Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lisa Conway - G2 - Piioneer Warehouse

Lisa Conway with Father, Friend, Business Partner Tom Belge

We all may have read blogs or self help articles or books on “Can You Have it All?”  Today I can share with you an interview with a women who says yes.  I don’t think she verbally said yes but her actions speak louder than words.

Meet Lisa Conway from Pioneer Warehouse.  Lisa is second generation at Pioneer Warehouse in Liverpool, New York.  She makes it all sound easy even with her full plat of being a wife, mother of three; Jaydon 6, Jacob 4 and Lia 1; daughter, sibling, employee, own person.  I was unsure of which order to put this in as she is so balanced with work/life life/work there is no beginning and no end to the statement.

First Job Pioneer? “My first job here was mainly office work, but I do remember one summer at age 14 when one of our customers needed us to help remedy a mistake that they had made when preparing their product and I along with another person had to spend an entire summer adding an ingredient to their product.  Which mean basically I started right in with whatever needed to be done I did it.”

Most memorable thing you learned from Father? 
“One thing, oh my, that is a hard question he has taught me so much.  I think I would have to say the value of the dollar.   He really instilled that into all of us from a young age.  He always made us work hard for what we have.  I worked through high school and college and I think that really helped a lot with how we live our lives and value what we have.”.

Most memorable thing learned from Mother?
“To be strong!  When I was little she never let me be to girly.  She always wanted me to be independent and be able to stand on my own two feet.  On the other hand she taught us how to be a caregiver by example she took great care of us.”

Who was the greatest inspiration and influence on you life? 
“I can’t pick one person I would definitely say my parents, absolutely my parents, but both in different ways.” 

Company Greatest Success
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is we keep clients for years and years and years.  I would say our greatest success is how long we keep our clients.  Not only our clients but also our employees our turnover is very minimal.”

Greatest Personal Success
“Do you mean besides my family and children because they would have to be my greatest success?  I have so much to be grateful for.  I was successful before I came back here to the family business in finance and I feel I have been successful here professionally.”

What is the biggest thing you have contributed to Pioneer Warehouse since you have been here?
“We recently implemented a warehouse management system.  It was a big deal.  We use to do everything by hand and excel spreadsheets.  I researched it and implemented it and it has made a world of difference on how we manage our warehouse.”

Supporting the community? 
“We have been part of and a big supporter of the local transportation club which supports local students and scholarships.  We do as much as we can.  We participate and support where and when we can.  We support several local children’s sports teams, employee bowling leagues and other community events like that.”

When did you realize you emerged from the shadows?
“When I came back to the business I was a little timid working with the people who had been here for years.  It took a couple years before I was confident to realize I had some really good ideas.  I feel my Dad has really started to trust me with projects, being innovative and trying to grow the company.  The proof of that is that he feels comfortable taking longer vacations.  He is not handing me the reins but he is giving me more responsibility.”

Words to live by?
“Be honest and follow your heart.   Being a trustworthy business partner is most important.”

Advice for other family business future leaders?
“Work hard and be who you are.  It is really tough in a family business you need to earn the respect from everyone, it is not just handed to you because of who you are.  I chose to be here.”

Best thing about being a family business?
“We are a small family business so the camaraderie and being able to share in the joy, the ups, the downs and being able to talk to someone on the fly.  I not only have a Dad but I have a friend and a great coworker.  I really love it.  It’s always an open door policy.  I would never be able to share my ideas and implement so much so quickly in corporate America.”

Worst thing about being a family business?
“For me I lose myself sometimes, I forget I am talking to my boss, hard to draw lines.  In staff meetings sometimes I forget that I am talking to the boss and not my dad.    Right now we are living with my parents as our house is being built so we are together all the time.  So at the moment it is a little different than usual.”

Leisure time?
I coach both boys in soccer, I am training for a triathlon, going to the park with the dogs and the husband and kids.  Spending as much time with my family as I can.”

Do you have a great story about Pioneer?
“After the big blizzard in the early 90’s our roof caved in.  We had a lot of product in our warehouse and it was a Friday night.  All of our employees came in, came together and worked together to relocate the product and clean up.  It was weeks of working long days and nights.  They worked their butts off.  They brought crocks and platters of food with them so they could just continue working long hours.  They (the employees) made it work.  When it was over our company was stronger than ever. If we didn’t have the support from the employees the outcome could have been much different.  I wasn’t here then but my dad and his partner at the time Ray Dionne led them through this.”

