Workshop Offers Key Insights into International Family Business
Family businesses from around Upstate New York gathered to hear key insights into the ownership and leadership of Gorbel Inc. during “The Gorbel Story: How a Family Business Defies Gravity.”
Hosted by the Family Business Initiative at the St. John Fisher College School of Business, the event featured a discussion with Brian Reh, CEO of Gorbel Inc, and David Pritchard ’83, newly appointed president of the company.
During the workshop, Reh shared the rich history of the family-owned company, which has been in business for 42 years beginning in the industrial sector, and subsequently adding product lines in the safety and medical business sectors. The international company—founded by Reh’s father, Dave Reh, in honor of his parents Gordon and Isabel—now boasts 500 employees and has a Company Mission Statement that simply reads “We Improve People’s Lives.”
“We were moved by Brian and David’s openness and humility. Throughout their talk, they were present and attuned to the people in the room who were eager to hear their story,” said Dr. Carol Wittmeyer, interim associate dean of Fisher’s School of Business, who organized the workshop. “I know our attendees connected with Gorbel’s experiences and learned a great deal about successfully navigating leadership transitions while maintaining the values and spirit in which a family founded their company.”
Reh spoke of his path back to the family business after having an extensive career with GE. He said he did his due diligence when making the decision “to join or not to join?” and in 2001, he became the second generation to lead the family business. He also discussed his decision to promote a non-family member to the role of president. Pritchard, who started as the vice president of operations and has been with the company for over four years, recently became the first non-relative president and COO of Gorbel Inc.
Stefani LiDestri, co-president and CMO of LiDestri Food and Drink, facilitated the discussion between Reh and Pritchard, which focused on the decision to move Gorbel leadership outside of the family. At the forefront of Gorbel Inc. is the Reh family mission which also drives company values. Reh and Pritchard found, through the process, that they connected through commonalities of family and faith. To Reh, Pritchard may carry a different last name, but he carries the same values.
During the discussion, both Reh and Pritchard offered advice to the next generation leaders in the room, which included keeping an open line of communication between current leadership and future leadership, and letting in “the outside,” by using peer groups and advisory boards.
“When you bring the outside in, good things can happen,” said Reh.
Ken Glazer, chairman of Buckingham Properties, who spoke of his own transition into leadership of his family business at the inaugural Family Business Initiative event last year, closed the program. In his talk, he encouraged emerging leaders to make their mark on their companies; a lesson he has had to learn, too. “I’ve learned to own this company as my own,” he said.
Following the discussion, members of the Next Gen Peer Leadership Program engaged in a faculty-facilitated inter-generational debriefing session.