Family business is all relative

From neighborhood mom and pop stores to household names like Kohler, S.C. Johnson, Gordon Food Service, Mars Candy Company, Ford Motor Company, and Wal-Mart, family-owned companies are thriving in the United States. Family business can be defined as having multiple family members or generations involved in the strategic direction, management, and/or working in the company with the intention for the business to remain in the family.

They are the backbone of the American economy. There are 5.5 million family businesses in the United States and they generate 64% of the gross national product (GNP). They employ 63% of the workforce and they account for 78% of all new job creation. More than 30% of family businesses survive a transition from first to second generation ownership and 12% are still operating into the third generation. Three percent are still going strong into the fourth generation and beyond. Family-owned companies have better employee retention due to their culture of commitment and purpose. Research shows that family-owned companies remain resilient and dynamic, and they are good community citizens.

On Thursday, May 4, 32 nominees from all across Wisconsin will be honored at the 2017 Family Business of the Year Awards dinner. Sixteen are from Dane County, including Complete Mobile Dentistry, Dave Jones Inc., Kayser Automotive Group, Park Bank, Stoughton Trailers, ANiU Salon, Central Storage & Warehouse Co. Inc., Frank Productions Inc., Meffert Oil Company Inc., Reynolds Transfer & Storage Inc., Union Bank & Trust Co., Impact Virtual Services, Qual Line Fence Corp., Sondel Family Veterinary Clinic, the UPS Store of Middleton/Shorewood Hills, and Wiedenbeck Inc.

Every one of the nominees has a great backstory — a couple of the nominees even had their start back in the 1800s. Nominees have excelled in their contribution to community and industry, positive links between their family and their business, how their family values influence their business, and their business performance, among other criteria.

I grew up in a family business, and I’ve been part of my own family business for the past 40 years. Every year my family and I attend the Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Awards dinner and every year when the nominee’s stories are told we learn from their examples, and we grow our appreciation for the privilege of working with family.

This year’s event features New York Times best-selling author Tom Farley as keynote speaker. Tom will share stories of his family’s enterprises and his experience as the head of the Chris Farley Foundation. I know this evening will be a great experience for everyone who attends, whether or not you work in a family business.

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