The 2017 Family Business Conference

The 2017 Family Business Conference

By Mike Flaim 

 This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Massachusetts Family Business magazine.

The Massachusetts Family Business Conference convened this year in Boston’s celebrated Colonnade Hotel on Oct. 25; the annual Family Business Awards ceremony preceded the conference.

Planning is Paramount 

If the focus of the all-day, eight-session conference had to be distilled into a single word to reflect the theme, it would be “planning.” An understanding of the consequences long-term planning has for the success of a family business was the basis on which all discussions were built that day.  

Though attendees had the difficult task of choosing which of the concurrent sessions to attend, common themes ran through each: managing generational transitions, the importance of an outside perspective for the vitality of a family business and how a carefully chosen board of directors can be the best management decision a leader will make were among the repeated ideas. The singular outlier was an extraordinary workshop on cybersecurity that was moderated by a former chief information security officer for the White House. Even there was an understanding of the value of looking to the horizon to ensure a company’s wellbeing.

The Power of Planning was one of the opening sessions and featured the founder and president of Royal Health Group, James Mamary Sr., along with his son, and James Mamary Jr., executive vice president. Also in attendance were Bruce F. Hoffmeister, director of wealth and fiduciary planning for Wealth Advisory Services, and Matt Allen, associate professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College. It was moderated by Mark Andersen of Wilmington Trust. 

Wilmington Trust conducted a quantitative and qualitative survey of 200 owners of privately-held businesses and found that only 58 percent of those surveyed had some semblance of a succession plan in place. Andersen asked the panel to “open the kimono” and discuss ways they’ve breached the subject of succession planning. An audience member chimed in that such a discussion with his father, who is the current leader of their company, consistently ends abruptly because, he supposes, it is linked to his father’s own mortality. Succession planning, like arranging a will, is not something people like to think about, but is necessary for the future. “We have to get past the barriers we have of sharing information,” Allen said. 

With the importance of creating and maintaining an environment that fosters open, constructive communication, one of the panels that immediately followed ran with these ideas a bit further. David Karofsky of The Family Business consulting group led the discussion by introducing the daunting statistic that merely a third of family-owned businesses survive the transition from first generation to second. Karofsky was joined by Jacob Grossman, Andrew Salmon and Ethan Becker to discuss the reasons behind this slim survival rate and offer tips on increasing a business’ odds. The focus again hinged on proper, careful planning for the future, having an objective valuation performed prior to any transition and the management of assets so that neither generation is left lacking resources. 

Lunch followed, with keynote speaker Howdy Holmes. During his address, he assessed the stunting effect that routine can have on a person. He punctuated this point with a simple experiment; he elected two people and tasked them with having a conversation with a simple caveat: they cannot use first-person pronouns. They didn’t get beyond asking “how are you?” His point was rote responses and the ease of slipping into familiar patterns can, at best, keep us from new experiences and, at worst, hobble our personal growth due to these missed opportunities. 

Managing Transitions and Transitioning Management 

One of the first panels of the afternoon was sponsored by Webster Bank, and featured family business consultant Tom Davidow, the father and son team of Geoff Wilkinson Sr. and Geoff Wilkinson Jr. of George T. Wilkinson Inc., and Aviva Sapers, third generation president of Sapers & Wallack Inc. They focused on management issues and transition periods in family businesses.  

Davidow set the table by reminding the audience that the desire for family harmony can sometimes result in avoidance of difficult issues that need to be resolved for the business to thrive. He cited the timely example of substance abuse by a family member, a problem that “every knows about, but nobody wants to talk about.” As a result, other important conversations cannot take place, and the business suffers. The key is to learn how to communicate more openly and completely. It helps to seek outside resources who can help “quiet” family conflicts so that business needs can emerge.  

This call for an outside perspective was one of the common threads found in many of the day’s workshops. Wilkinson Sr. stressed the importance of an objective business valuation, saying, “You want to be taken care of after all the time and hard work you put in” and a valuation can quantify that effort. 

The conversation then turned to the dual minefields of non-participating family members influencing the business and compensation. On the first point, Sapers was blunt: “No business involvement? No ownership. No compensation. No control.” The rest of the panel agreed. The question of compensation – specifically, if it should scale with responsibility or be spread evenly among participating family members – received no such easy answer. A one-size-fits-all solution to this problem does not exist, and it’s a conversation that needs to happen within the family. Davidow also noted that if the relationship among family members is not intact, the business is at risk. 

