'I'm a poor boy from the Bronx, who used the GI bill to go to school and built a $20 million company up from nothing. I believe in the American flag and the American way. I love free enterprise.'
Their family histories read like novels -- family sagas and tales of Horatio Alger struggling up the ladder.
Rudy Miller took his first job at age nine to pay for schoolbooks. Today, at 36, he heads Miller Technology & Communications Corp., a $7.7 million training services company growing at a compound annual rate of 77%.
The gold rush lured Frank Reed Sr.'s grandfather to Alaska, where he built a lumber company, a hotel business, and one of the first hydroelectric plants in what was then the Yukon Territory. Today, with Reed as CEO, Alaska Diversified Resources Inc. generates $7.9 million in annual sales, mostly from retail electronics and software development, and Reed is working with the next generation, a son who is company president and a daughter who is on the board.
Sheldon Razin's grandfather came to the United States speaking only Russian -- and built his own textile business, in part, Razin, CEO of Quality Systems Inc. theorizes, because "business desire and acumen were in our genes."
Nearly half of the INC. 100 CEOs had parents who were in business for themselves. BSN Corp.'s M. J. Blumenfeld's father ran an ice and coal company; SPM Group's Konrad Ruckstuhl's father launched a barge business on the Rhine. The fathers of Diagnostic/Retrieval's Leonard Newman, Phoenix American's Gus Constantin, Scientific Leasing Inc.'s Barry Bronfin, and CP Rehab Corp.'s Dean Sloane all owned retail stores. "It never occurred to me that I would work for somebody else," recalls Gary Hillman of Machine Technology Inc. "Even as a child I did things to raise money," Alvin McCall of Ryan's Family Steak Houses Inc. remembers. "I guess I was just born with it."
The next generation is expected to continue the tradition. While 28% of the INC. 100 companies forbid hiring relatives, another 41% of the CEOs already work with family members. And a full 75% hope to see their children follow them down the entrepreneurial path.
"I don't think it's a bad idea to encourage a child to become an entrepreneur," John Cullinane reasons. "You're not fettered by bosses and bureaucracies. Why not have the satisfaction of building something from nothing?"
But Dean Scheff of CPT Corp-.disagrees. He would discourage his twin daughters from starting their own businesses. The costs, he says, are just too great. But Scheff knows well that children watch more than they listen. Years ago his own father, owner of a grain elevator in the Midwest, told him the same thing, recommending the security of a major corporation. So Scheff went to work for Univac and then for Honeywell Inc. -- but in 1971 he launched CPT, which has now grown to $145 million in sales.