Tales both humorous and poignant were heard at the annual Westfair Communications Family-Owned Business Awards on March 5, honoring more than 20 businesses from Westchester and Fairfield counties.
Some of the humor was reliably supplied by honoree Stew Leonard Jr., who took over as president and CEO of the Norwalk-based company his father founded in 1991. Recalling an instance when his brother had to be disciplined by Stew Leonard Sr., he said that his father told him that he wore two hats: one as a boss and one as a father.
Wearing his metaphoric boss’ hat, Senior fired the younger man from the store. Immediately switching to his father’s hat, he said: “Son, I’m very sorry to hear that you just lost your job.”
Another amusing remark came from Katherine (Schwerdtle) Saint, president of The Schwerdtle Stamp Co. Noting that she and her brother John are the fourth generation to run the 140-year-old firm, she said keeping up with changing tastes and technologies was key to the Bridgeport firm’s success. “We certainly didn’t want to be the generation that killed the business,” she said.
Emotional notes were struck by a number of honorees in remembering family members who had preceded them at their companies having passed, or when recognizing the achievements of those predecessors now retired, a number of whom watched from the crowd of about 200.
Casarra Cover, owner of Brewster’s Henry B. Whitaker Inc. Garage Doors and granddaughter of its founder, touched upon the fact that Whitaker, who started the business in his home in 1949, had been white while his wife was black – far from a common situation at the time.
“I never went to day care – I came to Whitaker,” she said as her mother Fay – who took over the business the year Cover was born – stood by her side.
Pam Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of Carmel’s Angels on Call Homecare, looked forward to the next generation: namely, her sons Robert Dalton, the firm’s CFO, and Eric Dalton, both of whom joined her onstage. Noting that the pair belong to what she called “the much-maligned” millennial generation, Fitzpatrick disputed a recent Time magazine article disparaging the group as overly entitled and self-focused, saying her sons were living proof to such broad characterizations.
Many of the honorees addressed the question, “What is the key to running a successful family-owned business so it can be passed from generation to generation?”
“Honor your previous generations by continuing to go out and learn more about your industry,” said Nicole Palazzo, the fourth-generation owner of Trumbull’s City Line Florist, while Jennifer Baukol, second-generation owner of White Plains’ Steps Home Care, observed that, “It wouldn’t be a family business if the hard-work ethic hadn’t been instilled in us by the older generation.”
Some honorees were owned by first-generation family members. The titular owner of White Plains’ Law Offices of Kevin H. Cohen said an important consideration looking forward was whether the next generation even wants to be involved with the business: “Are they prepared to put the hard work in? Do they have the right temperament and personality?”
Dave Ackert, president and CEO at Sandy Hook’s Maple Craft Foods, understandably wondered if his child would be interested in inheriting the business – “but we are laying the foundation for a business legacy” – as did Kevin Weaver, founder of Hopewell Junction craft beer brewing equipment manufacturer Brewmation Inc. Noting that his son took a car service to the ceremony, “so he’s doing well” at another company, and that his two daughters have yet to evince much interest in the company, Weaver received applause upon announcing that he and his wife, Brewmation Vice President Maria Weaver, were celebrating their 25th anniversary that night.
Opening remarks were provided by Liz Salguero, founder and president of Wilton’s nonprofit Circle of Care, followed by a keynote address by Scott Mitchell, vice president, sales at Westport-based Mitchell Stores, a three-generation family business.
Other honorees included:
- Connecticut Dermatology Group, Norwalk.
- Hodson Realty Inc., Trumbull.
- Janus Associates, Stamford.
- John M. Glover Insurance Agency, Norwalk.
- Montano Wood Care Corp., Yonkers.
- New England Total Energy, Greenwich.
- Raymond Opticians, Jefferson Valley.
- Statewide Abstract Corp., White Plains.
- Viking Construction Inc., Bridgeport.
- William Raveis Real Estate, Mortgage & Insurance, Shelton.
- Zyloware Eyewear, Port Chester.
The event was held at 1133 Westchester Ave. in White Plains and was presented by the Westchester and Fairfield County Business Journals. Official sponsors and supporters included Angels on Call, Barnum Financial Group, The Bristal Assisted Living, Blossom Flower Shops, Buzz Creators, GS&S Awnings, The Kensington, Montano Wood Care, Rakow Commercial Realty Group, Raymond Opticians, Steps Home Care, Stew Leonard’s, Val’s Putnam Wines & Liquors and Zyloware Eyewear.