Affirming the Next Generation

6 generations of business success.

We tend to not think like that. In America, often the mantra has been build to sell—not build to hold, or build for purpose.

In 1897, Isaac Van Westenbrugge established a butter and egg delivery service in Grand Rapids, Michigan. By 1916, Ben Gordon, 16, joined the company sweeping floors, unloading margarine, bookkeeping, etc. Ben married Isaac’s daughter, Ruth, and by 1933 Ben became a partner in the business. In 1937, Ben’s brother, Frank, joined the business, and in 1942, Isaac retired and the company was renamed Gordon Food Service.

By 1965, the 3rd generation, Paul & John, of family leadership was at the helm. By 1973, the 4th generation was involved. Generation 5 accounted for 85 individuals with 5 of them working in the business.

One of the keys to their success is a simple letter of wishes passed down from generation to generation. This letter of wishes reflects the core values and desires of the family for the family and the business. It takes the family lore and puts it in writing. The letter was started in the 1960s and continued in the 1970s and updated in the 1980s.

Now each successive generation affirms and writes their response to the letter of wishes. The letter is a living document that provides inspiration from generation to generation.

In truth, the Gordon family serves as a model, a reflection of what every family might aim for—business or not. That each successive generation of children would reflect and model the values of the previous generation.

Affirm the covenant from one generation to the next. That’s a biblical model.

by Bill High, ©2023

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