BEDFORD — Family-owned Granite State businesses from across the generational spectrum were recognized this week for their contributions to the state’s entrepreneurial community at an annual awards dinner organized by the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Family Enterprise.
Newington beer maker Stoneface Brewery, third-generation heating, plumbing and wholesale pipe distributor Granite Group and Jack Weeks, former owner of Weeks Dairy Foods, were each recognized for their values and overall contributions to the local economy during a reception Tuesday at the Manchester Country Club.
Winning the Innovation Award and serving as the evening’s featured speaker was Stoneface co-founder Peter Beauregard, a veteran of the software industry who in 2014 turned his hobby for beer making into a new career with his company’s flagship Stoneface IPA.
“Brewing has been around for thousands of years. Why is it innovative?” said Beauregard when asked why he believes he was selected for the award. “And I think ultimately for us, the stars aligned. We’re big enough to be recognized as a statewide brewery. And I think we have an interesting brand, and I think we’ve done some cool stuff with the brand.”
At the other end of the age spectrum is Weeks, the 86-year-old patriarch and former head of both the dairy that carried his name and the chain of Weeks Family Restaurants, who was recipient of the center’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
The generations-old business that began with Weeks’ father delivering milk in a Model A Ford had risen to success through acquiring competing dairies. But Weeks eventually found himself on the opposite side of that arrangement in 1988, when failure to find a well-financed partner led to the need to allow his own business to be acquired.
“It’s a second guessing game, second guessing myself,” said Weeks of looking back on his career. “Did I do the right thing at the right time? Could I have stuck with it and become a giant, because that’s what was happening in the industry. I did not have the vision of how I was going to get the company there. And so I figured I had come to the place where, instead of acquiring, I would be acquired.”
The post-dairy life allowed Weeks to serve three terms in the State House and open a donor-advised fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Still, Weeks says the best part of his career was meeting his wife, Pat, in the summer of 1957 when she worked in one of the restaurants.
“Looking back on it, I remember one of the executives of the acquiring company told me ‘You didn’t have a corporation, you had a family.’ And with the benefit of hindsight, I think he was probably right,” Weeks said.
Taking home the Family Business of the Year Award was Granite Group, the Concord-based plumbing and heating wholesaler that grew from a single location in Worcester, Mass., in 1901 to its current standing of 40 stores and 500 employees across every New England state.
Chairman and CEO Kevin Condron says a secret to his company’s success has been a willingness to exercise caution when others were rushing toward new technologies or practices, pointing to the advent of computers in his industry as a prime example.
“Companies spent a lot of money trying to figure them out,” Condron said. “Companies spent a lot of money by innovating their own computer systems: failed. Companies had outsourced it: failed. And we just waited until we saw the time was right and decided to make that huge investment.”
“There’s so much risk when you get out on the edge and try to do innovative things,” Condron said. “It’s really not worth the risk. You’re better to sit back and watch the trends move, and when things mature, move into them quickly.”