Gordon Flesch wins family business award for advancing business technology

The Gordon Flesch Co. has seen a lot of technological innovation in its 60-year existence — enough to be preparing for the next wave.

The Madison-based office technology company was among six family businesses honored last week during the 13th annual Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Awards banquet. Gordon Flesch took home a special award for “Wired for Success” for excelling in the provision of business technology.

Co-owner Bill Flesch, one of three brothers — along with John and Tom Flesch, the company president — who run the business their father Gordon launched in 1956, says it’s an honor to be recognized as a family business. “I personally think the family businesses of this country are, in my humble opinion, somewhat neglected,” he states. “It’s very unique that these sponsors find it in their day to recognize our privately held businesses. I think that’s wonderful because the foundation of capitalism was built on family businesses, and it’s really quite an honor to be a part of that and be recognized.”

Data driven

Gordon Flesch Co. was founded to bring modern technology to Wisconsin businesses. In 1956, that meant typewriters and photocopiers and today it means digital-imaging management products and services. In the next five to 10 years, it will mean managing the exploding volume of data.

“Part of our business in five years, a big part of our business, will be managing all of that data,” Flesch notes. “It will be all digital data and so we’re active in that today. We will continue to pursue those opportunities and distill them back for our clients and our partners so they can actually utilize the products that we offer and make them work inside of their organization.

“We’re surrounded by data today. Making it work for us is really critical, and being part of that will be very exciting for our organization.”

At the moment, however, the capital equipment side of the office products industry is flat. “We look at it as an old-line business, but the surrounding opportunities that we’ve brought into the organization represent the real future of the business,” Flesch observes. “So that old-line business, which is considered a flat business today, really is the motivator and the launch pad for these other industries we’re in. Our opportunities going forward couldn’t be better.”

Family foundation

The Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Awards program recognizes the contributions family businesses make to their communities and to the Wisconsin economy. In terms of community, the Gordon Flesch Charitable Foundation was established to divert funds away from the office Christmas party following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The money was repurposed to help grassroots organizations that provide for special needs, and the foundation has grown to the point where it contributes $125,000 annually to nonprofits. “My brothers and I decided there was a better way to use that money, so we started a foundation,” notes Bill Flesch. “The foundation was funded to give money back to the communities in which we do business and to help people who are having a difficult time. Whether it’s caused by a tornado or whether it supports special needs in our communities, it’s all about giving back to the grassroots organizations. In my opinion, it’s been one of the most rewarding things we’ve done as an organization.”

A company that prides itself on being ahead of the curve on next-generation technology also has next-generation family talent involved in the business. Gordon’s grandsons, Patrick and Mark, now work for the company, and like the second generation they worked between college semesters and breaks to learn what makes the company tick. Before deciding to permanently work for the family business, they took another cue from the second generation by first working elsewhere.

Speaking for his brothers, Bill Flesch feels fortunate to have a third generation involved in the business. “This is a culmination of my father’s efforts, my brother’s efforts, and my effort to take it to a third generation of young men who really understand the industry, are involved in the industry, and are humble about the opportunity,” Flesch says. “It couldn’t be more rewarding.”



Getting with the program

During the Family Business Awards program, three grand awards were presented in three size categories: large (200-plus employees), medium (100–199 employees), and small (under 100 employees). Grand Awards went to the following employers:
Empire Screen Printing, Onalaska, Large Company
Badger Basement Systems, Fort Atkinson, Medium Company
Shiloh Dairy LLC, Brillion, Small Company

Other special awards (in quotation marks) were earned by the following businesses:
Architectural Design Consultants Inc., Lake Delton, “Communication-Commitment-Creativity.”
Tamara’s The Cake Guru, Oshkosh, “Sweet Success.”

An independent panel of judges selected the winners. Judges included Jon Konarske, publisher of In Business magazine, Charles Crave of Crave Brothers Cheese, Tim Haag of State Collection Service, and Troy Schwen of Automation Components.

In addition to Smith & Gesteland, a Madison-based CPA and business consulting firm, award sponsors include First Business Bank and the law firm of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek, which recently announced it would combine forces with Husch Blackwell and be known by the same name.

In addition to the awards presentation, a video first shown at the 10th anniversary program was shown in lieu of a keynote speaker. The video, called “Head Cheese and Speedboat Rides,” profiled past winners, including Home Lumber Co. In the video, former Home Lumber owner Geoff Hale, father of current owner Chris Hale, summed up the appeal of being part of a family business. “The most satisfying thing about being in a family business,” he states, “is living the dream with your family on a daily basis.”

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