These companies represent some of Northeast Ohio’s successful family-owned businesses that are growing for the next generation.
Here are the 2020 honorees:
Brennan Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of hydraulics, has a long and rich family history.
Since the first day of business in 1953 in the house of founder Michael Brennan, it has maintained the positive aspects of a family company, while consistently growing. Even with $90 million in worldwide sales in 2019, President and CEO David M. Carr continues to see new hires as valuable additions to the family.
The strong growth of Brennan Industries through its 67 years can also be attributed to its push to stay on the industry’s leading edge of innovative business practices.
Carr became president in 2008, with his father, David D. Carr, transitioning to CEO. David M. continued to push Brennan Industries to greater heights as he and his father expanded the company worldwide. They have opened buildings across the U.S. and in China, the United Kingdom and Canada, and have brought in the next generation, with Joseph Carr working in the Atlanta office and Justin and Michael Carr making frequent visits.
Today, Brennan Industries has over 15 locations and more than 500 employees. And while many of those employees are not related to the family — all executive managers are nonfamily members — the aspect of a family company continues due to close employee relationships with the family.
Champion Personnel System Inc. was founded in 1964 by Ralph A. Schepens CPC — the father of today’s CEO, Robert A. Schepens — after spending many years with a Chicago company before moving to Cleveland to start his own business.
Under his guidance, the company grew and became known for permanent placement, primarily in office/administrative functions. As a result of his success, he became president of the National Association of Personnel Services, representing over 10,000 employment services in the U.S. He wrote its code of ethics and received every one of its National Awards for his service.
His son, Robert, joined the company in the 1970s, left in the 1980s and took over in 1995 when Ralph became ill. At the time, there was one office with five employees. Robert began rebuilding the company, adding staff and changing the makeup/market of the business.
Today, Champion has five Northeast Ohio offices, 30 professional staff members averaging seven years with the organization and four categories of employment services, including consulting. It has served over 20,000 hiring clients and placed more than 1 million candidates. It has also earned numerous awards, including Weatherhead 100, NorthCoast 99 and The Midwest’s Most Stable Employment Firm, along with SBN’s Longevity Award.
Delta Systems Inc. was founded in 1972 in a small garage in Twinsburg, Ohio, by James A. Barry. With just eight employees, Barry and his eager team began designing and building switches for niche markets, mainly for the outdoor power equipment industry.
These humble beginnings never dulled the shine from grander ambitions. Within just a few years, Barry and his increasing number of ardent associates steadily grew the company’s customer base and diversified its products. As a result of this growth, Delta Systems needed more space, and in 1995, it launched a new building project that doubled the size of its plant on Frost Road. That space soon proved too small; as the company continued its rapid growth, just a few years later, it again doubled the size of its manufacturing footprint.
In 2017, the founder’s son, Dean Barry, assumed the Delta helm. Along with Dean’s wife — and Delta President and CEO Elizabeth Barry — the company continues to invest in its talent and technology and to position itself for solid growth well into the future.
Delta and its leadership are proud of the company’s continued commitment to growth, and of the fact that this commitment helps to create new jobs and economic opportunities within the community.
When Elmer F. Boyd moved to Cleveland at the turn of the 20th century, there were few professions open to African-Americans. He decided undertaking offered promise to someone driven to be a leader in a profession.
He founded E. F. Boyd Funeral Parlor in 1905, and today, E. F. Boyd & Son Funeral Home and Crematory is run by a fourth generation of Boyds. The oldest African-American business in Cuyahoga County continues to build on its reputation for respect, integrity and trust. Its owners believe the mortuary business is about celebrating life, honoring each deceased person’s unique path and beginning healing for those who have lost their loved one.
Much has changed since E. F. Boyd opened his first mortuary, but one constant has remained: E. F. Boyd & Son, led by President and CEO William F. Boyd II, continues to serve the Greater Cleveland community with the same graciousness, sincerity, warmth and respect by which the company was established in 1905. Working to continue that path of success with Boyd are Marcella Boyd Cox, vice president, chief of community engagement; Marina Grant, treasurer; Lisa Hamilton, Emery facility manager, preneed manager; and Victoria “Tori” A. Boyd, 89th Street facility manager.
Fire-Dex is a family-owned, global manufacturer of head-to-toe personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders and an independent service provider of PPE care and maintenance.
