All in the Family
If you grew up spending afternoons helping out with the family business, you may have sworn never to return. But for some, the opportunity to lead one offers a chance to breathe fresh life into an enterprise that’s so personally valuable. The women featured here are bringing new ideas and innovative solutions to age-old business challenges, instead of simply carrying on traditions that have become outdated. From the worlds of manufacturing to food to software, here are six women making their mark on their family businesses.
Carol Swedlow, Aronson’s Floor Covering, New York City
The History: Founded 150 years ago, Aronson’s Floor Covering has been in the Swedlow family since 1968. Today, the family business continues to provide flooring for homes, hotels, apartment buildings, retail stores, and corporate offices.
Joining the Family Business: Swedlow, a former architect, joined Aronson’s in 1997. She moved up and, with her sister, took over the business in 2005. Three years later, Swedlow bought out her sister’s interest in the company, and she now serves as company president.
Rewriting the Legacy: When Swedlow joined the business, Aronson’s primary market was over-the-counter sales of nylon or vinyl floor coverings. In an effort to diversity the clientele to include architects and designers, she worked to add more natural products and modern designs to the line. Swedlow also added professionally accredited continuing education programs for architects and designers to earn CE credits and learn about the performance and environmental attributes of floor coverings.
While Swedlow says the process of making the actual product has not changed, the company has embraced technology as a business tool under her leadership. (There was not a single computer in the office when she started at Aronson’s.) “The Internet has made everyone global,” Swedlow says, and now Aronson’s ships custom flooring around the world.
What Makes Her Proud: “The meaning to me [of running this company] is less about leading a family business and more about all of the lessons I have learned from my parents through the years. I feel very fortunate that I had them as mentors for both my personal and professional life,” she says.
LaShonda Springfield, Anointed Flowers & Gifts, Jackson, TN
The History: LaShonda Springfield’s mother opened her flower shop 25 years ago. As Springfield watched the business grow and become a valued member of the community, she also developed a love for floral design.
Joining the Family Business: Springfield joined the business in February 2014, and in June 2015 she took the reins. “My goals for my business are to gain customers in my community on a personable level, to maintain highly satisfied customer service, and to be able to give back to my community,” she says.
Rewriting the Legacy: Like most retail industries, the floral business now faces more competition from online sellers and discount stores, but Springfield is ensuring her business continues to be in demand. She has joined Bloom Nation, an online marketplace for local florists, and worked to update her offerings: “I’m focusing on making more modern arrangements and also taking my business onto social media,” Springfield says. While her mother didn’t have access to tech like social media and easily built websites, Springfield is making the most of them.
What Makes Her Proud: Springfield says she is passionate about her work, which makes it meaningful for her. Plus, she says, “It’s important to me to leave a legacy for my children and to show responsibility on how to work for what you want, for financial freedom, to help my community, and for time with family.”
Stefani Markowitz, Rutenberg, New York City
The History: Stefani Markowitz’s grandfather, Richard Friedman, opened Rutenberg in Manhattan in 2007, and it soon became one of New York City’s largest real estate brokerage firms, with more than 600 agents.
Joining the Family Business: Markowitz worked with several other real estate brokerage firms before joining Rutenberg in 2014 as president at age 27.
Rewriting the Legacy: Markowitz is diverging from the typical real estate game with her firm’s unique compensation model, which allows real estate agents to keep 90 to 100 percent of commissions from the sales of their listings, as opposed to the standard 50-50 split with the firm.
Residential agents pay a fixed fee of $99 per month, and commercial agents pay 10 percent of their commissions to the firm in return for offices, phones, computers, coaching and training, public relations support, and advertising discounts. “Having been an agent myself, I come from the perspective of, ‘What would an agent want out of a company?’ and I am able to provide that,” Markowitz says.
What Makes Her Proud: “Anyone who knows me knows that family is everything to me,” Markowitz says. “My grandfather is a 50-year Wall Street veteran and the most brilliant businessman I know. I am blessed to be able to expand my family to include the Rutenberg community of agents.”