The Value of Outside Advisors 

In the session that immediately followed, the role of objective perspective was looked at more closely. The panel was sponsored by the law firm of Tarlow Breed Hart & Rodgers, and featured family business consultant Ed Pendergast, CPA Ken Kirkland, financial consultant Aviva Sapers and attorney Tom Sheehan. 

Pendergast, who has guided dozens of businesses successfully through generational transitions and serves as a director on multiple boards, recommends a business establish an outside board of advisors early on, as a family business can benefit from having a “civilian” in the room with a third-party perspective. 

Ken Kirkland of CitrinCooperman echoed the sentiment Geoff Wilkinson Sr. expressed in the preceding workshop about the importance of a valuation in the transition of a family business. However, Kirkland went a bit further, stressing the need to consider a transition’s impact on the business as well as its impact on all family members. “The design of a transaction cannot paralyze the business,” Kirkland warned. “The agreement needs to balance the retirement needs of the older generation with the income and business needs of the next generation.” 

Protecting the Family’s Livelihood 

A panel moderated by Christopher Mellen, who was a former chief information security officer for the White House, successfully broadened the focus of the conference by hammering home the point that cybersecurity should be a primary concern for all businesses, regardless of size or industry. 

Mellen pointed to data gathered by Juniper Research which projected that the global cost of cybercrime would crest $2 trillion by 2019. He and the panel broke down the variety of tactics hackers to breach a network, and the use of viruses, worms, trojans and malware. 

They then went into a brief case study on phishing, one of the more preventable forms of data breaches. Despite this, however, it’s one of the most consistent scheme hackers use. “A phishing campaign sent to 50 people will net five to six victims in the catch,” Mellen said. 

The takeaway was that there are three things every business should be doing: training and educating; investing in all three phases of security, which are protection, detection and response; and testing employees repeatedly without being afraid of failure. 

“I’m never a big fan of solely relying on technology to stop a problem for you; I think you still need to train your end-user to be able to identify threats,” said Nate Gravel, vice president of information security at web design and development firm GraVoc, in response to an audience member’s inquiry about specific applications that may prevent breaches. 

And if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of ransomware, the consensus was that you do not pay. 

“Contact your local FBI field office,” said Mellen, who told attendees that the FBI is willing to help businesses negotiate with hackers. Of course, the best course of action isn’t to rely on a third party to deal fallout, but to prevent these problems in the first place. Konrad Martin, CEO and director of business development at Tech Advisors, reminded attendees that “your best security is based on your weakest link,” and as such training, education and awareness are the best defenses for businesses of any size. 

 A Supportive Community 

The breadth of diversity and depth of experience in this year’s family business conference proved helpful to many attendees, as evidenced by lively discussions during the well-attended talks. One of the most common themes was the realization that certain commonalities exist between companies, whether they have 10 employees or 1,000 and operating revenue of $200,000 a year or a half-billion; some businesses practices are superior, independent of size or industry. And for those who attended, concerned about legacy and the future of their family’s livelihood, this year’s conference showed that there exists a supportive community from which this special breed of businessperson can gain strength.

Mike Flaim is an associate editor with The Warren Group. He can be reached at mflaim@thewarrengroup.comDeb Drapalla contributed to this piece. She is the regional president of Webster Bank, and can be reached at 

Family Businesses Win Big at Annual Awards Event 

Family Businesses Win Big at Annual Awards Event 

By Mike Flaim 

This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Massachusetts Family Business magazine.

The ninth annual Massachusetts Family Business Awards took place this year on Oct. 24, the evening prior to the Family Business Conference, at the Colonnade Hotel in Boston. 

Howdy Holmes, former racecar driver and now CEO of Chelsea Milling Co., the makers of Jiffy baking mixes, was the keynote speaker at the awards. With his unpretentious demeanor, enthusiasm for family enterprises and a honed ability to convey his business acumen in a way that feels personalized, Holmes was a natural choice. 