Led by owner and CEO Bill Burke, Fire-Dex has built a strong brand with a confident team that is passionate about doing a job that protects first responders. With a strong emphasis on health and safety, and a mission to serve those who serve, the dedicated team has paved the path of innovation for head-to-toe products including turnout gear, rescue and wildland PPE, boots, hoods, gloves, helmets and isolation PPE.
Fire-Dex extended its ability to serve and support the fire community with the acquisition of three major brands — Chieftain, TECGEN and Gear Wash. In addition to its Medina headquarters, it has facilities in Wisconsin, Georgia and Mexico, and to continue its growth and build the company into the next generation, Burke’s daughters, Taylor and Lauren, joined the company in 2019.
Fire-Dex is committed to having fun by celebrating employees’ accomplishments and milestones, holding contests and hosting holiday celebrations, both as breaks during the workday and as full-blown parties. As the business grows, evolves and changes, it strives to improve its environment by implementing feedback from employees and maintaining the strong core values that Fire-Dex was founded on in 1983.
Fleet Response continuously evolves to meet the needs of its valued customers, but its values never change.
Ron Mawaka Sr. founded Fleet Response in 1986 in Cleveland as Rental Concepts Inc., and the original concept was to manage temporary business rentals. In 2003, the company combined with IVS to create Fleet Response, which offers comprehensive custom fleet services.
Since then, the company has consistently added capabilities and defined industry standards by applying the founding principles of innovation, professionalism, accountability and effectiveness. Fleet Response — whose clients include Fortune 500 businesses with fleets ranging from 50 to 25,000 vehicles — not only strives to meet the needs of its customers, but those of its 180-plus employees, as well.
As it grows, Fleet Response, led by President and CEO Scott Mawaka, maintains a family-like culture with beliefs focusing on employee and customer satisfaction. The combination of its people and culture gives it the most powerful source of competitive advantage.
The mission of Fleet Response is to provide innovative and effective service and maintain a high standard of professionalism and partnership in an environment that fosters opportunity, integrity and excellence. A key component in creating this family-like structure is ensuring that all of its employees feel their voices are being heard, which means creating opportunities to address issues that matter to employees.
In 1960, Jack Slattery started Lake Business Products in the garage of his Mentor home to sell and service office copiers and supplies. He expanded in 1974 into microfilming services to give clients a tool to manage their documents.
In 2008, President and CEO Terri Cain took over the business upon her father Jack’s passing.
Today, Lake Business Products offers leasing services, and it implemented a new process called Netshield, offering greater network security, stability and continuous network optimization for its clients. And what started with Jack Slattery and several employees has grown into a multimillion-dollar company with more than 120 employees.
Continuing the family tradition, Cain’s son — the third generation — has begun to get involved in the company as a college student. LBP prides itself on being family oriented and offers its staff flexibility to keep family a priority.
And to stay ahead in its industry, the company is constantly striving to be at the cutting edge of technology to better serve its clients. Technicians receive annual training to keep up with technology and best practices in their industry.
Beyond business, Cain encourages employees to champion charitable causes and get involved in the community. LBP teams of employees participate in charitable walks and other fundraising events, and it raises money in support of local and national charities.
Majestic Steel USA was founded in 1979 by Dennis Leebow, the third generation in a prominent steel family.
He grew Majestic from a single service center in Northeast Ohio to become a national presence as a leading distributor and processor of flat-rolled steel, supplying thousands of customers in HVAC, manufacturing and construction.
Leebow’s youngest son, Todd, grew up around the family business and joined Majestic in 2007 to oversee supply chain management. Since becoming president and CEO in 2012, he has led the company through a generational transition, with a vision for growth, diversification and innovation.
Todd Leebow has transformed Majestic into a culture-driven company focused on attracting talent and developing innovative technology solutions. Majestic has developed a data analytics team to understand pricing and industry trends, launched applications to better serve customers and created an online marketplace for the metals industry. It is committed to American business, and Leebow advocates on Capitol Hill for the domestic steel industry and U.S. manufacturing and production.
Dennis Leebow remains active as chairman, and Todd’s brother, Jonathan, is executive vice president, overseeing community involvement and philanthropic efforts. Todd’s sister, Joni, works as a brand coordinator, and he hopes to eventually pass the business on to his children.
