Family & Closely Held Business Summit speakers to discuss survival, growth strategies

Last updated on July 24th, 2020 at 10:49 am

Paul Maglio knew at age 12 that he was destined for his family’s fruit and vegetable business.

That hunch proved true. Today, he is director of operations at Milwaukee-based Maglio Companies, a fifth-generation family-owned importer and distributor of fresh produce, where he works with his father, company president Sam Maglio. 

“I was born to do this and sell fruit to the world,” Paul Maglio said. “There is no fighting it. I love everything from the tomatoes to the smell of the dumpster to when there are refrigeration issues on the weekend and I have to change trucks from one trailer to another to save the product. It’s everything. It’s in your blood, you can’t change it.” 

Growing up, T.J. Perlick Molinari was advised not to go into the family business, but when it was time for his family to consider the transition of Milwaukee-based refrigeration supplier Perlick Corp. to the next generation, he left his career as a defense attorney to become its vice president.

“I felt there was growth potential, that the business would go somewhere,” Perlick Molinari said. “It was a business I would’ve gone into had it not been my family business.” 

Joe Kujawa built a career as an operational consultant for large companies – a role that required extensive travel – before coming home to the family’s business, Oak Creek-based landscaping and winter services firm Kujawa Enterprises, Inc. as an owner and executive vice president. Now senior practice leader with Bruce Wilson & Co., Joe Kujawa was with the family business for 17 years before it was sold to Sperber Landscape Companies in April 2019. 

“I was able to have breakfast with my kids, lunch with my dad and dinner with my family for 17 years (at KEI),” he said. “That was a wonderful thing.”

Paul and Sam Maglio, Molinari and Kujawa will discuss their family business journeys, succession plans, navigation of the COVID-19 crisis, and other challenges facing their businesses during BizTimes Media’s Family & Closely Held Business Summit on July 22. The free virtual event will also feature remarks from Greg Marcus, president and CEO of The Marcus Corp., and Tim Michels, co-owner of Michels Corp. 

While 2020 has dealt its fair share of challenges to family businesses, it’s also provided ample opportunity for company leaders to lean on their family business values to guide their decision making.

“Our key to navigating the challenges of 2020 is clearly linked to the great team of people that work at the Marcus Corp.,” Greg Marcus said. “This stems directly from the culture that has been developed over 85 years. It has been consistent and is heavily influenced by the family business atmosphere that has been created over three generations. This culture attracts great people and which in turn allows us to take on the challenges that we face.” 

For Brownsville, Wisconsin-based energy and infrastructure contractor Michels, work hasn’t stopped throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and the company expects a “record 2020,” Tim Michels said.

“A lot of our work involves keeping the energy on, keeping electricity flowing, keeping the internet on, the water running, and keeping transportation and infrastructure sound,” he said. 

The company’s leadership structure – which includes Tim and his brothers, president and CEO Pat and vice president Kevin Michels — has allowed for quick decision-making during the crisis, Tim Michels said. 

“While there are a lot of cultural influences out there, we were able to stand firm in our convictions and not try to get a lot of buy-in from shareholders or a big board or be overly concerned about public sentiment,” he said. “… Being privately-held, we’re nimble and we’re quick to make decisions and stay focused on our mission. … Once you focus on your mission, everything becomes a lot easier.” 

Meanwhile, stay-at-home orders put a big dent in Perlick’s business.

“We’re in food service equipment manufacturing,” Perlick Molinari said. “All of our customers closed in March and April – large venues, live music, restaurants, hotels, convention centers, water parks. They all closed. It was devastating. It’s never happened in the history of our industry that everything closed.” 

Perlick Molinari said the company prioritized preserving jobs during the downturn. 

“We put together a work-share program to retain as many people as we could and provide employment for as many people as we could without putting the business out of business, which would have been a terrible end result,” he said. “That has been a result of COVID-19 – (learning how) to work together and maintain values.” 

Registration for the free Family & Closely Held Business Summit is available at biztimes.com/family. Event sponsors include Davis|Kuelthau, s.c., The Riverwood Wealth Management Group at Morgan Stanley, National Exchange Bank & Trust, and supporting sponsor Vistage. 

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.