Holmes began his remarks by sharing that his family had been in the milling business for six generations and that the Jiffy brand goes back three generation to his grandmother. He had “no background, no training and no manual,” similar to many in the room, but endeavored to continue the family’s legacy. With downtempo charm, he shared anecdotes, dropped bits of wisdom (such as “business is easy – it’s people that are hard”), and cited statistics like “family businesses are responsible for 63 percent of the GDP. Performance-wise, family businesses outperform publicly held businesses in terms of financial returns by about a point and a half.”  

Holmes’ enthusiasm and wit was in good company thanks to comedian and emcee Jeff Smith (who goes by J Smitty if you see him on Kevin Hart’s “Hart of the City” or in a Boston comedy club). Businesses from all over the commonwealth were recognized; read their stories in the pages of this issue of Family Business Magazine.

Battle Grounds Coffee
First Generation Business of the Year
Awarded to a company in its first generation 

Sapers & Wallack
Small Business of the Year
Awarded to a business with fewer than 50 employees, with multiple generations employed currently or a successful transition to the next generation 

Edward D. Tarlow Award for Marketing Excellence
Awarded to a business that has demonstrated unique creativity in its marketing  

Volante Farms
Medium Business of the Year
Awarded to a company with 50 to 150 employees, with multiple generations employed currently or a successful transition to the next generation 

Endurance Award
Awarded to a business that has overcome significant adversity  

Robert B. Our Co.
Large Business of the Year
Awarded to a company with more than 150 employees, with multiple generations employed currently or a successful transition to the next generation  

VERC Enterprises 
Community Excellence Award
Awarded to a business that has demonstrated philanthropic excellence and exhibits a deep commitment to underserved communities  

Edward D. Tarlow
Regional Family Business Advocacy Award
Awarded at the discretion of the executive directors of the Family Business Association 

Outstanding Women of Family Business 2016

Kimberly Abare
New England Die Cutting

She runs a woman-owned company in a difficult and challenging business – manufacturing very precise parts for the defense industry. She has balanced her growing company – which has just expanded into a modern, state-of-the-art manufacturing factory – grown her employee count, and leased some excess space to another company, all while balancing her role as wife and mother. Her two sons are now working at the company and are a part of the company’s success. 

Amanda Alphen
Co-Owner, Treasurer & Secretary
Dolphin Insulation

She took great pride in assisting her (then) technology-challenged father with invoices, as she was able to type 100 words per minute, answering the phone and getting answers to people who needed them, creating a challenging and exciting role for herself. At the young age of 20, she became a partner. With her self-taught administration skill and organization, she helped the company double in size, which in turn created job opportunities for others.

Laura Bicknell-Carbone
Vice President
Alvin Hollis

She is the fifth generation of her family to take an active role in the company, a highly respected and successful energy company serving the South Shore. She is not only sustaining the family legacy, she is strengthening it, as she helps guide the business in a mature industry that is in transition. She is now proudly helping to bring her 16-year-old son into the business, thus ensuring a sixth generation of family management.

Karen Bressler
Amuleto Mexican Table

She was the CEO of her family-owned business for over 20 years, and after selling it in the one of the largest private-company sales of 2012, founded a new and successful venture. Her commitment to Boston, serving those less fortunate, and her continued entrepreneurial spirit make her a pioneer in the family business sector.

Kathy Garfield
Chief Operating Officer
Keller Companies

Over the past 10 years she has been the person to sustain a dialogue about the future strategic alternatives for the businesses, address management succession and ownership succession, and serve as a motivator for driving operational improvements at all of the companies. The granddaughter of the founder and daughter of one of the businesses’ presidents, she has also been instrumental in bringing other third-generation cousins into the business, preparing it for sustained longevity and success.

Nancy Garran
Executive Director
Cape Cod Sea Camps

In addition to owning and managing one of the top children’s camps in the nation, she also owns and operates a collection of more than 13 rental properties, as well as an inn. She hosts a year-round staff of 24 and a summer staff of more than 250 employees. The company was founded by her grandfather 94 years ago and continues to offer purposeful programs for youth.

Stacy Simon Gilman
Founder, Owner & Chief Buyer
Tobey Grey

Since founding her business over 10 years ago, she’s grown a loyal customer base, developed an innovative line of clothing and hired and inspired the hundreds of women who have worked with her over the years, many of whom have gone on to start businesses of their own. She has infused the business with her spirit of honesty, hard work and a big heart. She is a pillar in her community and a force of nature.

