Working with family

George Howe Colt wrote in LIFE magazine in 1991, “A nest of tenderness, a jail for the heart, a nursery of souls. Families name us, and define us, give us strength, give us grief. All our lives we struggle to embrace, or escape their influence. They are magnets that both hold us close and drive us away.”

The 10th annual Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Awards dinner is coming up on Thursday, May 9 at the Madison Marriott Hotel. Family businesses are thriving in Wisconsin. The recent economy has not changed their optimism. In some companies, the millennial generation (born from 1982 to 2000) is, or soon will be, in charge.

Contrary to the old saying “the first generation builds the business; the second generation lives off the business; the third generation kills the business,” these days, next-generation family members are becoming very business-savvy, are dedicated to their companies’ roots and what they stand for, and are working hard to take their businesses into the future.

Looking back at some past years’ winners of this prestigious award, one can’t help but be impressed with those from in and around Dane County, including Elysee Scientific Cosmetics; Kids Express Learning Center; Madison Computer Works; Smart Motors, Inc.; Kehl School of Dance; Metcalfe Sentry Foods; Endres Manufacturing Co.; Chase Lumber and Fuel Co.; Prairie Athletic Club; Drake & Co.; The Gialamas Co.; Vogel Bros. Building Co.; Sherman Plaza, Inc.; Ryan Brothers Ambulance, Inc.; Hellenbrand, Inc.; Botham Vineyards, Inc.; Rockweiler Insulation, Inc.; Hartung Brothers; and Timbergreen Farms.

We have many great family-owned and operated companies in our area, where it isn’t uncommon for several generations to be working together. The children who have grown up working in some of these companies have had the unique opportunity to work alongside parents, grandparents, and perhaps aunts and uncles. This has given them the chance to see their relatives in a whole different way.


This year’s excellent nominees are Automation Components, Inc., Middleton; JF Brennan Co., Inc., La Crosse; Cleary Building Corp., Verona; Dave Jones Plumbing, Inc., Madison; Energy Performance Lighting, Cottage Grove; Hitt Builders, New Berlin; J&K Security Solutions, Madison; Lindus Construction, Baldwin; Michael F. Simon Builders, Waunakee; Morgan Murphy Media, Madison; Northern Concrete, Denmark; Peterson Wood Treating, Superior; Pioneer Ford Bates, Ltd., Platteville; Planet Wise, Inc., New Glarus; Ron’s Refrigeration, Wisconsin Rapids; Seljan Co., Inc., Lake Mills; Sperlings Specialty Molded Products, Inc., Blair; and State Collection Services, Inc., Madison.

My first job, at age 5, was in my parents’ bowling center, where my main responsibility was to open the season by throwing the first ball down the lanes. My pay was an ice cream cone. Because my parents operated a family business, and because I now work in a family-owned company alongside my husband, a daughter, and a granddaughter, I have a great respect for the more than 12 million family businesses now thriving in the U.S.

Family-owned companies have longevity. They generate 40% to 80% of the gross national product, and two-thirds of all companies traded on the New York Stock Exchange are family owned.

Family businesses are thriving in Wisconsin. It’s nice to see them get recognized!

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click hereIf you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.