Relative Importance: The 2015 Family Business Awards

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Quality, consistency, flexibility. These terms often rise to the top of descriptions for the honorees in Seattle Business magazine’s Family Business Awards program. This year is no different. Most of these companies have at least three generations of family ownership, while some carry a legacy stretching back five generations or more. A common thread among all of them: growing the business while serving their communities and paying close attention to the personal touch in customer service. Congratulations to the 13 honorees in the 2015 Family Business Awards!

LARGE FIRMS
More than 200 employees in Washington.
Winner: KITSAP BANK
Silver Awards: MCLENDON HARDWARE; MUTUAL MATERIALS

 

 

MIDSIZE FIRMS
50 to 200 employees in Washington.
Winner: FAMILY HOME CARE
Silver Awards: ANDERSEN CONSTRUCTION COMPANY; VAN DOREN SALES INC.

 

 

SMALL FIRMS
Fewer than 50 employees in Washington.
Winner: BONNEY-WATSON
Silver Awards: R.H.BROWN CO.; WESTHILL INC.

 

 

EMERGING BUSINESS AWARD
A new family enterprise exhibiting strong growth.
Winner: SIRENA GELATO

 

 
 

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AWARD
Showing an ongoing commitment to social and environmental engagement.
Winner: CARTER MOTORS INC.

 

 
 

LONGEVITY/HERITAGE AWARD
Perpetuating a family business for more than a century.
Winner: MILLS BROS. INC.

 

 

LEGACY AWARD
Ensuring multiple generations of family leadership.
Winner: LAIRD NORTON COMPANY

 

 

 

Judges for the 2015 Family Business Awards
Clarence Barnes, professor, economics, Gonzaga University; Dori Brewer, partner, Perkins Coie; 
Ron Dohr, codirector, Pacific Family Business Institute; Loren Lyon, president, Impact Washington; 
Catherine Pratt, management faculty, Pacific Lutheran University; 
Christian Schiller, managing director, Cascadia Capital; Rich Simmonds, cofounder, Pacific Family Business Institute; 
David Stiefel, managing principal, Bader Martin; Joseph Williams, former dean, School of Business, Government & Economics, Seattle Pacific University

2016 Family Business Awards: Heritage/Legacy Award

2016 Family Business Awards: Heritage/Legacy Award

Winner: Bartell Drugs
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

WINNER
Bartell Drugs
Location: Seattle

Sometimes, the best course for a family business managing succession is to reach outside the family for expertise while it prepares for the next generation to assume leadership. This happened to Bartell Drugs in 2015. With third-generation family leaders George Bartell and Jean Bartell Barber retiring and the five fourth-generation Bartells mostly still in college and not yet ready to take on leadership positions, the 126-year-old company hired longtime REI executive Brian Unmacht as CEO. 

Now those five young adults are actively involved through quarterly family council meetings to learn about stewardship of a family business. 

Eldest cousin Evelyn Merrill, 29, works as Bartell’s senior marketing manager. She’s the daughter of Jean Bartell Barber and niece of former CEO George D. Bartell. Although her cousins are coming of age and each has their own career passions, Merrill says one thing all family members agree on is that the company should remain in family hands. Merrill says the family all feel a commitment to their shared family history going back to 1890, when young pharmacist George H. Bartell Sr. bought a storefront in Seattle’s Central District. 

As a teenager, Merrill first got a sense of the Bartell legacy as a cashier clerk, a job all cousins have held. She spent a year working in various departments, from marketing to human resources, and that’s when she felt a calling. “I saw a commitment from employees to our family that was really inspiring,” says Merrill, who earned an MBA and worked for a Seattle-area ad agency before joining Bartell in August 2015. She focuses on digital marketing. One of her first projects helped improve the online interface for the company’s 10 walk-in medical clinics. 

Merrill credits Unmacht with taking the company farther and providing a key component to family succession planning. “I see us as a business moving faster, in part thinking more strategically,” she says. “But it’s more about setting our business up for success.”

Bartell has 2,000 employees and 65 stores in greater Seattle. It plans to add new stores in fast-growing urban areas like Ballard and the International District.  

Unmacht says the willingness of the family council to bring in an outsider shows its commitment to maintaining the vitality of the business. “My primary goal is to run a $600 million company in a very competitive space,” says Unmacht. [And] I’m very conscious of where I can help the next generation learn the business.”

That dedication, Unmacht notes, remains crucial to Bartell’s ability to maintain family ownership far into the future.