At the Dinner Table, These Families Talk Business

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Building sales and profits are key goals for businesses, but family-owned enterprises also are looking at building a legacy.

Many businesses in the region boast such longevity. That includes at least two that will pass the century mark this year, including one that already is preparing its fifth generation of family leadership. 

Working in a family business is “a combination of rewarding and very difficult,” reflects Paul Johnson, president of Adolph Johnson & Son Co., Mineral Ridge, which will celebrate its centennial this year. The company was founded by Paul Johnson’s grandfather, Adolph Johnson who died when Paul was 10. 

Paul began working for the business in the warehouse and yard while in high school and joined the company full time in 1976 after he finished college. 

His father, he recalls, believed “you had to pay your dues.” For Johnson, that meant emptying the wastebaskets when he started with the company and “modest wages” early on. 

At the same time, being in business with family gives members the ability to build a “special relationship,” by “sharing the history of what went into the business, being there and working together to continue it and make it grow,” Johnson says.  

Also marking its 100th anniversary this year is Lyden Oil Co. in Austintown. Founded in 1919 by William, Patrick, Michael and Mae Lyden, the third generation of the family – brothers Breen and Paul Lyden – is now leading the petroleum wholesaler. Paul Lyden, vice president, is based locally while Breen Lyden, the company president, is based in Toledo.

Paul Lyden began working in the family business in 1974 at age 13, when his grandfather was still involved with Lyden Oil.

“When you’re a kid, you’re a kid” was his father’s philosophy, “but when you became a teenager, you started working summers,” he says.  

Lyden recalls his father, Bill, who died in 1994, as intelligent, market-savvy and customer-oriented. “He knew the petroleum industry,” he says. “He was an oilman.”

Bill Lyden would do what it took to get the job done, his son remembers. The goal was to serve their customers, because if they didn’t, someone else would, costing the company business. 

Another legacy family business is Kravitz Deli in Liberty. Today, Jack Kravitz operates the delicatessen his mother, Rose, started in Youngstown in 1939. He has been involved with the business on and off for the past 33 years, rejoining it full-time about 15 years ago after the closing of a wholesale bagel factory they operated in North Jackson. 

A few years ago, he launched a spinoff, Inspired Catering by Kravitz. 

Kravitz’s family lived upstairs from the deli when it was in Youngstown, he recalls. When he came downstairs in the morning, the cooks made his breakfast and he became involved in the business early on, learning to do “pretty much everything,” he says.   

At Dearing Compressor & Pump Co. in Boardman, Becky Wall, vice president and chief financial officer, says three of four siblings in her  family are involved in operating the business. 

The company was started by her paternal grandfather, Albin Dearing III, in 1945. Wall’s brothers, Richard and Albin V, are president and vice president of operations, respectively.

Being a family-owned business, rather than an enterprise that is publicly owned by nonfamily shareholders, allows management to make decisions during economic downturns based on ensuring the health of the business without the concern of having to meet expectations for quarterly returns, Wall says. 

“We can ride out those storms in a way that we choose,” she says. 

Decisions made during previous downturns were based on preserving its experienced workforce, “our No. 1 priority,” allowing the company to emerge from each “stronger than when we went in,” according to Wall. 

Jerry Altobelli, broker/owner of Altobelli Real Estate in Niles, founded the agency in 1983. Today, all three of his children – Jason, Ryan and Laura – are involved with the business. 

“We get along well and we’re very fortunate to have each other,” Altobelli says. As the firm has expanded into new construction – including Park Place Villas, Carnegie Heights, Oakwood Estates and Kline’s Farm – his son Ryan has become more involved in that aspect of the business.     

“Communication is great” and there is “a huge amount of trust” in a family business, says Melissa Beaumier, secretary/treasurer at Elmtree Catering, Struthers. 

In 1959, her mother-in-law started the business and she and her husband began working there in 1982, Beaumier says. Their daughter, Danielle, has joined the family trade as one of the managers and event planners.  

“Conversations all seem to lead back to the Elmtree,” Beaumier says, but her mother-in-law showed how to balance family life and business. 

At Paige & Byrnes Insurance, which has offices in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, “We trust each other wholeheartedly and we like each other,” says its president, Shelly Taylor Odille. 

Odille says her family became part of the agency when her grandfather joined the business after World War II. Eventually, he was followed by her uncle in the late 1960s and her father in the 1970s. 

Odille’s father and brother remain with the firm, which she joined in 1997 and took over as president just a few years ago. 

Among the challenges with a family business is that “you can be frank with your family, and sometimes you can be too frank,” Odille says. 

“Or you can say something quicker” – and perhaps with less reflection – “than if you said it to a nonrelative,” she observes.   

Lessons from her father include treating customers well, she says. 

“We will do anything for them that we can,” she says. 

She recalls watching her father taking phone calls on Sundays to address minute issues. “He wasn’t above or below any question from a customer,” she says. 

Johnson recalls similar lessons. 

“The main thing I learned from my father is the work ethic,” says the president of Adolph Johnson & Son. “It goes back to the business always being on your mind. You do whatever the business requires at the time.”  

The fourth generation of the Lyden family – Paul’s daughter Jen and son-in-law Marc, along with his son Paul Jr., and Breen’s two sons, Patrick and Sean. – already are involved in the business. Bringing the next generation in early, Paul Lyden agrees, as well as communication and education are keys to successful transition.

“If you’re involved, you’re involved 200%,” he adds. “The clock never stops as an owner, especially a family owner in a service industry.” 

In addition to being patient as the next generation learns, current leadership has to be willing to learn as well, Lyden says. “It’s a two-way street. They can educate the old dogs,” he says. 

Ryan Wilson, Wall’s son and Dearing’s production manager, is the first in the fourth generation of the family business “to lead the way to preserving the family legacy,” she says. 

“Hopefully he’s doing the right thing for his cousins to someday make their way here,” Wall says. “It’s not for everybody. There’s no silver platters here.”    

The Elmtree’s Beaumier says she is “very proud” that her daughter is preparing to carry the family business through another generation. “She works extremely hard,“ she says. “She’s only going to be growing the business.” 

Odille’s three daughters are still “very small” and years away from deciding whether to follow in their mother’s footsteps. 

Even so, one daughter, when asked at school what she wanted to do when she grew up, she said “work at Paige & Byrnes.” 

“But she’s 7, so we’ll have a few more years to go,” her mother says. 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.