Wendy Goodwin
Cape Cod Shipbuilding Co.

With more than two decades of experience, she now runs the oldest American sailboat builder in continuous production. The boats last for generations – as does the company. With this third-generation woman at the helm, the company’s goal is to produce boats with timeless designs and unquestionable quality for generations to come.

Jane Kaplan Peck
Chief Operating Officer
Kaplan Construction

Founded in 1976 by her parents, she and her husband took over as COO and president, respectively, in 2014, after extensive training and a three-year management transition. Since the transition, the company has been named as a Best Place to Work two years in a row and business has grown by 30 percent. In addition to running the company, she is actively involved in the Brookline community.

Aline Kenney
R.J. Kenney Associates

The business was founded in 1970, and she and her husband worked as a team over the years, each with their own expertise. After losing her husband in 2010, she continued to run the company with the help of her remarkable family, who were taught by their parents the very principles that have made the company such a huge success. Its reputation is due to her dignity and professionalism.

Michele Lawlor
D’Alelio Management Company

Her father was working at a Union Square Dunkin Donuts when it went up for sale in 1977, and with assistance from his parents, he bought it. From there he and his wife purchased several more, and now their two sons and daughter manage 19 franchises throughout the Greater Boston area. The siblings pride themselves on running great stores, being compassionate neighbors and giving back to the communities in which they do business.

Heather Rotondi
Chief Financial Officer
E.B. Rotondi & Sons

After many years of success, the company’s profits took a sharp decline over the past decade, and the company – founded in 1932 – was close to bankruptcy. This third-generation family member who had never been involved in the business left a successful career working with nonprofits in D.C. and came to the rescue. She made sweeping changes – some popular, some not – and the end result is a company that will survive and flourish again.

Donna Warren
Botti Compay

A person who is always true to her word, she has taken the reins at a 100-year-old construction company and makes it all happen in a mostly male-operated field. She works tirelessly to keep a well-tuned group of construction workers and support staff running, in addition to being a mother, grandmother and all around good, honest person. She is a true standout in a family-owned business, in the construction industry, and among women everywhere.

Alicia Williams
Aliste Marketing

She decided in 2008 to pursue her dream of owning a business. With zero investors or clients, she took a leap of faith. Under her leadership, the company grew from a one-person operation to a global marketing company, and now employs her brother and father. She is smart, caring, kind and passionate about what she does, and she is a role model for women in marketing and business.

New England Family Business Conference 2016

Held for the first time this year at Boston’s historic Omni Parker House hotel, the New England Family Business Conference brought together family business owners from across the region to learn, network and celebrate their unique stories.

Keynote speaker Mahmud Jafri, CEO and founder of Dover Rug & Home, spoke about his family’s journey both from the perspective of an owner and an immigrant. Dover Rug & Home began in a small Dover, Massachusetts storefront in 1989 and has since then provided responsive and individualized service to some of the area’s most discerning clientele. The company now has three locations in the state – and has diversified with the addition of squash courts to the Natick location. Jafri is a devotee and supporter of the sport.

Breakout sessions during the day on June 8 featured experts from a variety of industries and fields. From fiduciary duties to succession planning, from marketing to financing, the sessions and featured panelists had information for everyone.

Kicking off the conference on the morning of June 7 was the second annual Outstanding Women of Family Business awards. Featuring keynote speaker Nora Yousif, a third-generation financial advisor, the event celebrates the unique contributions women bring to their family businesses. Representing a variety of industries, these 14 women are not only family members and colleagues, they’re also respected members of the business community. Some have been leading their companies for decades; others launched while still in college and have a bright future ahead of them. All of them are outstanding.

Produced by The Warren Group, publisher of this magazine, and the Family Business Association of Massachusetts, in partnership with Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Babson College and the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, this year’s conference was a great event and a good time. Save the date for next year’s conference!

Thank you to our sponsors!

Hemenway & Barnes
Tarlow Breed Hart & Rodgers
Transition Consulting Group
U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management

Wolf & Co.

Webster Bank

Blum Shapiro
Cambridge Savings Bank
Comcast Spotlight
Merrill Lynch
Andover Counseling Center
Wilmington Trust

Honoree Sponsor
D’Alelio Management Company