and trailer business, winner of the “Pulling for Success” award;
  • Reynolds Transfer & Storage Inc., Madison, which took home the “Moving for the Generations” award; and
  • Qual Line Corp., a Waunakee provider of fencing for homes and businesses, which won the “Heart of Steel” award.

Other Grand Award winners were the Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese dairy operation in Waterloo (Medium Company) and Brakebush Brothers Inc., Westfield (Large Company), a 93-year-old food processing company. A special “Outstanding Entrepreneur” recognition went to 10-year-old Alex Hart-Upendo, who founded Build-A-Bow LLC in Racine to raise awareness of bullying.



In all, five of last year’s nominees were more than 100 years old, and many nominees are the economic cornerstones of their communities.

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

During the May 3 Family Business Awards presentation, attendees will meet award winners and hear from a prominent keynote speaker. Event sponsors are Smith & Gesteland LLP, First Business Bank, and the Husch Blackwell law firm.

Affirmative process

The opportunity to compete for a family business award is a rewarding experience, according to Neil Fauerbach, partner and director of business development and marketing for 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.”

Winning, of course, makes running a successful family business even sweeter, notes Charles Crave of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese. The farm operation has won state, national, and international awards for its contributions to the dairy industry, but taking home a Family Business Award carried its own special meaning.

“It was just an incredible affirmation of not only the business but particularly the family,” notes Crave, “and the efforts that generations have put forth toward success as a family and success as a farm.”

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

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