Stay curious to prepare for the future

Experts will give advice at Family & Closely Held Business Summit

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:21 pm

The best way to prepare for the future is to stay curious.

That’s among the advice futurist and keynote speaker David Zach plans to give the business owners and executives gathered for BizTimes Media’s annual Family & Closely Held Business Summit on Thursday, June 13.

Zach will give an overview of trends likely to affect businesses over the next five to 10 years, and some approaches to finding opportunities and solutions using both traditions and trends. The goal is to aid business leaders in preparing for future decision-making.

A great way to stay curious, Zach said, is to step away from the business, get lunch with someone who is different from oneself, and listen to that person with an open mind.

“At the core of thinking about the future is to stay curious and realize that broader curiosity prepares you to find better solutions,” he said. “As we become adults and develop competence in one particular area or another, we tend to become too focused and that’s when we miss things from the outside of our ‘comfortable competence.’ A lack of curiosity always threatens competency because curiosity keeps us fresh and challenged.” 

Family businesses have a tendency to fall back on tradition, and there may be valid and valuable reasons to do so, Zach said. Newer is not always better.

Ariens, N. Chiappetta, T. Chiappetta, Weidmann, Bartolotta, Trafton and Borst

A panel of local family business leaders will also present on their businesses at the Family & Closely Held Business Summit. They are: Dan Ariens, chairman and chief executive officer of Ariens Co.; Nick Chiappetta, chief operating officer, and Tony Chiappetta, CEO, at Chiappetta Shoes.; Jerry Weidmann, president of Wisconsin Lift Truck Corp., part of Wolter Group LLC; and Paul Bartolotta, chef and co-owner, and Keith Trafton, COO and managing partner, at The Bartolotta Restaurants. The discussion will be moderated by David Borst, executive director and COO of Family Business Leadership Partners, and will touch on themes including: transitioning the business, lessons learned, leadership development, innovation and growth.

The Bartolotta Restaurants is in the midst of a transition as Paul’s brother and co-owner Joe passed away this spring. The pair started the business with one restaurant in 1993 and grew it to 16 restaurants and catering facilities in the Milwaukee market. There are also three other family members involved in the business: Paul’s sister Maria, sister-in-law Jennifer and niece Mary.

Paul said the company invests in the next generation of leadership through employee development, and aims to create opportunities for anyone committed to the company’s culture and growth strategy – family or not.

“My nieces, who have showed entrepreneurial spirit, are in the early phases of their respective careers and have much to learn from inside our organization and from outside experiences,” he said. “For example, my niece Anna works for an excellent restaurant group in Ohio. That’s important because if she decides to join our business, she will bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to help us grow.”

Tony Chiappetta jokes that he and Nick were basically born in a shoe box, as they are the fourth generation of their family to run the shoe company. The family has been successful over 98 years because of a focus on core competencies, he said.

“Since graduating from (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), we’ve systemically identified our core competencies, developed our business plan off what we do best, and try every day to execute on what we think is the best plan of action,” Tony said.  “We like to say we have a ‘holy trinity’ of services including full-retail, one-on-one assistance, we manufacture custom orthotics in-house, and we have a full repair shop – about the best core group of solutions for any shoe store.” 

Changing products, manufacturing processes, machinery, people and the company over the years have all been key to Ariens Co.’s success, Ariens said.

“To survive over 85 years, like any company we have had to evolve, innovate, or we would have disappeared,” he said. “The business environment is competitive; keeping our brands, products and manufacturing processes contemporary is our main focus. At the same time, as a family company we are always challenged with balancing the capital requirements of the businesses for the future with the ownership structure and ownership returns.”

Family business leaders often struggle with bringing personal relationships into the workplace.

The Wolter Group has 13 immediate relatives from three generations involved in the business, Weidmann said. Among those is his wife, so their family and business life are intertwined.

“Over the years, we have learned to limit our business conversations during personal times, keeping each other informed but not providing unwanted commentary and advice,” he said.

Following the panel discussion, there will be 11 roundtable discussions led by family and closely-held company leaders. For more information or to register, visit biztimes.com/family.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.