Started as a dairy and crop farm in 1874, Mapledale Farm has expanded over the years, adding poultry, hogs and maple syrup.
In 1963, it closed the dairy and livestock operations, and in 1982 started a landscape division. To expand on that, in 1997, it added a supply division for topsoil, mulch, gravel and other landscape supplies for retail and wholesale.
The business, led by President Dave Johnson, has always had at least three generations involved at any given time. Today, the fifth, sixth and seventh generations live and work on the farm, and family members with other careers help run the operation as needed. Each generation shares its traditions and business knowledge, teaches best practices and passes on the family’s rich history to the next generation.
That rich history — combined with innovative business practices and having succession plans — has helped Mapledale Farm thrive. It has adapted to local needs and keeps a keen eye on how to stay ahead of industry trends to remain at the forefront of efficiency and technology.
To ensure its operation is eco-friendly, Mapledale Farm recycles waste oil and heats three of its buildings with it. It also creates biofuel through recycling vegetable oil to power its diesel equipment and is the only composting facility in Geauga County registered with the EPA.
The Mazzella Companies’ history has served as a foundation for what it is, what it believes and what it values today.
Founded in 1954 by James Mazzella Sr. as Mazzella Wire Rope & Sling Co., it got its start making wire rope slings braided by hand, supplying an essential tool to blue-collar construction businesses, ports and industries across Northeast Ohio.
Since 1954, Mazzella Companies has evolved and grown organically by expanding its product offerings and moving into new markets through strategic acquisitions. Its reputation and longevity are credited to its commitment to acquiring new customers and nurturing historic customer relationships by instilling confidence and comfort in every interaction.
CEO Tony Mazzella — son of Mazzella Sr. — is the second-generation leader of the family-owned company. Since he took over in 1988, he has grown it from 42 employees with two Ohio locations to 800 employees and more than 30 locations across North America. Its businesses design, manufacture and distribute products or services for two independent industries — lifting and material handling, and architectural metal.
Mazzella has invested in a structure and corporate culture built for longevity and scalability, allowing the company and its employees to grow, learn and experience sustained success well into the third generation, as Mazzella’s sons, Matt and Adam, hold senior management roles.
As the third generation of leaders and co-presidents at Neptune Plumbing and Heating Co., Adam and Michael Wallenstein well understand the failure rates of third-generation family-owned businesses. They were determined to prove the statistics wrong and have thrived, maintaining the ethical standards set by their grandfather, Sanford Wallenstein, who founded the company in 1957 with his wife, Corine.
The business started primarily as a plumbing company but evolved to meet changing customer demands. While beginning mostly in residential construction, Neptune transitioned into commercial, industrial and institutional work in the 1980s, when the founders’ son, Scott, took over the business.
In the 2000s, it added a prefabrication and design shop. And despite entering their family business during the Great Recession, Adam and Michael navigated the company through it by further diversifying Neptune’s services, adding a service division.
Historically, the company had only performed new construction and remodel work. The service division offset a lack of construction work with repair and maintenance jobs, helping the company survive through the recession. Since then, the division has grown into an essential component of the company’s offerings.
Neptune has continually evolved over the years to stay competitive and ahead of the industry curve, and the co-presidents plan to continue that success well into the future.
Family-owned PRADCO embraces the spirit of family with all of its employees and customers.
Founded 65 years ago, it is today led by two generations of the Owen/Tull family, with Kristin Tull, Ph.D., as president, and Terry Owen, Ph.D., as CEO. Before Tull assumed the presidency, she played a vital role in every aspect of the business. Owen, her father, did not simply grant her more authority; she had to earn it through performance and dedication. And Owen understood that for a multigenerational business to succeed, the parent must at some point grant decision-making authority to the next generation, even if that means driving the business in a different way.
This company with a strong family focus has consistently upheld its values of quality, integrity, service, teamwork and results, growing from a one-person company in 1955 to 28 employees today in two locations. Care is also a critical component of the company. The care that employees receive from leadership is transferred to how they treat customers as they work to provide innovate solutions. PRADCO employees use more than 20 proprietary assessments to help companies select and develop talent, providing talent management solutions to hundreds of customers. They have also offered professional guidance to thousands of business leaders and in every action show care and concern for the customer.
The Sandridge family has been in the food business for over 50 years, and while it’s a family-owned business, all of those who work there — whether named Sandridge or not — are considered family.
