2015 Family Business Awards

Meet the winners of this year’s competition, selected by the Cox Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University.

Successfully blending family and  business is no small feat, but this year’s crop of Family Business Award winners show that not only can it be done, but that it can create a solid business foundation for generations to come.

Now in its 24th year, the annual awards recognize companies that have successfully mixed business with family. Winners are selected based on their proven business success, positive family and business linkage, multigenerational family business involvement, contributions to industry and the surrounding community, and innovative business practices and strategies.

Winners were selected by the Cox Family Enterprise Center at the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Awards are given in large, medium and small business categories; the Century Award honors a family business that has been in operation for 100 years or more.

This year, Claxton Poultry Farms is the large business winner. Atlanta-based Juneau Construction Co. is the medium-sized business winner, and Baumgarten’s, also based in Atlanta, is this year’s small-sized business winner. Yancey Bros. Co., which started in 1914 and is based in Austell, is this year’s Century Award Winner. Finalists for this year’s awards can be found on page 53.  – Christy Simo

Large Business

Claxton Poultry Farms

When Claxton Poultry founder Norman W. Fries Sr. died in 2001, his widow, Doris S. Fries, took his position as CEO, even though she had no business experience and, in her words, “had been a housewife all those years.”

In the weeks before his death, he’d urged her to run the company with the assistance of the firm’s top executives, she says.

“I think he felt like I was up to the task and I would be fair with employees and family members,” she says.

Since then, Claxton Poultry, the 2015 Cox Family Enterprise Center Family Business of the Year Award winner in the large category, has nearly doubled in size and become one of the top 100 poultry operations in the world. Its customers are some of the most recognizable names in American business: Chick-fil-A, Walmart, Walt Disney and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The company grew by using technology, making production more efficient and diversifying its product line, says Mikell Fries, Mrs. Fries’ grandson and executive vice president of sales and marketing. The company sells more than 200 products around the world.

Five family members representing three generations are now involved with Claxton Poultry. Mrs. Fries is the CEO and chairman of the board. Her daughter, Pamela Fries Usher of Savannah, is also a board member and treasurer.

Besides Mikell Fries, two other grandsons work there. Steven Fries serves as plant purchasing agent, and Brice Pound is the live operations feed mill manager.

Working in a family business has a big upside, Mikell Fries says. “You have underlying trust with family that is a given. You can trust [that] when you’re told something is going to be done, it’s going to be done,” he says. “The other benefit is it keeps the family closer … logistically and relationship wise.”

The family has long been involved in the chicken industry. Norman Fries started out working as a delivery boy for his father’s business, Fries Poultry, in Savannah’s Old City Market.

In 1949, after serving in World War II and attending the University of Georgia, Norman Fries started his own company selling ice-packed poultry around Savannah.

In 1958, he founded Claxton Poultry and the next year opened a broiler processing plant in Claxton. The company also has a feed mill and two hatcheries in Glenville and a distribution center in Savannah.

Today, Claxton Poultry has about 1,800 employees, processes 2.1 million birds each week and sells 435 million pounds of poultry every year.

The company is still growing, having recently expanded hatching capacity by 300,000 eggs per week at its Glenville facility to support processing expansion. Another corn storage unit and feed mill are also under construction in Surrency.

Claxton Poultry has strong international sales, exporting more than 33 million pounds of fresh and frozen poultry products yearly to Puerto Rico, China, Russia and other nations. Mikell Fries estimates 5 percent to 7 percent of sales are exports.

Claxton Poultry leaves a major footprint in the south Georgia economy. The company estimates more than $200 million flows back into the region through wages, taxes, power purchases and supplies bought from local businesses.

The company also supports its community with four annual $1,000 scholarships to area high school students, by financing an English as a Second Language teacher for local Spanish speakers, donating holiday dinners each December for 60 needy families and contributing to local food banks in Claxton, Statesboro and Savannah. – RE

Medium-Sized Business

Juneau Construction

For Juneau Construction, family is at the core of what they do. In fact, its mission statement notes that the company is dedicated to “promoting family and teamwork,” and that stretches far beyond the traditional sense of the word, with employees supporting each other’s ambitions and aspirations and clients noting the tight familial cohesiveness of the firm.

