My Rouses Everyday, May & June 2018
A few years ago, I was sitting in a Cornell University auditorium in Ithaca, New York at a weeklong program for food industry executives. The instructor asked a question of our group of manufacturers, wholesalers and other operators from around the U.S.: “Why is it that privately owned businesses, particularly family owned businesses, seem to know better when to make a change to their product or program than a bigger company, which you would assume would have more experienced and knowledgeable leadership?” I listened as people gave technical answers and guesses and were shot down before I offered my input: that a family owned business feels the results much quicker and more personally. “Bingo,” said the instructor, who noted that the last name on my card (it was before I was married, so it said just “Rouse”) matched my company’s name. “To put it simply, it’s your ___ on the line.” You can fill in that blank with a number of words — money, legacy, reputation, etc. — but the word used that day was a three-letter synonym for donkey that pretty much sums it all up. That was one of many nuggets of wisdom I learned in that program, and it’s worth noting that this was a reinforcement of something that my grandfather taught me throughout my working life: To be successful, we must be ready and willing to change.
Family owned businesses are the backbone of the American economy. What truly drives many family businesses is the sense of connection and identity the owners and their family members bring; that could not be more true for Rouses. To be successful and multigenerational, the family behind the business must retain an entrepreneurial spirit, be committed to the community it serves, and be focused on innovation for not just the now, but also for the medium and long term. The environment for innovation in family businesses improves when more generations of the family are actively involved in the business. Our family is large; our founder (my grandfather), Anthony, and his wife Joyce had six children and 17 grandchildren. Currently, there are 21 great-grandchildren adding lots of fun to the mix. The second generation saw our current chairman of the board, Donald Rouse, and his brother Tommy (who’s enjoying a semi-retired life) running the show, with daily visits from their dad until his passing in 2009. My generation, the third, has five cousins active — Donny is our CEO, Nick is a buyer, Chris a store director, Blake an assistant store director and I help manage our finances and, true to family business form, do a bit of everything — Pa used to call me a “Jill of all trades.” We also have extended family throughout our organization — distant cousins and relative through marriage — at all levels. For instance, my husband Billy is our Director of Finance, and my cousin Mandy’s husband Jason Martinolich is our Center Store Director of Innovation. On any given day at work, I may interact with or run into six or seven relatives, sometimes many more! Holidays with family often weave social and business talk, in and out, all day long. For some people, this dynamic would be a nightmare, but I love it, as do all of us who have chosen to work in our family’s business. We are all passionate and excited about strengthening and growing our family business and legacy, by continuing the hard work and dedication that our grandparents and parents have demonstrated for years and have led us by example. We’re excited to one day be able to have our fourth generation grow up in the business like we did — though they’re mostly currently working on skills like coloring and tee-ball, rather than how to bag groceries or run a register. My grandfather taught me that our family business isn’t just about our family; it’s about each family that is supported by a job we provide, and about each family that serves our products on their table.