Volume 50, Issue 8 - August 2015

Analysis: 50 Years of Family Business

All in the Family: Longstanding Industry Businesses Span Generations

One doesn’t have to study the glass and glazing industry very long to recognize that it is very, very family oriented.
Many of the biggest names in the game today were spawned in small shops dating as far back as the 1800s, and it’s not uncommon for companies to remain in the hands of their namesakes.

In light of USGlass magazine’s 50th anniversary, we took a look at a few industry businesses that prove family is a key to longevity.

Petersen Shifting from One Half-Century to the Next

Petersen Aluminum turned 50 earlier this year, giving its management and employees a reason to look back and reflect on the company’s success over the past half-century—that is, of course, with one eye still looking forward.
“It’s a landmark to hit, but we’ll be 51 soon,” says Petersen CEO Mike Petersen. “So we’re concentrating on what to do next.”

Petersen was 10 years old when his father, Maurice (Maury), started the business in 1965. “At the time, I didn’t know I’d end up running the company,” says Mike. “But maybe my father had an idea.”

Maury started the business as an aluminum distributor in Chicago, and he and Mike, along with a dedicated group of family-oriented employees, grew it to one of the construction industry’s leading architectural metals manufacturers today.

The company’s management team—which averages more than 30 years of employment—includes many people who worked with Maury. President John Palesny has the longest tenure at 45 years.

Mike Petersen, meanwhile, joined the company right out of college, moving through various sales positions to president in 1987 and eventually CEO. His father passed away in 1996, but not before instilling in Mike key business principles that the company still very much values today.

Maury’s biggest credo was, “Pay down your debt, pay down your debt, pay down your debt,” explains Mike. “He brought me along to maintain a conservative balance sheet, and also to preserve the capital in the company. And by doing so, we’ve been able to enjoy healthy returns through thick and thin.”

Like any other longstanding business, Petersen has evolved and grown over time, as its two clients at the start were a printing plate supply business and a company that made truck bodies.

Both went out of business decades ago, but by then, Petersen had already continued to expand its business and grow its list of partners and customers. Petersen relocated to Schiller Park with the anodizing line and still maintains an anodizing line today.

During that period, the company developed its PAC-CLAD product line, beginning with prefinished Kynar 500 aluminum and later adding prefinished PAC-CLAD steel. In growing its product line, Petersen also expanded geographically during the next two and a half decades.

In 1994, the company moved its headquarters to Elk Grove Village, Ill., where it currently remains. It also operates facilities in Acworth, Ga., Tyler, Texas, Annapolis Junction, Md., and Fridley, Minn.

Through it all, Mike Petersen says a constant with the business has remained the people. “The key to any business has always been the quality of the people, and we’ve had the good fortune of developing a good team of people,” he says. “We have more than 200 employees, and most of them act like it’s their own company.”

New York City-based contract glazier David Shuldiner is a prime example of how “family” is ingrained in the glass and glazing industry. This fifth-generation business stresses the importance of ensuring the employees feel they’re part of the family.

NYC Glazier Meets Tradition with Modernity

“This has always been a family business.”

Those are pretty meaningful words for a company that has been around for a long time. For Brian Land, CEO of New York-based contract glazier David Shuldiner, the meaning stretches across a whole century and well into another.

Land is the fifth generation of the company, having taken the reins from his father and uncle in 2013.

David Shuldiner founded Shuldiner Glass in 1888 and passed it on to his son, Charles, a decade later. Charles was just 20 years old at the time, but he was in it for the long haul.

He ran the business all the way into the late 1970s before handing it over to his son David and son-in-law Leonard Land. The pair ran the company for another decade and then passed it on to Leonard’s sons, Brian’s father David and uncle Richard.

Brian Land attributes the company’s success to “the quality of our workforce and the longevity of our workforce.” He adds, “We have people with us who are second- and third-generation employees, whose fathers and grandfathers worked for us out in the field.”

Over the years, Land’s predecessors built a strong reputation with building owners and contractors, something Land was proud to inherit. The maintenance aspect of the business, for example, is a valuable one Land continues to carry on.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate over our history on the building-maintenance side,” says Land. “There are buildings going back 40-50 years that we worked on originally that we’ve maintained ever since they were built. We have a long list of those clients.”

While striving to maintain the tried-and-true standards passed to him from his father, uncle and previous generations, Land has taken a fresh approach to the business since taking over in 2013. In just the last two years, he has helped it grow from an $11 million business to more than $30 million, with the size of its office staff tripling, and its field numbers more than quadrupling. The company now has about 70 employees.

And for the first time since its founding, David Shuldiner recently added an outside equity shareholder in John Toohey, an employee who started with the company 27 years ago—literally pushing a broom.

“I like to think we had the cleanest floors in Brooklyn back then,” says Toohey, who worked in the shop for a number of years before moving to project management and project executive positions. He’s now the company’s chief operating officer and is a new minority shareholder.

“We’re changing the culture here,” he adds. “We’re growing the company, bringing in young talent, and Brian wants them to know that even though this is a family business, all things are possible with hard work.”

David Shuldiner’s recent work is well documented: the Apple Cube store, the TKTS Red Stairs in Times Square, and the Madison Square Garden Transformation, among many others.

But the company is striving for more moving forward, and Land felt the best way to position it for long-term success was to make Toohey part of the family—officially.

“I like to think that we’ve created a culture here where people can grow, succeed and know there is opportunity down the road if you really want it,” says Land. “And we can use John as a model for that.”

Bacon & Van Buskirk’s history spans back to the 1920s and ‘30s. Among many other capabilities, its offerings now include the manufacturing of custom architectural muntins, which were applied at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Grayslake, Ill., for a project it worked on with Waukegan Gurnee Glass.

Bring Home the Bacon
(& Van Buskirk)

“We’re very much like thousands of other businesses in the glass industry,” says Rod Van Buskirk, president of the near-century-old glazing company Bacon & Van Buskirk.

Rod represents the third generation of his company—it was started by his grandfather, Verne, when Verne purchased the glass department from T.M. Bacon & Sons Paint & Glass in Champaign, Ill., in 1937.

But the history of the business dates back even further, as T.M. Bacon—the then-local store for paint, wallpaper and glass—was founded in the late 1800s.

Ten years before Verne Van Buskirk started his company, he worked for T.M. Bacon. And in 1947, 10 years after he purchased the glass department, he incorporated with Noah Bacon, a son of T.M. Bacon.

In 1952, Verne’s son, Roy, joined the business after graduating from the University of Illinois.

Rod says his father “took the business to another level, particularly on the commercial side,” and in 1954, the company formed its now longstanding relationship with Kawneer Co. Also in the ‘50s, Bacon & Van Buskirk became the first wholesale distributor of both PPG and LOF glass in America, according to the company.

Bacon & Van Buskirk phased out its paint sales in the 1960s and ‘70s and added branch locations, continuing on the path of “a small paint and glass store that grows over the years and becomes more commercially oriented,” says Rod.

Rod graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder and joined the company in 1977, and in the next decade, Roy was elected to president and chairman of two different trade associations. Rod also served in the two glass associations after purchasing the company from his father in 1997.

Today, the largest percentage of the “full-service” glass company’s business is as a traditional contract glazier, installing storefront and curtainwall. However, Rod decided to get back into the residential door and window sector in the 2000s, something his father veered away from the decade before.

Bacon & Van Buskirk has locations in Champaign, Springfield and Danville, Ill.

—Nick St. Denis

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