Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2005Kellogg School of Management
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The Hester Family
Steve Hester EMP-58 and the Hester family of Hester Decorating Co. Inc., which won in the "medium" category for businesses.

All in the family
EMBA students shine in 'business of the year' contest

by Kari Richardson

The competition for this year's Illinois "Family Business of the Year" gave the Kellogg School's EMBA program a few more reasons to be proud of its "family."

Among those honored were two companies whose senior leaders have links to the EMBA program: Steve Hester of Hester Decorating Co. Inc., which won in the "medium" category for businesses with 50 to 250 employees, graduated from EMP-58 in January. And Oberweis Dairy, the winner in the "large" category for businesses with more than 250 employees, as well as the community service winner, is the family business of Joe Oberweis, who began his EMBA studies in January as part of EMP-64.

Last year's award roster also included two Kellogg EMBA program connections. Winner Reed Construction Co. is the enterprise of EMP-53's William Birck and his family, while finalist W.S. Darley & Co. is the family business of Paul Darley, also of EMP-53.

This year's winners, selected for their commitment to both business and family, received their awards in a Dec. 9 ceremony at Chicago's Four Season's Hotel. The awards, given by Loyola University's Family Business Center, recognize the companies for their multigenerational span, community contributions and innovative practices.

For Joe Oberweis, president and CEO of Oberweis Franchise Systems, the retail arm of Oberweis Group Inc., the recipe for success includes providing "the best product you can buy" and "approaching business in a fair manner." As part of its commitment to family values, the dairy company offers $500 college scholarships each year to its scoopers — most high school students who squeeze in the job around classes and extracurricular activities.

William Birck's family business, Reed Construction Co., prides itself on helping clients complete projects on time and on budget — in an industry plagued by chronic lateness and ballooning budgets, no less. Recent work includes a 35,000-square-foot interior build-out for the American Cancer Society headquarters at 225 N. Michigan Ave.

The many EMBA connections among award winners came as no surprise to faculty and staff, who have witnessed students' increasing focus on family business issues. EMBA students have organized a special-interest group for those with a family business bent, in which guest speakers share their perspective on mixing "relatives" and "résumés" and fellow students give personal advice on navigating challenges.

Both personal and professional challenges visited Hester Decorating Co. after Steve Hester's brother Danny, who ran the company's downtown location, died unexpectedly in 2001. Steve Hester and family made it through that rocky period, he says, with help from the high-end painting company's employees. Confronting those challenges has only made the company stronger, Hester says.

John Ward, clinical professor of family enterprise and co-director of the Kellogg Center for Family Enterprise, says family businesses encounter numerous roadblocks. Like all companies, they are facing "shorter and shorter life cycles" as they must keep up with technological advancements and concomitant strategic challenges. Another perpetual challenge for those who mingle work history with family history: finding the right combination of "old" and "new" to keep the enterprise chugging along.

"It's always a challenge balancing the past traditions with the new change needed to grow," Ward says. "Many of the skills students learn at the Kellogg School — negotiations, teamwork, strategy and change management, for example — can help them make that leap."

Winners of the 2004 Illinois Family Business of the Year Award have found innovative ways to keep their family monikers alive and well.

The Oberweis Family
Joe Oberweis (EMP-64) and family, of Oberweis Dairy, the winner in the "large" category for businesses with more than 250 employees, as well as the community service winner.
©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University