Today, Johnny has moved up from bagging groceries and now steers the cart of the company as vice chairman and senior vice president of real estate for the Bashas’ stores, which include Food City and AJ’s Fine Foods. And it’s not a small feat: Bashas’ is in the top 10 of the largest companies in Arizona with more than 13,000 employees.
Johnny says there are many keys to the company’s success, but at the heart of it all is keeping in sight what really matters: community and compassion.
“These values were instilled in us from the beginning, from our grandmother and family matriarch, Najeeby,” Johnny says. “These values have left an indelible impression on the manner in which our company operates. While so much has changed, our philosophy has remained the same.”
Going Global, Family Style
Poza believes there has never been a better time to operate a family-owned business.
“Small businesses, including family-owned operations, can succeed globally and, in fact, thrive,” Poza says. “They are nimble. They react faster to market niches and focuses and are able to keep the decisions where decisions can get made — with the family.”
Katie Pushor, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, agrees, noting that often, family-owned businesses are usually small at the onset, but with a vision and a passion for a new niche in the market.
“That’s been the story since Adam and Eve opened their first apple stand and it’s still happening in Phoenix today,” she says.
Family-owned businesses, Poza adds, are also able to ride out downturns in market cycles. Family businesses are usually in the game for the long haul and are not consumed by the quick buck, an intriguing idea since the average life of a company in the U.S. is 14 years and the average CEO is in the hot seat for less than three years, according to research cited by Poza.
“There are definitely advantages to owning and operating a family business,” Johnny Basha says. “Since we do not suffer from the bureaucracy of a major corporation, we are able to make relatively quick decisions considering the size of our company. Additionally, given that we are not beholden to Wall Street, we can take a long-term perspective in managing the organization. We can invest in assets that will benefit the company long term, rather than just satisfying quarterly metrics.”
Basha also likes to point to the upside of steering your own ship.
“Each morning, as I enter my office, I am met with the portrait of my father that hangs behind my desk,” he says. “His presence reminds me that my office sits on the same concrete slab as our first grocery store, built by my father in the 1930s. It is a great honor to continue his legacy, and that is by far the greatest reward of operating a family-owned business.”
Keeping it Clean
“I enjoy being able to have success and being able to share that with my wife,” Chad says. “She gets so excited for me to have the business successes that we both work so hard for.”
Of course, it is not all hearts and flowers. Belnap cites health care and insurance as ongoing challenges. Still, he firmly believes small and family-owned businesses are the bread-and-butter of any economy.
“For long-term growth in any business, someone has to be responsible for the success and failure of the choices that are made by any company,” Belnap says. “I am glad that responsibility lies with me because it affects me and my family the most. The buck, literally, stops with me.”
Joan Koerber-Walker, CEO of the Arizona Small Business Association, notes that many of her members are family-owned and report they feel such pressures as access to capital, access to technology and health care concerns. Still, these are a challenge for all businesses. When you throw in the family element — the drama, the sibling rivalry — it becomes all the more complex. There also needs to be aline to draw in the sand, Koerber-Walker adds.
“Business doesn’t make good pillow talk,” she says. “Not only do family-businesses need to focus on the business, they need to focus on the family. That’s a huge challenge.”
At the end of the day, though, business is business and family is family. For veteran business owners such as James Cerreta, it continues to be a recipe — much like his chocolate — for success.
“It is a wonderful experience working with your family,” he says. “It’s important to realize a family and a business can operate simultaneously. But it is important to keep a focus on the business at hand. There are, after all, priorities in life.”