2010 Family Business Awards
The satisfactions of running a successful family business far outweigh the challenges, this year’s winners say. It helps to be enthusiastic – even passionate – about what you do.
The 2010 Family Business Award recipients were selected by the Cox Family Business Center at Kennesaw State University. The recognition program is sponsored by the Center and Georgia Trend.
Awards are given in large, medium and small business categories; the Century Award goes to a business that has been in existence for more than 100 years.
This year’s large business winner is Butler Automotive Group in Macon. N.A. Williams Company, Inc., a manufacturers’ representative headquartered in Atlanta, is the medium-sized business winner, and Jones-Wynn Funeral Home, Inc. in Douglasville is the top small business. Glover Foods in Americus is the Century Award winner.
The winners are uniformly upbeat and hard-working, and for most of them their work is a pleasure. “We really do enjoy the business,” says Butler Automotive’s Marsh Butler. “You can never take a family business for granted.”
“Our family values are the company’s values,” says Neal Williams of N.A. Williams.
“I wanted to be part of this amazing organization,” says Ellen Wynn McBrayer of Jones-Wynn Funeral Home.
“Any place that serves food is a potential customer,” says Glover Foods’ Bill Harris Sr. – The Editors
Driving A Family Business
Butler Automotive Group
When dinner conversation turns to the family business for the Butler clan, it could be as easy as walking out to the driveway. There’s a good chance that’s where pieces of the family business are sitting.
Over four decades, Butler Automotive Group has grown into a network of 12 new and used car dealerships selling and repairing autos in central and south Georgia and in Beaufort, S.C. The roots of the family’s car business run even deeper than its official launch in 1970 when Milton Butler and his son, Marshall Butler, Sr., purchased the Toyota franchise in Macon. It started 37 years earlier when Milton started selling autos in his Alma Chevrolet dealership, which he sold in 1966.
The path into the family business was the same for Milton’s son and grandsons – washing cars on weekends and helping out around the dealerships. Marshall did it as a 12- year-old before returning to work with his father after college and later buying the Toyota dealership. Marshall’s sons – Marshall Jr. and Morris – spent summers washing cars and delivering parts before joining the business in the 1990s as the third generation after their days at the University of Georgia. In January 2009, they became co-presidents.
They work side-by-side with their sisters. Bonnie Butler Gibson is a former general manager at a dealership and current board member, and Dixie Butler Clark oversees accounting for the company. The husbands of the two women also work for the company or an affiliated business.
“At family dinners and things like that, talking business is pretty much all we do,” Marsh Butler says. “We really do enjoy the business.”
It’s that constant communication that fosters the relationships among family and with other senior managers and feeds the company’s success, keeps them informed and smooths out any kinks on the few occasions when they disagree. In the midst of a recession and prolonged downturn in the auto industry, the ongoing dialogue is crucial.
“We don’t agree on everything, but 98 percent of the time we are kind of common sense minded businessmen. I just feel like fortunately we are on the same page,” Marsh says.
Without missing a beat, Morris concurs: “The level of communication we have amongst each other – we communicate a ton. We all know what is going on at the same time.”
Working with family also helps foster an ethos of cooperation and teamwork that is passed through to the company’s nearly 400 employees and its customers.
“We are all in this deal together. We all have the same goals, and fortunately, we all have good work ethics. The industry has no doubt been challenging, really since September 2008. But as far as a strain, there really hasn’t been one among family members,” Marsh says.
Even in tough economic times, Butler Automotive gives back to the community to the tune of about $300,000 a year to groups including the Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Clubs, United Way and American Cancer Society. Scholarships at the University of Georgia and Mercer University honor the family patriarch and his wife.
Theirs is a labor-intensive business with long hours. Both Marsh and Morris say that, ultimately, they are driven by a love of what they do.
“You’ve got to make sure the business is what you are passionate about and something you truly want to do. You can never take a family business for granted. It takes hard work like any business you are in. You just have to get in there and work closely and work hard and not take it for granted,” Marsh says. – MH
A Relationship Business
N.A.Williams Company, Inc.
A commissioned salesman working for N.A. Williams Company, Inc., was diagnosed with cancer and wasn’t expected to live. Unlike most whose income is dependent on making a sale, he didn’t worry about supporting his family. Neal L. Williams Sr., the company’s chairman, wrote the checks to support the family.
“I don’t tell that story to brag about our father,” says Chris Williams. “But it shows a lot about the family and the company’s values. We are here to serve our customers, our employees and our community. We really are humbled to be able to do that.”