What do you see as the future of Pioneer?
“The future for the company I see is in order fulfillment.  Most people know that we do general warehousing but where I see the future is e commerce.  We are a logistics company, from placement of the orders to the delivery.  We pull the order from the internet, pick them, pack them, ship them and track them.  The client doesn’t have to do anything but take care of their business.”

Succession Planning?
“My succession planning with my father is probably on the 5 year plan.  I have been here for about 5 years and have learned a lot and we still have some to go.   The one thing that I feel was very important is that I went away from the family business and did my own thing first.  I earned my business degree, worked in real estate and at Wells Fargo for several years before I came into the business full time.  I would definitely want the same thing for my children.  I would love it if they wanted to work with me in the future but I will encourage them to go out and work with others first.”

How do you benefit from the Family Business Center?
“I have met so many great people.  We all have so much more in common than you would ever think.  Surrounding yourself with like minded people is very important.  I have a jam-packed schedule but making time for peer group discussions is a great part of the day.  After each session I come back and talk to my father about what I might have learned from my peers.  Maybe not every time but usually I am able to implement something that someone might have mentioned or suggested during these sessions.”

Do you have any comments about the statistic that a large percentage of women will be taking of their family business in the next decade? 
“I have a lot to say about that.  Women have so much to offer that is different than men.  We have different characteristics, different strengths, and different time frames.  We take action.  There is so much that has not been tapped into yet that we have to offer.  I look forward to watching my daughter grow and see what she will be able to do.”

Generation:                            2nd
Number of Employees:         20
Years with Pioneer:              5

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Giovanni Food Company, Inc. - Louis DeMent

Let’s take a look inside the family business of the SBA 2013 Small Business Person of the Year.  Louis DeMent, husband, father, and CEO of Giovanni Food Company Inc. 

Giovanni Food Company began in 1934 when Lou’s grandfather opened a restaurant in Oswego, NY and started selling the pasta sauce to customers.  Lou took the helm of Giovanni Food Company Inc. as CEO, third generation, in 2007 when his father unexpectedly passed away.   Fortunately Lou felt ready for the position as they had been working very closely together and had just completed an expansion in 2006.

Stepping into the entrance way of Giovanni Food Company Inc., you immediately have the aroma of being surrounded by all the wonderful products that Giovanni now produces.   The reception area is filled with mementos of his Grandfather’s beginnings and the company’s successes throughout the years.  On May 6, 2013 Lou has added the new success of being awarded the SBA Business Person of the year.  He will be competing for the National Award in Washington on June 21. 

Company Mission Statement:                                   Generation:  Third
Giovanni Food Company is committed to               # of Employees:  64
manufacturing quality products while                    Years with Co.  16
maintaining social and environmental 
responsibility and achieving superior 
customer service. 

First Job at Giovanni?   Checking labels as they came down the line   -  “Chief Label Licker” as my Dad would call me. 

What Age?

Most memorable thing learned from Father?  I learned never to ask for money.   He would always say “Work real hard and good things will come.  Nothing comes easy and your reputation is everything.

Most memorable thing learned from Mother? My mother taught us family values, respect and caring.  She always treated the employees like family and to this day I consider my employees to be part of my extended family.

Who do you feel was the greatest influence on your professional life?
Definitely my Dad

Company Greatest Success?
In our first years of business 85% of the business was USDA contract business.  We then began to focus on private labeling.  This initiative gave us an opportunity to get into a large national retail store.  We now do a high quantity of high quality private labeling.  Now the USDA is only 5% of the business.  This business model is much more sustainable and we feel that it is a safer business model!

What was the most innovative thing you have done at Giovanni?
We got into packing Organic products - about 8 or 9 years ago.  This led us into the opportunity to purchase the Ventre Packing Company which was a quantum leap into being able to manufacture more products.  It was truly a dream come true going from one production line to three.  It is what I always wanted and what my father always wanted.   We always joked about one day having world sauce domination and each day I feel that we are getting closer to what dream of ours!

Is there another product line that you would like to try that you are not doing now?
We consider every product and evaluate each opportunity present to us.  We have a contract to produce barbecue sauce for a major national brand which is a product that we are sure will help us to gain additional business.   We now have the capability to pack juices; including specialty organic juices.  We are able to pack  multiple high acid foods and are looking at a variety of packaging options.  We will soon be SQF certified which we are confident will open up many new doors with some of the major retailers.