 The company was founded in 1997 by husband and wife Les and Nancy Juneau. Nancy had been an education major but took jobs with a structural engineering firm and a general contractor after college and discovered she loved the field. Les worked for large architectural-engineering and construction companies but had “the entrepreneurial itch,” which Nancy supported.

They leased a small office in Atlanta. Nancy quit her job but Les kept his. When he got home from work, they’d brainstorm how to make their company successful based on their own family values.

Fast forward 19 years. Juneau Construction has 125 employees and offices in Atlanta and Miami. Nancy is the CEO and Les is president. The company manages construction and acts as the general contractor on private and public projects across the Southeast, including the former Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta (now boutique hotel The Ellis) and Georgia State University's football practice facility. The company has also built large multi-family and mixed-use projects such as the Luckie Street Lofts in Atlanta and the Arts Center Lofts in Tampa.

How do they make a marriage and a business work? They schedule dates and vacations and have established a division of labor.

“We’re both focused on running the corporate affairs,” Les says, “but down a level she focuses on HR and business development, and I focus on execution and construction.”

The company has won many awards, including three in 2014 by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Georgia for recent projects like the University of Georgia’s Rutherford Hall in Athens. Atlanta Business Chronicle named Juneau Construction third on the list of Atlanta’s Top Women-Owned Firms in 2015 and No. 16 among Atlanta’s Top Contractors for 2014.

Now Juneau Construction has earned a new honor: The 2015 Cox Family Enterprise Center Family Business of the Year Award in the medium-sized business category.

Family is a crucial concept for the company, which also employs one of Les’s cousins.  Nancy says the company tries to respect the time and personal lives of the employees.

It’s not that difficult to put in long hours “when your name is on the door,” she says. “But when you’re busting your butt for somebody else, you’re always wondering if you’re appreciated. We work hard on letting the employees know we appreciate them being away from their families.”

The Juneaus have three children, two in college and one in law school, who have worked for the company during summers. They may lead the firm in the future.

“People are wondering how long Nancy and I want to be here,” Les says. “We’re spending a lot of time now on training the leadership, more than marketing and pre-construction. We’re getting our leadership group teed up.”

If the children do move into management of the company, it won’t be gift-wrapped, Nancy says.

 “They’ll have to get the respect of the people who are here,” she says. “They’ll have to earn it.” – RE

Small Business


Remember those small, hand-held pencil sharpeners you used as a kid? You may still have one tucked away in a drawer somewhere, just in case you want to abandon your laptop or tablet sometime and write it down old school. Well, those pencil sharpeners were the beginning of a family business that started in Georgia just after World War II and is still thriving today.

Baumgartens is an office supply manufacturer now making a name for itself with a number of environmentally friendly items, but, yes, they also still manufacture those pencil sharpeners. The backstory to the American Baumgarten business – 2015 Cox Family Enterprise Center Family Business of the Year Award winner in the small business category – begins in Austria in the 1800s, when the family manufactured fine paper. When World War II started, however, the Baumgarten family had to close their business, escaping the country with their lives and just a few personal belongings.

Following the war, Fred Baumgarten set up shop in Atlanta selling the first hand-held pencil sharpeners in the United States door-to-door.

“My grandfather [Fred], knowing people still in Germany after the war, went to [some] companies; one was a pencil sharpener company,” says David Baumgarten, vice president of Baumgartens, “and [he] met a guy who made a plastic paper clip.”

Hans Baumgarten, David’s 91-year-old father and company treasurer (David’s mother, Jean, is president and CEO), picks up the story. “My father was going to a Frankfurt trade show on a train. He met a guy on the train who was editor or owner of a magazine called Made in Europe. Lots of the European manufacturers used to advertise in that. This gentleman told my father he heard of a new manufacturer who was making paper clips from plastic instead of metal. My father went to see this gentleman, and we’ve been doing business with them since about 1950, maybe earlier, without lawyers, without contracts, without anything.”

While the company has come a long way from pencil sharpeners, paper clips and door-to-door sales, it continues to look to its roots as it expands. The words “baum” and “garten” mean “tree” and “garden or orchard” in German and help explain the company’s current focus on environmentally friendly products, says David.