N.A. Williams is the country’s largest and second oldest manufacturer’s rep company. In 1934, Neal A. “Red” Williams called on tire shops and replacement facilities selling KD hand tools, which is still a client. He added product lines and began working with and selling to Genuine Parts Company (NAPA). Today, with 125 employees, the company is the nation’s leading automotive aftermarket manufacturer’s rep, selling to customers like CARQUEST Auto, O’Reilly Auto Parts, AutoZone, Advanced Auto Parts – and NAPA.
During the company’s 76 years, Red and his son, Neal A. Williams, have served as chairman, president and CEO. In addition, two non-family members, Arthur Page and Roger McCollum, have also held the title of president/CEO.
Three sons – Chris, 39, Ridley, 43, and Neal Jr., 49, – run different segments of the business with no overlapping duties. The division of labor was deliberate.
“I watched a friend whose children were in the business,” says Neil A. Williams, 73. “The sons got along great; the problem was the wives. No one is more important than the other; no one’s office is bigger. Our job is to support our super salesmen and employees and get out of their way.”
The company just hired its fourth generation, Pete Riley, son of granddaughter Mary Fleming.
“None of us were expected to join the family business,” says Neal, Jr. “We had to show that we wanted it, then we started at the bottom. Same with Pete. He worked his way through Auburn, and then we threw him to the wolves. He did a 10-month internship doing the worst jobs. Our goal is to sustain this business going forward. Dad has 11 grandchildren, and I think four have already said, ‘No, thanks.’”
Today, the Atlanta-based firm has a reputation as a customer’s rep. “If we don’t have strong customers, then it doesn’t matter what we are selling,” says Ridley Williams. “Ours is a relationship business.”
The company, which has never borrowed money, extends the family feeling to associates. “Our family values are the company’s values. You have to treat everyone in the company as family because they really are,” Neal Williams adds.
Towards that end, the pay scale is higher than anyone’s in the industry, he says. There is a 15 percent profit-sharing plan, retirement benefits and extensive health and dental coverage. “It’s our plan to attract and retain terrific people,” he says.
The Williams family’s role is one of “stewardship,” says McCollum. “It’s not just 125 employees, it’s 125 families. We devote the better part of our lives to this company. We have a responsibility to the people to provide them an opportunity for a good living and benefits. Every decision we make is based on that.”
Ridley Williams believes the company’s success has been in its relationships. “We pull for each member of the family, but also for all our employees and customers. This company is simply a platform for each individual to reach their personal and financial goals. The bottom line is relationships. If people like you, they’ll buy from you.” – MW
Small Business Winner
A Family Force
Jones-Wynn Funeral Home, Inc.
Dana Jones Wynn, president and CEO of Jones-Wynn Funeral Home, Inc., learned about the importance of having a succession plan in place for her family business in the most difficult way possible: her husband and business partner, Charles, died as the couple was returning from a celebratory 30th wedding anniversary trip in 2001. “We knew we had to keep running the business,” says Dana. “It was important for our family, the business and the community that we keep the ship moving.”
Despite her grief, Dana did just that. From a practical standpoint, it helped that she had had the foresight to earn her funeral director’s license, but from an emotional and decision-making standpoint, she was aided immeasurably by the counsel and support of her trusted longtime associates and friends, Ken Duncan, company vice president, and Glenn Gilmore, general manager of Jones-Wynn. Though not Dana’s “blood relatives,” Duncan and Gilmore are as close as any family member. And, as a team, they not only kept the Douglasville-based business moving, but sought ways to enhance and expand it.
Now, nine years later, Jones-Wynn is in its 60th year of operation, and the community and the 20 employees take comfort in knowing the third generation of ownership is in place.
Ellen Wynn McBrayer, Dana’s daughter, serves as chief marketing officer and community relations manager and will eventually take over the business. Ellen has worked in all aspects of the funeral home business and is a licensed funeral director and licensed embalmer. An Auburn University graduate, Ellen said her interest in the family business became even more passionate when her father died.
“I didn’t realize that ‘funeral service’ wasn’t just a funeral. I saw what was involved, and I wanted to be part of this amazing organization,” she says. Ellen’s husband, Scott McBrayer, also works for the company as automotive manager.
Dana’s son, John, chose not to be involved in the family business, although he was instrumental in putting together the company website.
