Louie Gentine Chief executive officer, Sargento Foods Inc. Third generation
“Around my sophomore year of college, I saw the impact that my family was having in Sheboygan County. I saw what we were providing for our employees and how that in turn helps strengthen our community. My grandfather’s Stakeholder Philosophy of sharing our success with those who contribute to that success is really what helped make my decision to return. And it truly was my decision because my parents always encouraged my siblings and I to pursue whatever would make us happy.
“I worked in the banking industry before I decided to return to Sargento 22 years ago. When I came back, I immersed myself in every aspect of the business, from production and procurement to sales and marketing. As a teenager in high school, I washed our big semi-trucks, but this time I really wanted to understand how my father and uncles carried on my grandfather’s legacy. It all comes from wanting to create long-term stakeholder value – making peoples’ lives better with the work that we do. How we measure success is if our employees, customers and communities are winning together.
“Being part of the third generation comes with a great sense of responsibility. I constantly think about the impact our decisions have on our 2,000-plus employees and our community. I’m grateful for what we have at Sargento because it’s very special. My hope is that everyone – including myself – shows up every day in a way that’s consistent with our culture and my grandfather’s philosophy.”[caption id="attachment_543525" align="alignnone" width="1280"] Leah Steger[/caption]
Leah Steger Vice president, Winkie’s Hallmark & Gifts Third generation
“Growing up in a family business that was initially led by my grandparents and then by my parents and aunt and uncle, I had a good sense of what it took to be a small business owner. One thing that I always admired was the harder you work, the more you are rewarded. The payout is essentially in your hands based on your personal ambition.
“Upon college graduation and later completion of my MBA, I achieved a steady climb in the corporate world at two locally based international companies. But in May of 2020, during the height of COVID-19 uncertainties, my position as the director of marketing was suddenly and unexpectedly eliminated. I was devastated to mourn a career that I had put so much passion into, but I quickly knew that something truly beautiful was about to unfold.
“As I began interviewing with new companies, I also helped my parents reopen their doors after being shut down for seven weeks due to state mandate. Something sparked again in my heart, and it did not take long for me to realize that I was being called back to the family business.
“I love the fun and flexibility in trying new things for our business. I love that it never feels like ‘work,’ rather a dream that my family is fulfilling together. But more than anything, I feel so proud to carry on this legacy and am touched every day by our amazing and loyal customers.”[caption id="attachment_543527" align="alignnone" width="1280"] Stacey Walthers Naffah[/caption]
Stacey Walthers Naffah President, Wm. K. Walthers Inc. Fourth generation
“Walthers celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007, and the company hosted a celebratory dinner in late 2006. I was working in Chicago at the time and had two very young children. My husband and I were contemplating our lives – how to be good parents and professionals, whether to move to the suburbs or stay in the city and how to balance it all.
“At that dinner, my grandfather was featured in a video in which he shared: ‘One of the greatest joys of my life was working with both my father and my son.’ This struck me in a very powerful way, one that I noted and filed away. He passed away not long after, which made me think seriously about my own involvement.
“The following summer, I visited the Illinois Railway Museum with my ‘train-crazy’ four-year-old son. It was there where I saw a true opportunity for my passions, skills and my family business to intersect. I saw a neat opportunity to work with my dad and introduce our great hobby to the next generation of kids and families.
“That spark compelled us to move to Milwaukee in 2009 and continues to get me excited to come to work. I can confidently say that the opportunity to work closely with my dad has truly been, and continues to be, one of the greatest joys of my life. This year, Walthers will celebrate 90 years in business, and I am so proud to be part of that great legacy.”