Ruth Sutton Egofske, Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, Ottawa, IL
The History: Seattle Sutton started her business in 1985 to improve people’s health by making it convenient to eat nutritiously. The company offers fresh, healthy meals, available for pickup or delivery, to individuals and businesses nationwide.
Joining the Family Business: In 2012, Sutton passed the baton to her daughter, Ruth Sutton Egofske, who had been working with her mother since 1991.
Rewriting the Legacy: The food and wellness industries have changed significantly in recent years, and Egofske has worked to keep Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating (SSHE) in step with the changes. For instance, when the company began, corporate wellness programs were new and not widespread, but today they are vital programs for many companies — and an opportunity for SSHE.
Egofske has kept an eye on food crazes and general trends in health and eating (for instance, kale was rarely eaten 30 years ago, but has become the “it food,” Egofske says). Since taking over the company, Egofske has added a full-time, in-house registered dietitian to develop weekly meal plans and has perfected a line of vegetarian meals. And responding to customer demand, she also added a partial week option for customers who don’t want meals every day of the week.
What Makes Her Proud: “As a registered nurse, like my sisters and mother, I understand the importance of a healthful diet that is portion controlled,” Egofske says. “We have helped hundreds take control of their lives through better eating habits.”
Meghan West, CNC Software, Tolland, CT
The History: In 1983 — the same year Meghan West was born — her father started CNC Software to build software for the manufacturing industry. The company is now renowned as the maker of Mastercam, the most widely used computer-aided machinery software in the world. (Customers include the likes of SpaceX, Taylor Guitar, and Stewart Haas Racing.)
Joining the Family Business: CNC is truly a family affair: A number of West’s relatives work in the business, including both of her parents, two uncles, an aunt, and several cousins. West joined CNC Software full-time in 2009, and became operations manager in 2011. She was named president in April 2015.
Rewriting the Legacy: Even before she became president, West started making changes. First, she put a bigger emphasis on the users of the products and their needs by creating a user experience department — something that is now standard in software development. It’s totally changed how the software is designed and puts the user at the center of the process.
West has also transformed the company’s internal operations by implementing programs to help employees feel more connected to the company. “My father and uncle fostered an incredible culture at the office, focusing on health, wellness, and an overall family feel,” she says. “I have taken that foundation and worked on helping employees improve soft skills and making small adjustments to encourage teamwork and innovation.”
What Makes Her Proud: “My father bootstrapped this company when he was 25 and turned it into a highly successful, global company that helps support the manufacturing of any product that you can think of,” West says. “I am immensely proud of his accomplishment, and it means a lot to be able to continue that. However, even more important to me is knowing how many people rely on our product. We have 160 employees at our corporate headquarters that rely on this product to support their families. We also have several hundred resellers around the globe that rely on this product to make a living. And at the end of the day, we have a few hundred thousand customers that need Mastercam to be able to manufacture the products that they sell to the end users.”
Holly Heintz Budd, Williams & Heintz Map Corporation, Capitol Heights, MD
The History: Louis Heintz, the great grandfather of Holly Heintz Budd, started Williams & Heintz Map Corporation in 1921. In its early days, the company primarily made tax maps, with stone lithography and copperplate engraving.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the company specialized in geologic maps showing geological features of the land. Today, the company focuses on map printing and production for entrepreneurs, government agencies, and map publishers.
Joining the Family Business: Budd joined the business in 1985, took over as president in 2005, and has spent the past 10 years revamping the company.
Rewriting the legacy: “Before I took control, the business had no structure, budget, business goals, or marketing plan,” Budd says. So she put those in place to get the company on the right track.
Budd is passionate about making her business a good citizen in the community. With her undergraduate degree in environmental studies, Budd has focused on making the company ecofriendly and sustainable. She led the company in obtaining an internationally recognized certification to develop and maintain an environmental management system to help the company reduce pollution, waste, and its environmental footprint. In addition, she had an energy audit conducted to review and revamp processes and facilities to be more efficient.
What Makes Her Proud: “I value corporate social responsibility. Aside from just offering health benefits to our employees, we also have a living wage policy instead of paying the prevailing industry wages. We provide sufficient income for the worker to survive and remain healthy and comfortable, given the local cost of living, because it is the right thing to do,” she says.