Family Business Matters ©Liz DiMarco Weinmann

This is to commend the Rutland Herald for the inspiring profile of Casey McNeil, the third-generation proprietor of McNeil & Reedy. It was the perfect Saturday morning lift, as was last September’s Herald feature about Rutland’s world-famous cookie-cutter firm, Ann Clark.

Beyond spurring joy, both features were timely tributes to the intrinsic value of family businesses and how much they matter to Vermont’s future, especially in this age of so-called influencers whose primary motivation is amassing likes and getting paid for egregious self-promotion. Family businesses, like the McNeils’ and the Clarks’, are purposeful, passionate and justifiably proud about their commitment to customer care and long-term loyalty, the kind that mega-corporations like to tout in their complicated financial reports.

For example, through the years, the McNeils have special-ordered business clothes for my husband that, in national department stores, were outlandishly overpriced. Decades ago, I bought a gorgeous wool blazer at McNeil & Reedy that the shop’s experts perfectly tailored for me. In a soft-heather plaid, it went with everything I owned during the early years of my marketing career in New York.

These days, when something catches my eye at McNeil & Reedy, the twins — or Casey — remain supremely accommodating. Even when, spying my grimace in a mirror, they agree that a glamorous gabardine coat I’ve tried on is better suited to a guy built like an industrial refrigerator, no matter how on-trend oversized outerwear is for women right now.

To be clear, Vermont’s family-owned businesses work exceedingly hard at customer service so that they remain competitive in the face of enormous political, economic, social, technological and legal challenges. Most challenging is an ever-encroaching internet juggernaut that can deliver almost any consumable product or service a human might need, on a moment’s notice.

In addition to providing goods and services to their customers, family businesses provide to our state economic benefits that are far-reaching and multidimensional. It’s likely no coincidence that an internationally renowned institution conducting and publishing scholarly research on family businesses is located in Burlington — the Family Business Institute at the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business.

Per its website, the institute offers in-person and online courses, forums, awards and case competitions to “… support the learning and networking needs of students, educators, family business advisors, and leaders.” Among the Family Business Institute resources is a publication titled, “Entrepreneurs in every generation: How successful family businesses develop their next leaders,” by Allan R. Cohen and Pramodita Sharma.

Its authors list the following as qualities of a flourishing multi-generational family business: “… stewardship; long-term thinking; attending to all stakeholders; innovation; adding value to customers; hunger for excellence; continuous improvement; and walking in the shoes of others.”

Many, if not all, of our regional family-founded or family-owned businesses exemplify these qualities. Yet many graduate business schools, including my alma mater, New York University, where I also taught for several years, persist in glorifying the so-called “unicorn” firms.

For that reason alone, it would be terrific to see additional Herald features about Vermont’s family-owned businesses. I’m well aware that such features require additional reporters, editors and, of course, advertising in order to be economically feasible for our already under-resourced newspapers. But imagine the valuable lessons these established business owners could impart to start-ups.

More accessible information beyond that from scholarly institutions such as UVM, about the sound strategic, operational and cultural principles and practices fueling the longevity of locally based family businesses, would comprise valuable case histories for anyone who is considering establishing a family business in Vermont.

Although features about John Casella, Michelle Cordeiro, Mark Foley, Paul Gallo, Rebecca Langer, Russ Marsan, Andy Paluch, Kelly Sweck, and the Zullo family have appeared in Vermont media in the past, a refresh about these business leaders, especially those who are nurturing the next generation, would be a compelling read. Those are the leaders I wish young innovators considering entrepreneurship would learn from, instead of their being enthralled by social media behemoths and “influencers” fueled by greed and self-aggrandizement.

One final note for newcomers reading this: If you visit McNeil & Reedy wearing sweatpants, rest assured Casey McNeil might convince you to get them tailored, because he cares. Just as his dad (or uncle — I still can’t tell the twins apart) cared enough to agree with me that an oversized overcoat made me look like a massive meat-locker. No commissioned salesperson at a national department store — let alone an influencer — would care enough to do that for you.

Liz DiMarco Weinmann lives in Rutland.

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Liz DiMarco Weinmann

Founder | Creator | Owner: B.E.A.M.-Impact Generator©