All in the family: Three generations helm Shelton industrial painting firm

By Kevin Zimmerman

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To say “As goes Sikorsky, so goes Prestige Industrial Finishing Co.” is not entirely accurate.

But those at the Shelton company, which provides powder coating and military specification painting services for a number of high-profile clients — including Sikorsky Aircraft — admit they were relieved when the state announced in September that it had swung a deal to keep the Stratford manufacturer in Connecticut through at least 2032.

“That was such a relief,” Prestige President and CEO Michele Proto told the Business Journal. “It would have been devastating for us if Sikorsky hadn’t stayed here.”

“We didn’t realize how close they came to leaving — nobody did,” added Michael J. Osso, Proto’s nephew and Prestige’s vice president of operations. “Their leaving would have been like an atomic bomb going off.”

From left: Mike Osso, vice president of operations; Jim Osso, vice president; Robert Osso, painter; Mike Proto, business development; Michele Proto, president and CEO; Ralph Proto, shipping and receiving; and Lauren DeBenedictis, business manager.

Sikorsky has been a Prestige client from the firm’s beginnings in 1981, when Ernest Osso left Stratford’s Contract Plating and with his wife, the former Josephine Proto, started Prestige, which today occupies 15,000 square feet at 511 River Road.

That “Osso” and “Proto” keep coming up is no coincidence: Of the company’s 25 employees, eight belong to the same family, including a third generation that will take over operations when Michele and her stepbrother Prestige Vice President Jim Osso, retire. The pair — the second generation of the family to run Prestige — are two of the eight children who were brought together when their respective parents, Josephine and Ernest, married after each was widowed.

“We were the Brady Bunch,” Michele deadpanned.

Michele and Jim were quick to point out that no timeline for that succession has been formalized, which appears to be just fine with Shelly’s daughter, Office Manager Lauren DeBenedictis, whose husband Anthony is also a part of the business.

Other family members include Robert Osso, painter; Mike Proto, business development; and Ralph Proto, shipping and receiving.

“The business is doing extremely well right now after a couple of pretty lean years,” DeBenedictis said. “And while we treat all of our employees like family — we have almost no turnover, because people stay with us for 10, 15, 20 years — the fact that there are so many of us here who are family can make for a pretty interesting work environment.”

The various Ossos, Protos and DeBenedictises said that no particular pressure is brought to bear upon family members to join Prestige — but note that once a commitment is made, business trumps personal relationships.

“It’s a hard separation between business and family, and I learned that quickly after beginning here shortly after I left college,” Michael Osso said. “Having a work environment with so many family members means you have to flick the switch pretty quickly sometimes.”

Jim quipped that instances of pulling rank can occur “almost every day,” which has helped Prestige maintain its reputation in the commercial, industrial, and military aerospace industries that it serves.

For all that, Michele said, “We still spend all the holidays together.”

As for the business itself, DeBenedictis said that about 90 percent comes from Sikorsky and its sub-tier suppliers. At Prestige, painting is done on parts large and small. “We paint everything from the smallest shim to exterior skins, gear housings and swashplates for a variety of aircraft,” she said.

The company takes particular pride in its custom masking operations. Masking is employed in metal finishing operations where only a specifically defined area of the surface of a part is exposed to a process. It is done by working from a blueprint, an exact description on a purchase order or other documentation that lists the specifications for masking.

The Prestige personnel said that most of their business has come by word-of-mouth; Sikorsky suggested the company to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy when he was looking to visit a firm working within the industrial and aerospace industries. Murphy toured the facility last November and the attendant press coverage was appreciated, Michele said.

Michael said that word-of-mouth about the company has traveled across the country, noting that he had recently fielded an inquiry from Missouri. Given Prestige’s lack of billboards or national advertising, he said, such recommendations are invaluable to the company’s bottom line.

Along with the good news about Sikorsky staying in the state, the company is taking heart from the new administration’s announced plans to increase military spending by $54 billion.

“We’re very optimistic about the future and look forward to what the third generation will bring to Prestige Industrial Finishing,” Michele said.

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  1. Donna Lesko

    Congratulations to Osso-Proto family. They have earned all their success if only for the fact that all are still talking to each other never mind spending holidays together. They had great examples in founders of business.

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