What is your greatest success?  My Family, I’m truly blessed to have a wonderful wife and two amazing children.  As for my professional success it would be surrounded by the right people.  We have a fantastic team and I am extremely fortunate for that.  I would not have been able to do any of this without them.

Supporting the community?    We do several things to help involve ourselves with the community. We have a corporate giving committee that helps to determine organizations and events that make sense for our company.  The most notable are the Tour de Cure Verona Beach Ride in which for the past few years, we have been one of the top teams in regards to the amount of money raised.   We sponsor the On Point for College Golf Tournament.  In addition, we donate sauce to several fundraising spaghetti dinners.  We get frequent requests for that and are proud to be able to help many families in this way.

When did you feel that emerged from the shadows?
Looking back now I have always worked at growing the company.  My dad made the company successful and was not looking for any more risk.  But I wanted to move to a larger facility to allow us to grow the business.  I began planting those seeds with my father and pushing it in that direction.  Seven years ago we bought the Liverpool location and began the process of getting to where we were comfortable.  Unfortunately my father passed away about a year later.  He was brilliant at manufacturing and I although I was nervous to take over, I felt that I was ready and had learned enough from my Dad that I could be successful. 

Can you share words to live by?  Do the job honestly and respectfully and always be able to have a good reputation and take care of the people around you.   Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. The basic fundamentals.  That goes a long way in business and life.

Advice for other family business future leaders?   I don’t know how my grandfather was able to do what he did. …  To have the idea and start this business from the ground up.  I was fortunate to have the foundation to grow it.  I would have to say… If you are willing to put the work in and endure the long hours and if your family is ready for that …then do it.    Prepare your family for it though because it’s not easy!

What do you consider the best thing about being a family business?
I worked for Sysco Foods for two years which was a lot of fun.  However, it was a whole different feeling coming to Giovanni.  It is a different level of commitment.  This is our family.  We treat everyone here like our family.  We get excited when employees purchase new cars or houses and are taking care of their families.  It is a different level of caring than a non family business.   Honestly you would have to interview the employees to know if they feel the same but I hope and believe that they do.  The fabric of our company is caring.

What about the worst thing?
Oh, well working with my father was tough.  When we didn’t agree the emotions would go back to when I was a kid and he would treat me like I didn’t do my chores.  The emotional level makes it tough.  It is challenging to keep it separate.  When I started working with my Dad I agreed to it as long as we knew we wouldn’t lose each other over it.  My father and family was and is more important than the sauce.

What do you do for leisure time?
Spend time with my family,… I enjoy spending time with them and going to the kid’s activities and all that.  I play hockey and snowmobile when I have free time to enjoy. My son plays hockey too which keeps us quite busy.  We like to spend time in the Adirondacks.  I also find working with my church very rewarding.

Is there a little known fact about Giovanni?
Probably just the sauces we sell.  We used to sell our Maria Angelina sauce through the Eckerd store chain.   Now you can no longer get it in the United States though it is one the highest selling sauces in Israel.   We have people come back to the states and want to buy the sauce because they know it is made here in Syracuse and you can’t buy it here. Our main business right now is in private label and contract manufacturing so many people have never heard of us as our company name is not on the label.

Which sauce is available in Syracuse and where?  Our newest brand, Greenview Kitchen, is starting to become available locally in businesses such as Natur Tyme, Nichols, Green Hills, NoJaims, and Vella’s. The brand consists of all natural and organic pasta sauces and we recently introduced and organic pizza sauce and bruschetta topping.  This is what we market the most in this area, although you may also find our Luigi Giovanni pasta sauce is some small outlets locally.  We are working with several other chains and hope to continue to add to this list shortly.

Succession Plans: You and your Children are young… Have you thought about the future?  Do they want to work with their Father?
My son, age 6, loves the plant and enjoys coming to work with me.  My daughter, age 9, I’m not sure about yet.  My wife, Cheryl, also has a small family business (Encore Salon and Day Spa) that my daughter might be interested in.   I’m not opposed to them working with me, however I would like them to work for someone else first, but it will be up to them and I won’t tell them this is what they should do or force them to join the business if their heart is not in it.   

