Family Values

February 20, 2004
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West Michigan might be associated with the furniture industry, based on its history and on the location of the big three office furniture manufacturers. It might better be thought of as an automotive supplier base that feeds the “other” big three.

But what it really should be known as is the home of family business.

That was never more apparent than last Tuesday, when Grand Valley State University’s Seidman School of Business welcomed its first class into the Family Owned Business Hall of Fame.

The dozen inductees read like a who’s who of West Michigan’s business community and, more importantly, are shining examples of the entrepreneurial spirit that pervades the region.

Fittingly, the founders or heirs of many of those family businesses turned out for the celebration not so much to pick up an award but to honor their peers on a night like West Michigan has never seen.

The Hall of Fame lineup includes Alticor, Bissell, D&W Food Centers, Gordon Food Service, Haworth, Howard Miller, Irwin Seating, Lorin Industries, Monarch Hydraulics, Meijer, Louis Padnos Iron and Metal, and Steelcase.

While not the only family-owned businesses in town, they certainly are the leaders in their fields. And they also are significant contributors to not just the local economy, but the world’s economy.

More importantly, however, they are a testament to West Michigan’s ingenuity and its resolve.

The stories are endless. FredMeijer’s father, HendrikMeijer, had a nice little barbershop going in Greenville when he decided to try his hand in the grocery business because his friends and neighbors had to travel a long way just to get food. One-stop shopping was born.

High school buddies JayVanAndel and RichDeVos started their own household products company in a garage (and/or basement) and it grew to become Amway, which now falls under the Alticor umbrella. Anna and MelBissell thought they could make and market a better sweeper more than a century ago. Today, MarkBissell oversees a global empire from his West Michigan offices.

Each one of these businesses has a similar story to tell. One that started with an idea that could meet a need in their hometown and, through hard work and dedication, blossomed into one of the firms that defines West Michigan today.

The family-owned businesses were judged on four criteria:

— Exemplary leadership through their continued family ownership for more than 45 years of operation as a family business that is still privately held or privately controlled.

— At least one generational change of corporate family leadership.

— Significant economic impact in the region as measured by the most recent year’s sales (or related instruments) in dollars; active community and philanthropic involvement.

— Industry leadership and contributions to the economic diversity of the region.

But maybe the best characteristic of these family-owned firms is that they freely give back time and money to the community they call home.

That’s what makes West Michigan the capital of family-owned businesses. 

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