“We have a couple of brands I’ve created,” he says. “One of them is called Qi Bamboo. That tries to take items that would be made out of other materials, like plastic, and if we can make it out of bamboo material we will, because it’s a sustainable, natural resource.”

The company has also developed a line of products made from sugar cane waste. “We make cups and plates and bowls. And there’s also forks, spoons and knives that are made out of waste from starches, from tapioca starch or potato starch,” David says. “These products are fully biodegradable. You can use them and put them in your backyard compost if you want to. They will eventually break down and go back to the earth.”

David explains the move to eco-friendly products as both a business and an ethical decision. “People who are buying want to buy from companies who have the heart of their organization intact and who act with an increasing level of responsibility for everything that they make and the entire company environment. [People] want to feel that their money went to companies who have great values and their values are closer to their own.” – KK

Century Award Winner

Yancey Bros. Co.

The phrase “family business” often conjures images of a company passed down from parents to children, the younger generation growing up in the business and stepping in to run it as the older generation retires. But over the course of more than 100 years, Yancey Bros. Co., this year’s recipient of the Cox Family Enterprise Center’s Century Award, hasn’t driven that straight line even once. The business has been continually run by members of the Yancey family, but the path of ownership has zigged and zagged from brothers to nephews to in-laws.

Jim Stephenson, the current chairman and CEO, is one of the in-laws – married to Donna Yancey Stephenson, niece of Goodloe Yancey, chairman emeritus. Next up in the line of succession – Stephenson, age 65, is planning ahead – is Trey Googe. Googe, a nephew-in-law of the Stephensons, has been with Yancey for eight years and currently serves as president and COO.

Yancey Bros. was the country’s first Caterpillar dealer and continues to sell and service (with an emphasis on service) Caterpillar equipment. In fact, today Cat is about 90 percent of the company’s business. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

“When we started out [in 1914], this was two guys [brothers Goodloe and Earle Yancey] and a truck calling on county commissioners,” Stephenson says. “A big piece of what county commissioners [did] was taking care of jails and the needs of prisoners in the county jail. This was back in the day when county commissioners built roads with labor from the jails. So you look in our early catalogs, you’ll see jail uniforms. That’s how [the Yanceys] got into the road equipment business.”

They are in the road- and other heavy-equipment business in a big way today. In fact, as Georgia is making its way out of the recession, Yancey is everywhere. Major construction projects, road maintenance, upgrades to water and sewer systems, the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the ports in Savannah and Brunswick – all of the projects designed to keep us thriving in the 21st century are built with equipment supplied and serviced by Yancey.

Stephenson has been at the helm since 1995. “I started a little differently than all the others,” he says. “The [company leaders] before me had been in the business from early in their careers. I came in from my 18-year law career. I didn’t come in until Goodloe was 65, and so I had a very short and exciting orientation. I woke up every morning before the alarm clock scared to death.”

As it turns out, though, the law and the management of a heavy-equipment company are more similar than you might think. “We serve our customers,” Stephenson says. “We help them solve their problems and help them succeed by doing so. That’s what I was doing as a lawyer, serving and helping my clients be successful.”

He has 1,000 employees now who are also dedicated to client success. And Caterpillar is a huge part of the equation.

“One of the things that is unique about our family business is the relationship with Caterpillar,” Googe says. “Caterpillar is partially involved in the selection and approval of family members who go on to work in the business.”

It’s a partnership that bodes well for the future of Yancey Bros. – and the state.

“Ultimately for Yancey Bros. to be successful, we need for Georgia to grow,” Googe says. “We feel very confident [Georgia] will continue to grow, to be an attractive place to live and work, and as long as that happens we’ll have an opportunity to grow along with it.” – KK

Family Business Awards Finalists

Small Business
Moon’s Pharmacy Inc., Tifton

Medium-sized Business
Willingway Hospital, Statesboro
Bland Farms LLC, Glennville

Large Business
Beaulieu Group LLC, Dalton
Sizemore Inc., Augusta

Categories: Business Industry, Features