I have to ask, how has being a member of the Family Business Center benefited you?
It is about the connections.  I have enjoyed shooting ideas across the table with other members. 
We have a lot in common with the members and sharing knowledge is the biggest takeaway.  Sometimes, when you go into the meetings you don’t feel you have anything to offer but when people start asking you questions, you realize you might be helping someone.  That is the beauty of it and I have definitely benefited from other members and what they bring to the group.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Family Business Panel - April 18, 2013

Matt Mulcahy | PJ Schmid | George Hanford  |  Arnie Rubeinstein  |  Dick Schneider
We were privileged to have Matt Mulcahy from CNYCentral be our MC at our Wisdom event last week at Jusin’s Tuscan Grill.  Not that our panelist needed any help sharing their knowledge and wisdom but Matt certainly put a great polish on the event.

Four family business leaders joined us for a panel to share some triumphs and struggles.  As you all know family businesses are notably private people, therefore it is a great honor when they choose to share with their peers.   Several candid conversations took place concerning family members being chosen to lead their family business into the next generation and those who were not chosen.   I am pretty sure we only touched the surface of that topic.

There was a lot of conversation about embracing change not just through generational change but throughout business.  Keeping the business fresh and competitive seemed to be a large focus with each leader in the room.  How did this relate to family in the business - having the right people in the right positions is obviously key to communication and cooperativeness.  Not only does there need to be strong leadership and respect for that role, but the other roles that family plays in their positions are just as important.   There were also differing opinions on how partnerships between siblings work and may not work.

There were moments of reflection from one of the leaders expressing emotion of the passing of a brother and how that not only had a large impact on their family but the impact it had on losing a partner in business.  And moments of laughter when it was discussed that diversification of a family may be better than having everyone working in the same business.  If the business was to fail a family event such as a wedding would be a downer if everyone there was unemployed!

Bonus of the event - new connections were made between business leaders and possible new opportunities for doing business locally. 

Hope to see you at our next event and have you make connections with the leaders of this community.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Trust & Leadership

At the NYFBC our last several roundtables with our current leaders of local family businesses the discussion centered around Stephen M.R. Covey's book The Speed of Trust.  We read and then discussed the book.  Asked each other questions, shared relevant stories and came away with a better understanding of how important trust is in family business, being a business owner, a leader, an employer, employee, a family member. 

To wrap up the subject I asked The Leading Element to come in.  The Leading Element has been sponsoring the NYFBC for three years now and always willing to share some great insight with us.  Susan Burgess one of the partners brought us a great presentation on Trust and Leadership.  The key components of this presentation centered around three very simple words.  Character, Capabilities and Communication.  As we went through the morning it was very clear how these three words don't really work without the others when it comes to trust.   She had us do a couple excercises involving why someone we work with we might not exactly trust.  Then try to express why we don't trust them.  All using those three words.

Of course I can't do this topic justice in these couple of paragraphs but next time you think or say you don't trust someone you may want to stop and think about why you don't trust them.  Is it a true character flaw that this person has.  Could it possibly be their capabilities, are you expecting to much from them and it is something that needs adjusting or needs to be worked on.  Or could it even be that there was a communication problem.  Somthing misunderstood, something implied, something taken out of context or written an email the wrong way. 

Listening to Susan had me reflecting on why there may be people out there I don't trust or maybe reasons on why someone might not trust me.  Though I can't imagine the later.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Family Business Advising Certificate

I would like to thank the New York Family Business Center,  The board of directors felt it was important for me to gain knowledge in the family business field and provided me with the opportunity to obtain a Certificate in Family Business Advising by the Family Firm Institute. The certificate is presented to individuals who have achieved comprehensive professional knowledge and gained significant expertise that can be used as value to family business owners and family wealth clients. The Family Firm Institute (FFI) Certificate in Family Business Advising is designed to increase awareness and exposure to concepts, skills and knowledge necessary to optimize effectiveness as family business advisors and consultants.

“Through completion of the certificate program, Donna Herlihy (that's me) has gained a deeper understanding of the needs of family-owned enterprises and the many roles family business and non-family members play,” said Judy Green, Executive Director of the Family Firm Institute.

I  became Director of the Family Business Center in 2009. Our vision is to create an organization locally that offers education, resources and tools that will inform, strengthen and celebrate family-owned companies.  Our Center’s interactive workshops, roundtables and events , case studies, panel presentations, and educational forums provide NYFBC members access to contemporary solutions grounded in real-world experience.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Family Business Secret to Success

CNY BizX 10/2/2012

I’ve often wondered, what is the secret to successfully running a family business and passing it down generation to generation? Is it in their DNA? Is it the rich environment that children are raised in that frequently revolves around the business? Is it the outside experiences and opportunities family members seek to run the business better with each generation?

