Family Style: Washington Family Business Awards 2012

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This is the third year for Seattle Business magazine’s Washington Family Business Awards. And if ever a time seemed apt to call out the contributions of the family-owned business, it is now. As the economy slowly awakens from its prolonged nap, family-owned businesses are leading the way. Whether by virtue of committed owners whose shareholders are truly their closest relatives, or long-term strategies that ensure the survival of a company even in hard times, the best family businesses got through the downturn in relatively good shape because to do otherwise was simply not an option. Their owners and stakeholders knew that words like “trust,” “consistency” and “stewardship” are not marketing buzzwords. They are promises that must be kept. Between 60 and 70 percent of all businesses in the United States are family owned.  They create employment. They create wealth. They create community. On the pages that follow, we celebrate some of the best.

Legacy Winner: Campbell's Resort on Lake Chelan
Transitions Winner: Dishman Dodge Ram Chrysler
Best Practices Winner: AAOA Healthcare
Community Winner: Grounds for Change

LARGE FIRMS
Gold Winner: Baker Boyer Bank
Silver Winner: Powell-Christensen Inc.
Silver Winner: Oak Harbor Freight

MIDSIZE FIRMS
Gold Winner: Cascade Gasket and Manufacturing Company
Silver Winner: Canlis Restaurant
Silver Winner: The Woods Coffee

SMALL FIRMS
Gold Winner: Dynamic Language
Silver Winner: Parfitt Way
Silver Winner: Westport Winery

2012 WASHINGTON FAMILY BUSINESS AWARDS JUDGES
Clarence Barnes,
Dean School of Business Administration, Gonzaga University
Dori Brewer,
Partner Perkins Coie
Steve Brilling,
Family Business Director Albers School of Busines and Economics, Seattle University
Ron Dohr,
President Dohr Family Business Consulting
Craig Nelson, President Washington Employers
Catherine Pratt, Director Family Enterprise Institute, Pacific Lutheran University
Christian Schiller, Managing Director Cascadia Capital
Rich Simmonds, Managing Partner Simmonds Associates

2016 Family Business Awards: Heritage/Legacy Award

2016 Family Business Awards: Heritage/Legacy Award

Winner: Bartell Drugs
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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.