Something Old Something New

May 1, 2002
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Readers may recall that Kendall College of Art & Design so impressed visiting speaker Vladimir Kagan in 2001 he immediately greased a path for student participation to the international show of shows, the Salone del Mobile in Milan, which annually features the best of the best designers from around the world, and a selection of invited students. (Kagan’s designs of 50 years ago are reproduced as classics.) Most schools wait years through juried competition to be invited to Milan.

One year of dedicated student teamwork, from initial designs, cooperative “cross” learning between art and engineering, peer juries, packaging, public relations and plenty of homework, 12 students, two teachers and College President Oliver Evans, did indeed wow the international crowd this month. How do you measure success? Is it in the compliments from professionals from around the world? Is it the “professional” behavior of students (who “out behaved” peers from other countries as well as the only other U.S. student group from Georgia)? Is it in their noted achievement by international publishers and editors? It is said one of the two Ferris State University Board of Trustees members accompanying the students, while addressing them with congratulations, was moved to tears.

College public relations director Shirley Hubers said three of the products designed for Milan by the Kendall students were followed up on by commercial business owners, among them the top manufacturers in the world. Students found commercial success with a chair, an airport bench (wanted for use, however, as seating) and a stackable lamp for a hotel chain for use in the lobbies. Awesome.

The group’s arrival back in Grand Rapids, beginning April 15, was only slightly affected the countrywide strike called in Italy as the last of their planes took off.

  • Lobby? It’ s as stealthy as a political operation, but not. On May 7 and 8 members of the Grand Action Committee (the private contributors to economic domino projects like the Van Andel Arena and the new DeVos Place Convention Center) will celebrate the re-opening of the DeVos Hall lobby. The entrance to the “entertainment” side of the convention center sets the anticipation level for the rest. So many individuals want to see it, the party had to be extended to two days.

“We couldn’t get everyone in on just one day,” said Grand Action Executive Director John Nunn. One might then calculate that it could take weeks to entertain everyone who may want to see the new convention center.

  • Of course, the city would have to be careful of who they invite to such an event. The days of former President Gerald R. Ford and Presidents and former Presidents from around the world, coming to Grand Rapids to celebrate such milestones may be too costly. (Unless the city and county agree to move money from the hotel/motel tax fund enriched by the full house the event creates.)

  • Full house: World Trade Week events beginning on May 6 may also be cause for crowded lobbies. Trade with China will be the focus, and one among the plethora of dignitaries and foreign visitors is Bao Ensi, a guest of BDO Seidman. Ensi is “the SEC regulator equivalent” from China It’s good to know how the money flows.

  • A few years ago, the Business Journal listed the area’s oldest family-owned businesses, and some of them, like Monarch Hydraulics and Siegel Jewelers, were better than a century old.

But that wouldn’t even qualify them as a gleam in someone’s eye when it comes to the world’s oldest family-owned companies.

A report in Family Business magazine’s spring 2002 issue lists the world’s 100 oldest family-owned businesses, and some of these are real, real, real old.

For the most part, they are firms that have found a niche and flourished as the tradition was passed down from family member to family member.

Sure, some are household names like Beretta, the Italian firearms maker (founded 1526), Kikkoman, the soy sauce maker (Japan, 1630), or Jose Cuervo (Mexico, tequila, 1758), but most are firms that are largely invisible outside their own region.

Interestingly, the list is dotted with beverage folks: Chateau de Goulaine (France, wine/museum, 1000); Barone Ricasoli (Italy, wine/olive oil, 1141); Baronnie de Coussergues (France, wine, 1495); and Fonjallaz (Switzerland, wine, 1552). More recently, Bass Ale (U.K., 1777) and Molson (Canada, 1786) are family breweries that make the list.

Some family firms just have an unusual calling. James Lock & Co. has been in the hat business in the U.K. since 1642 while J.P. Epping of Pippsvadr, Germany, has been selling groceries since 1595. And William Dalton & Sons has been killing bugs all over the U.K. since 1710.

But the oldest firms have roots in Japan. Kongo Gumi, an Osaka-based construction firm founded in 578, is now in its 40th generation of Kongo family ownership. Next up is Hoshi, a Japanese hotel and spa founded in 718.

By contrast, the oldest American family-owned firm is Zildjian Cymbal Co of Norwell, Mass., which was founded in Turkey in 1623. The next nine oldest firms on the American list were family farms founded between 1638 and 1750. To see the whole list, visit www.familybusinessmagazine.com

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