FDU’s Rothman Institute recognizes outstanding family-owned businesses in New Jersey

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Above: The winners of the Rothman Institute's New Jersey Family Business of the Year Awards, Cathy Choi, president of Bulbrite and David Behrman, president of Behrman House Publishers.

By Gabrielle Zuccaro

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared October 14, 2015 as Family Business Day in New Jersey. That afternoon, 175 people gathered for a luncheon and awards ceremony at the Crystal Plaza in Livingston to honor fifteen family businesses that Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Rothman Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship recognized for their innovative business practices, community involvement, commitment to family, and positive impact on the state and local economy.

The event was the 23rd Annual New Jersey Family Business of the Year Awards, a program that recognizes the finest family firms in the State. The awards were sponsored by “New Jersey Monthly,” PNC Bank, the Rothman Institute, Fox Rothschild, Sobel & Co., Camares Communications Inc., and the Crystal Plaza.
The fifteen companies honored hailed from all regions of the State and were split into two categories, based on annual sales. In the Up to $10 Million in Annual Sales category were Behrman House Publishers (Springfield), COX Printers (Linden), Encore Catering (East Hanover), Family Investors Company (Fanwood), Giovanni's Deli (Fair Lawn), Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant (Montclair), Millers Pharmacy (Wyckoff), and Things 4 Strings (Livingston). In the Over $10 Million in Annual Sales category were Bulbrite (Moonachie), Cryofab (Kenilworth), H.M. Royal, Incorporated (Trenton), International American Supermarkets (Piscataway), Jack Daniels Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen and Kia, (Upper Saddle River), Peerless Beverage Company (Union), and Weidel Real Estate (Pennington).

Each honoree received a letter from Christie, saying, “New Jersey’s small businesses represent the strength of our State’s rich economy and they are important to our State’s continued development and growth. The ingenuity and devotion of family entrepreneurs like you create prosperity for our State’s residents, and this prestigious recognition is a testament to your ingenuity, perseverance and dedication to thrive in today’s marketplace.”

Gene C. Waddy, CEO of Diversant, the nation’s largest African-American owned IT staffing firm, and Fairleigh Dickinson University Pinnacle recipient, served as master of ceremonies. In his welcoming remarks, he stated, “Family-owned businesses provide a valuable service. You are all contributors to the community. Family-owned businesses here today prove their value by doing. You prove it every day, by taking your business from a startup to a venture: whether it’s a ten year old business or a century old business. It starts with a vision and being able to carry that vision forward, from generation to generation.”

sdfghjkAbove: Members of nominee, H.M. Royal, Incorporated at the luncheon.

Several of the companies honored at the luncheon were well into their third and fourth generations, and over 80, 90 and 100 years old, such as Peerless Beverage Company, H.M. Royal, and Weidel Realtors. Other firms, such as COX Printers in Linden, are regional leaders in sustainability, operating wind turbines and four beehives. Several of the companies were started by immigrants in pursuit of the American Dream, such as International American Supermarkets, founded by Suhayl Sauma from Lebanon, and Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant, founded by Berekti Mengistu and Akberet Mengistu, sisters from Ethiopia, along with Peerless Beverage Company, founded by Charles Salzman and Jake Beim, and Bulbrite, founded by Andrew Choi.

Having family firms as powerful corporate citizens is evident in their local communities, where they provide employment to thousands of families. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, family-owned business account for 80-90% of all businesses in the U.S. (large and small).

Category Winners were Behrman House Publishers (Springfield) and Bulbrite (Moonachie).

David Behrman, President of Behrman House Publishers, said, “For anyone involved in a family business it’s about legacy. We each stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We all see the achievements of the current generation being built on the work and the values that came before. It’s with this in mind that I acknowledge my grandfather, Louis Behrman, who had the courage to start a business, a small Jewish bookstore in Manhattan, the very year his youngest child was born. And I acknowledge my father Jacob, Louis’ youngest child, who after his return from service in the infantry in World War II, transformed that bookstore into a publishing house with reach into congregations and families throughout North America and in Jewish communities throughout the world. As we acknowledge our past and as we claim our place in the present, we know each day we project ourselves into the future through the products and services we create and the standards of behavior and the values we live by. Our colleagues, our customers and our children watch us. They learn from us every day, by how we deal with each other, by what we do and what we make. Those of us in family businesses know that this is truly our legacy. I’m honored that we can be stewards of this firm to model the values we teach and the ways we conduct our business day to day, and in that way build our legacy in a way that is worthy today and tomorrow, next month and next year, of the many shoulders on which we stand.”

Behrman House Publishers publishes trade and educational Judaica, and is a leading pioneer in digital education for Jewish schools throughout North America.

Cathy Choi, President of Bulbrite, Category Winner with Annual Sales Over $10 Million, said, “It’s a pleasure to look around and see all of these family businesses alive and thriving in the State of New Jersey. My dad and my mom started the business in 1971. I really do love coming to work every day and working with my family, and serving our customers.”

Cathy’s father, Andrew Choi, started the business when he immigrated to the United States from South Korea and began selling light bulbs out of a suitcase, going door to door in Manhattan. Bulbrite is now a leading manufacturer and supplier of innovative, energy-efficient light source solutions.

Family-owned businesses are central to America’s economy. According to the University of Vermont, there are 5.5 million family businesses in the US. (FEUSA, 2011) Family-owned businesses contribute 57% of the U.S. GDP ($8.3 trillion), and employ 63% of the workforce (FEUSA, 2011).

These fifteen innovative and civic-minded family businesses have intrinsically made their local communities and New Jersey a richer, more vibrant, and more diverse place to work and live, for present and future generations. If any lesson can be taken from that day, it is that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and strong in the Garden State.

The New Jersey Family Business of the Year Awards recognize the significant contributions to the economy and community made by New Jersey family businesses whose innovative strategies and business practices have had a positive impact on the state and local economy, and on society.

Part of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Silberman College of Business since 1989, the mission of the Rothman Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship is to teach and support entrepreneurship and innovation in the academic, business and nonprofit communities. For more information, go to www.fdu.edu/rothman.