Assuming DNA plays only a small role if any, family members must rely on one another and on non-family members to help raise the next generation to take the helm.  It starts with being raised inside the family business, with educational opportunities, leaders, mentors and great decision makers.  The next generation are being educated and mentored now more than ever.

Family members should be educated from a very young age, slowly developing skills and learning the business from the ground up.  For example, Welch Allyn, fourth generation, works very closely with their 5th generation.  Once a year they bring the family in from all over the world for a week to have them work with previous generations.  They teach them the history, the values and how to be good stewards of the company.  This is done with communication and bonding of all generations.

The biggest secret to success that is shared repeatedly from family business experts is communication.  It seems no matter who speaks with us on various topics the underlying message is to communicate with each other.  There are countless stories about lack of even the basic of communication.  Sometimes the current generation has never even asked what the next generation sees as their vision for the future of the company.  If you start early with communicating about all aspects of the business these conversations will come easier when the succession journey begins.

Here are many myths associated with family business:  Family Businesses are all small businesses, working for your family is asking for nothing but trouble, priorities are different in family businesses, family businesses only represent a small sector of our workforce.  Family businesses never make it past the third generation.  However the truth is that family businesses are never the same and can’t fit tidily in a box. Some are large; some are small.  Some have strong family relationships while other might have turmoil.  Some struggle and fail to make it to the third generation, while some survive over dozens of generations.  Locally we have family businesses that fit into all of these categories

Research done by Joe Abstrachan, Ph.D a respected family business expert indicates that there are 5.5 million U.S. family businesses, employing 63% of the workforce and generating 57% of our GDP.  Research and educational opportunities are available in so many forms for the development of future leaders. Executive coaching, trade industry organizations and family business centers are all successful in helping with succession and mentoring and sharing.  Central New York is the home of one of those family business centers, which hold several events a year.  Topics include Succession Planning, Family Business Governance, Conflict Management, and Engaging Family Members in the business.  You can learn more about our events at and find us on facebook.  

Each year the New York Family Business Center  holds an annual summit which was conceived from the Welch Allyn annual education week.  This years’ summit is being held on Veterans Day, Monday, November 12, 2012 at the Lodge at Welch Allyn.  Ages 10 and up are invited to take place in a day full of education for the entire family.  The future generation (10 – 19) will learn leadership skills from Gwen Weber-McLeod, John Eberle and John Liddy.  The current generation will learn about family business governance from our presenting sponsor Wilmington Trust and have educational breakout sessions with Testone Marshall Disenza,CPA and Bond Schoneck & King, PLLC.  We all will be entertained by Yvonne Conte, coached by Gwen Weber-McCleod and enjoy a fireside chat with your peers If you are an owner/manager, spouse or child of a family business this is the place to be on Veterans Day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

We Just Keep Moving Forward

When we set out three years ago this month we knew it would be a challenge to engage our community in a new business membership organization.  There are so many other excellent programs going on; but we knew it would be worth it.  Three years later as we enter our fourth year we can feel our efforts, energies and imagination paying off.   

Therefore I will continue to push our message out to our local and surrounding communities.  Hopefully one of my messages will spark a flame to a family business leader and a new member will emerge.

Recently we had Robert Nason speak at our next generation roundtable regarding the research he did on the longevity of family businesses.  The research seemed to center on the well documented and repeated statistic of “only” 30% of family businesses succeed to the second generation.  In reality the word only was most likely added by consultants and advisors.   The statistic was actually intended to state that family businesses actually outperform other business models.   However planning and preparation is needed and a trusted advisor among so many other components is necessary. 

How many times do you hear your advisor talk to you about your succession plan..  “Lets get started….when are you going to talk about this…..who is your next leader…more and more questions.  But how do you get started?  Where do you start?  Maybe before you start succession planning some basic questions need to be answered.  If you are the founder…When did you decide this was a family business?  Why did you decide it was going to stay a family business?  Etc. and so on.  To help answer these questions a good place to start would be education.  As I read through blogs, message boards, articles, research papers it all comes back to educating the family businesses before, during and after the planning starts and continues.  It is difficult to start work on your succession plan if you are not properly prepared for it.

Here is today’s message - Storytelling…. a great way to learn about family business.  We do that at our center.   We have forums where our attendees and presenters tell their stories, their experiences, there challenges and their successes.  Of course we have educators and consultants and advisors that help us get our educational message out there but we are here to help educate you and help you find your way to preparation, planning, and being one of the many family businesses that succeed to the next generation.

We look forward to meeting you.