Jones-Wynn Funeral Home continues to serve the community in every facet of funeral services, from pre-planning to interment and through unique community outreach programs such as its annual remembrance service prior to the holiday season. The funeral home employs technology to help ease the burden on grieving families by linking its company website to resources such as the Social Security Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and other funeral services information as well as the Douglasville Convention and Visitors Bureau, for a list of restaurants and hotels in the area.
Founded in 1950 by Dana’s parents, Clyde and Shirley Jones, Jones-Wynn became an important member of the business community. Clyde was a licensed funeral director and embalmer and Shirley earned her funeral director’s license, one of the first women in the state to do so. Having grown up around the business, Dana recognized the importance of providing efficient, compassionate funeral services to families who sustained a loss.
In 1983, after her mother’s death and her father’s subsequent retirement, Dana and Charles took over the business. In 1999, the couple expanded the company, opening a second chapel in Douglasville. In the nine years since Charles’ death, the company has continued to grow; the original chapel in Villa Rica was renovated and a new mausoleum was built at the family-owned cemetery.
Dana, who remarried in 2006, calls being a funeral director a “privilege” and a service she is proud to render. “When Charles died we knew we wanted to keep this moving, but he had always been our driving force,” says Dana, “What we found out was that we were a force too.” – PR
Century Award Winner
In 1892, a penniless man named George Washington Napoleon Bona-parte Glover founded a company by selling wholesale goods to retail stores. Among his wares: shotgun shells, nails, food and tobacco.
Folks called him Boney, and he became known as a “genial gentleman” and a pioneer in the wholesale grocery business, according to press clippings.
More than a century later, Glover Foods sells more than $115 million a year in food products, distributing to some 3,000 customers and employing more than 240 people.
Through the decades, Glover’s family members remained in control of the company, carrying on the founder’s reputation as a fierce competitor, an innovator and a businessman with integrity. In 1978, descendent Bill Harris Sr. purchased controlling interest and became chairman of the board. He soon made his father president, and they ran the company conservatively.
Today, Bill Harris Sr. is chairman and chief executive officer of the company, and his three sons are involved in a family business that is more growth-oriented. Bill Harris Jr., former president of the company and current board member, owns an organic, fair-trade coffee business that distributes some of its product through Glover Foods. Lee Harris, with a culinary background that includes chef positions at top restaurants, is the company’s special projects manager and corporate chef. David Harris is president and chief operating officer.
Harris Sr. credits David with growing the business through purchases of other food companies in 1995, 2000 and 2005. Though the company has retained some of its original site in Americus, Glover Foods now operates out of three locations: Americus, Columbus and Crestview, Fla.
“David got us where we are today,” Harris Sr. says of his son. “He wanted to move us forward.”
Throughout its history, the company has had to reinvent itself to remain a player in a competitive industry known for narrow margins. In the 1950s, the company shifted from a hodgepodge of goods to primarily food. Soon Glover was building freezers and pushing into frozen foods.
When Harris Sr. was at the helm, he made sure he could liquidate if he decided it was time to let the business go. David joined the company in 1994, making sure the company would remain part of the family’s future. The purchase of Auten Poultry & Foodservice of Columbus took the company sales from $44 million to more than $100 million.
Glover’s customers include hospitals, nursing homes, schools, daycare centers and mom-and-pop, meat-and-three type restaurants. “Any place that serves food is a potential customer,” Harris Sr. says.
To stay competitive with gigantic companies like Sysco, Glover is part of an Alpharetta-based co-op, which allows volume buying. “We love competing with Sysco,” says Harris Sr., who serves on the board of the Frosty Acres Brands buying co-op.
Harris Sr. says he didn’t groom his sons to get involved with the family business. It just happened. “I was in the banking business, and then I came to run the company,” he says. “It was the same for my children. … If they wanted to be involved, they had the option.”
All three sons worked for other companies before Glover Foods. When the family gathers for Thanksgiving at their cabin, Glover Foods is a frequent topic of conversation.
Harris Sr. is proud of the quality of the food the company sells as well as the bonds formed with customers, some of whom have been buying from Glover for more than 50 years. “When you see your customers once a week, you know their birthdays,” he says. “That doesn’t mean they don’t check us on prices, but we do have a relationship.” – PG
Finalists in this year’s family business competition are Bennett International Group, McDonough, and Ed Voyles Automotive Group, Marietta, in the large category. In the medium category, Benning Construction Co., Smyrna; Mercier Orchards, Blue Ridge; and Repro Products, Smyrna. In the small category, CCA and B, Kennesaw, and Stripling’s General Store, Cordele.