Sandridge Food Corp. is a third-generation, family-owned business. Founded by Vincent Sandridge in 1961, it distributed lunch meat to grocery stores in the Cleveland-Akron area. It moved into manufacturing in 1964 with the purchase of nine wet salad recipes and today has more than 650 employees and more than 650 recipes for fresh refrigerated salads, soups, sides and entrees.
In 1997, Mark Sandridge — with siblings Michael (vice president of Food Service), Sharon and Toni — bought the company. In the 2000s, Mark’s sons, Jordan, COO, and Dane, vice president of innovation, joined the organization.
Sandridge has always been recognized as an innovator in the fresh food space. In 2008, it purchased High Pressure Processing technology, which preserves food without flavor-altering chemicals. In 2013, it invested in sous vide cooking technology, while a 2017 trip to Europe resulted in the largest investment in the company’s history.
To ensure Sandridge continues to succeed, off-site strategic planning sessions are key. In addition to the third generation, it has identified future leaders among nonfamily staff, creating personal growth plans for them to obtain training and education to fill future positions.
Since beginning Stark Enterprises over 45 years ago by purchasing his first strip center while in law school, founder and CEO Bob Stark has built and operated his commercial real estate development business on values of strong faith and family.
His passion remains in building properties that improve lives and make a difference in the community. After building his first lifestyle centers, Stark’s dynamic way of thinking and strong family values allowed him to create and improve different suburbs and sides of Cleveland.
Family values and quality time carry a strong hold throughout the portfolio, including Stark’s belief that his centers should spark pure enjoyment. It is of the utmost importance that each visitor experiences something special and that the visit creates memories. He calls that idea the Community Core — dense, vertically integrated mixed-use neighborhoods with a mission to create fully functioning work/life platforms. That concept is clear within Crocker Park, Eton Chagrin Boulevard and Portage Crossing.
Stark remains with the company as CEO and poet developer, and leads with his son, Ezra, COO. With a great understanding of the industry and family values, they lead with shared viewpoints and a culture rooted in being strong and family centered, creating stability for the culture while sparking the shared vision of what the company is and where it is going.
Headquartered in Cleveland since 1925, The Albert M. Higley Co. has completed over $9 billion in renovations and new construction. The privately held firm — led by President and CEO Gareth Vaughan — employs accomplished construction managers and very competitive lump sum general contractors.
With more than 140 employees, The Albert M. Higley Co. is renowned for the quality of projects it delivers, its unquestioned integrity and an unmatched customer service experience for its clients.
For 95 years, the company has served as a mission-driven construction firm with a passion for building Cleveland and the communities of Northeast Ohio. Since the beginning, three generations of the Higley family have stood sentry over the organization. AMHigley has endured through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Civil Rights era, the Great Recession and other cultural and economic challenges. Now, into the 21st century, AMHigley has laid out plans for corporate succession that will continue its growth and advancement in Ohio, as well as its expansion with regional offices in Michigan, Pennsylvania and beyond.
The company’s values and mission manifest themselves in unique interactions, whether with an employee, design professional, subcontractor, or client. These interactions foster long-term relationships founded on honesty, transparency and trust, resulting in success for all.
Gent Machine was founded in 1927 by Richard Gent Sr., and his father, Arthur Gent, in a barn in Richmond Heights.
During World War II, they were called upon to produce grenade fuses and firing pins for the recoilless rifle. In short time, they built a factory in South Euclid and hired more than 50 people to work 24/7 during the war.
Following the war, Richard ran the company, joined by his brothers. In the 1950s, he secured a contract to make 55 million brass pins a year.
In the 1960s, Richard Jr. joined Gent Machine and purchased it in 1977. He set out on an aggressive modernization plan of renovating the building and upgrading old equipment. He gained many new customers and focused on efficiency improvements to ensure the company remained competitive.
In the 2000s, Richard Jr.’s sons, Rich and Adam, became the fourth generation, and after almost a decade in the business, purchased Gent Machine from Richard Jr.
Near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, all automotive sales stopped. At the same time, two companies called on Gent Machine to produce ventilator parts. It ramped up quickly to produce eight ventilator parts and purchased a new piece of equipment; by August had shipped over 1 million ventilator parts.
The origin of TruWest Companies lies in L.D.I. Corp., a computer distributor and leasing company co-founded by Mike Kennedy in 1972.
