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North Bay Business Journal

Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 11:45 am

How Friedman’s was built to last

Founded in 1946, company is passed to fourth generation

By Jim Andersen

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    On June 2, it was announced that Barry Friedman had been named president and chief executive officer of Friedman’s Home Improvement. Changes in corporate management are inevitable. However, what makes this new leadership change so unique? This is the fourth passing of the baton within the same family.

    I feel fortunate to have had Bill Friedman as my closest friend since kindergarten at Proctor Terrace Grammar School in Santa Rosa (1953), and the fact that I have known the family for so many years allows me to pass along a family message. I appreciate that the family trusts me to do so.

    Friedman’s started in 1946 when Ben and Joe Friedman opened the first store in Petaluma. Younger brother Harry Friedman joined Ben and Joe in the early days. In the early stages of the company, Ben and Joe put into practice the steps necessary to build a lasting brand and have a business that would last through the ages:

    • Sell great products at a competitive price.
    • Give world class service and make the customer number one.
    • Hire right, build a management team and reward the management team fairly and give them opportunity to make a difference.

    To me the first two bullet points are self-explanatory. The key element to Friedman’s success since 1946 has been the ability to build a strong management team who are treated like owners by the family members. This process enabled Ben and Joe to mentor Harry, and the three of them mentored Bill. When the first baton was passed on to Harry and Bill in 1985, they were more than ready to handle the task. That being said, their success was in part attributable to Ron Adams, the general manager, who spent most of his career being a driving force in the background keeping everything running smoothly for the company so that the Friedman family members could focus on marketing and community image projects.

    During the ’80s Harry, Ron, and Bill worked feverishly at developing the next round of leaders for the company. Bobby Senften, who has been with Friedman’s for 44 years, became a major player in operations. Tony Corsberg, a 37-year Friedman veteran, was put in charge of merchandise and marketing. The final piece of the puzzle was when David Proctor came to work at Friedman’s. He has been the horsepower behind the financial operations at Friedman’s for over 28 years. Bobby, Tony and David are all still with the company and are now supporting Barry and one day will be mentoring their replacements.

    Bill and Harry worked together as co-shareholders until 1999, when Harry retired and Bill took on the sole ownership of the company. By that time, David Proctor, Tony Corsberg, and Bobby Senften were now permanently entrenched as Bill’s management team. These three warriors enabled Bill to grow the company, enhance what is now three well-run stores, and work on the ultimate dream of re-opening in Petaluma, the city that put the Friedman family on the map. The Petaluma store closed in 1976.

    Fast forwarding to June 2, 2013, Friedman’s made the formal announcement that Barry Friedman would assume the role of the new family leader — the fourth transfer in 66 years! What makes this process so unique is how quiet the family kept this announcement. The board of directors, which is comprised of the management team mentioned above, Bill, Barry, and three outside members — Sam Jones, Art Simon, and me — determined that it was time to have Barry take the helm. This decision was made in April well in advance of the formal announcement date.

    So, other than the management group and outside board members, no one knew this management change was coming. Why? Because the Friedman family has always known that their success relied upon not only their terrific management team but also their loyal employees, some of whom have been with the company for over 25 years. Thus, the announcement was made at an event held at the Wells Fargo Center in front of all 370 employees.

    In summary, a couple of simple lessons in running any successful small business have been practiced by the Friedman family since their origin in 1946: communicate honestly with everyone in the company and build depth in your management structure. By doing so you will build a lasting brand like Friedman’s and put yourself in position to compete in today’s market place.

     …

    Jim Andersen is the former founding and managing partner of Andersen & Company CPAs in Santa Rosa. He is currently partner in charge of valuation and business succession planning services for Hemming Morse LLP in San Francisco and Santa Rosa.

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