The 2015 Family Business Awards: Small Firms




As Seattle’s oldest continually operating business — its history dates to 1861 — Bonney-Watson’s staying power circles back to family-first values. Having provided funeral, cremation and cemetery services to generations of families, the firm embraces guiding principles that comprise the establishment of community ties, the perpetuation of meaningful memorials, and a lasting respect for a diverse population of differing ethnic, religious and social backgrounds.
Four generations have guided the company in an industry where family-owned businesses are now rare. “We believe that families do a better job of taking care of other families,” CEO Cameron Smock explains. Creating services that best reflect the lives of loved ones is rooted in that premise. “We let the families define what that means,” Smock says.

Management meets annually with the company’s shareholder group, which has 33 descendants of the three men who bought the company in 1919 from its original founders. Running a fiscally sound, debt-free business, Bonney-Watson historically has paid dividends to shareholders twice a year and annually applies about $250,000 toward capital investment. It owns outright five funeral homes, a 70-acre cemetery and two crematories in the Puget Sound region.
Supporting community programs remains a core value stretching back 50 years to the leadership of Bonney-Watson Chairman Doug Welch’s grandfather, Donald Welch, namesake of the company’s annual Donald B. Welch Community Service Award. 

R.H. Brown Co.

r.h. brown sells automated conveyor and storage systems — from design to follow-up support — but it doesn’t stop there. The company provides value-added services such as developing proprietary warehouse-control software for increased productivity and energy efficiency of systems. It also sells equipment like casters and hand trucks. All 18 employees voice input toward strategic goals in a dynamic model to measure results. Multiple members of four generations have worked at R.H. Brown, where employees have long tenures. A 2010 move to a south SoDo facility expanded office and warehousing space, which has helped grow revenue by more than 200 percent since 2006.

Westhill Inc.

Take the experience of 41 years in residential remodeling and custom home construction built on strong client relationships and you have “The Westhill Way,” a motto backed by ongoing training and internal communications. Continuing that legacy, two daughters and a nephew of Chuck Russell, the son of company founder Charlie Russell, now work at Westhill and are learning the ropes. Westhill emerged strong from the recession and the decline in construction activity, reporting revenue growth of about $1 million in each of the past two years. Westhill employees give time and donations to build acessibility ramps and home makeovers for low-income neighbors. Westhill also holds a popular community recycling event collecting household items and donating tree seedlings.

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