Before selling the business in 1994, Kennedy led a management buyout of several divisions of L.D.I., forming MRK Technologies. Today MRK provides information security, storage and networking solutions. In 2000, Kennedy formed MRK Leasing, an equipment financing company focusing on data capture devices, wireless networks, high-end server systems and related products.
Kennedy’s son, Matt, joined what is now River Capital Finance and today is president and managing member. And his son Sean had an idea that became TRG. The company offers services relating to mobile computing, POS and payment processing.
In 2015, the Kennedys and extended family created Sibling Revelry Brewery in Westlake, and shortly thereafter, Matt Kennedy founded River SaaS Capital.
TruWest remains a family-owned holding company with locations in the U.S, Canada and Europe. The family prides itself on its unique culture. They maintain an onsite gym, have rented theaters for employees to watch movies and purchased a vacation home at Peek’n Peak for employee use. There is a tiki bar with beer vending machines, ping pong tables, massage chairs and tickets to concerts and sporting events.
The Millcraft Paper Co. was founded 100 years ago as a personal stationery and wedding invitation business in Cleveland. At the time, the country was experiencing a rebound period of post-World War I stability and set to usher in prosperity — an ideal time for starting a new business. Then came the Great Depression.
Millcraft not only survived but thrived by answering the call of the changing marketplace and adapting its business model to the growing demand for commercial printing papers.
Over Millcraft’s 100 years, each of the family’s four generations has unwaveringly followed the principles that President and CEO Travis Mlakar’s great-grandparents set in place in 1920. The family’s priorities are set on positively and meaningfully impacting its employees, customers, suppliers and communities. And the company’s leadership has been willing to adapt its business strategy to meet the changing needs of a constantly evolving marketplace.
Through the pandemic, Millcraft made a seamless shift to employees working at home, but has also vowed to keep open every one of its operations locations and service centers. As it has for 100 years, it will stay focused and energized by opportunities to support each other during challenging times and position itself for the future through new markets, products and service models.
Cortina Leathers was founded as Conneaut Leather in 1903 in Conneaut, Ohio, by a group of businessmen led by Charles L. Whitney, to tan and finish leather for upholstering furniture and manufacturing leather luggage.
In 1925, it closed its tannery to focus on leather finishing and in the 1940s was supplying desktop leather to the residential furniture industry.
The company expanded into manufacturing upholstery seating leathers for the automotive aftermarket, office furniture, residential furniture and aviation industries. And in the 1990s, it began stocking finished leather to make it immediately available to office furniture manufacturers, invested in stocked leather and automated cutting machines, and expanded into the automotive aftermarket, book binding and marine markets.
In 2005, Austin Capital Partners LLC bought the company, with President Jack Prause arriving in 2012 to help diversify and expand into new markets. In 2014, Conneaut Leather acquired Cortina Leathers, expanding its standard leather SKUs to over 750 and opening the door to new markets.
Today, doing business as Cortina Leathers, more than 55 employees process 9,000 hides per month, supplying multinational customers and leather for furniture used by the federal government.
One thing that has not changed is its commitment to supporting Conneaut. It donates to local organizations and supports kids and education by supplying backpacks and school supplies to those in need.
As Osborn Engineering Co. enters its 128th year, CEO Gary Hribar attributes its lengthy existence and success to the clients and friends it has been privileged to serve since its founding by Frank C. Osborn in 1892.
Founded at the height of the Industrial Revolution, it incorporated in 1900 as a 100 percent employee-owned engineering design firm. In 1902, Osborn published the forerunner of today’s American Institute of Steel Construction Manual, The Osborn Tables, so that all steel shapes produced in the United States, and now worldwide, could be standardized. This and other innovations developed by the company helped increase the efficiency of structural and civil engineering design, making the landmark projects of the 20th century possible.
This rich, innovative thinking is the foundation that has driven the company into the 21st century and by which its employees continue to practice. Today the full-service engineering firm provides civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and technology engineering, as well as specialty sports and fire protection/life safety, architecture and commissioning.
Under Hribar’s leadership, the company and its employees strive to imagine possibilities and design solutions to meet clients’ complex and unique business needs. Woven throughout its design process are the principles of sustainable, responsible engineering, driven by an attitude of, “Do whatever it takes and do it right.”
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