2010 Hall of Fame: Gene Chaiken, Chairman and CEO, Almo
Succession planning in any family business, if it’s done right, ensures the seamless passing of the reins from one generation to the next. Most members of multi-generational businesses assume they will have the luxury of time for a measured transition where skills can be practiced and experience accumulated.
Gene Chaiken, chairman and CEO of Almo, knows different. His proudest achievement at Almo’s helm has been to think well ahead, putting in place a transition plan with the appointment of his son, Warren, to the post of president and COO six years ago. It’s a textbook example of sterling management – a strategy suited to the style of its architect. But Chaiken’s strategy was really born of experience.
When his father-in-law, mentor and the head of Almo, Morris Green, died suddenly in 1973, Chaiken was left in a different situation, one that didn’t include a clear succession plan. “It hadn’t been laid out properly, and I vowed that something like that would never happen again,” he said. “If you don’t learn from mistakes in the past, then you’re going to repeat them.”
Chaiken became chairman, president and CEO following Green’s death and has run the business since then. The company timeline over that period has seen the purchase of 17 companies, two major divestitures, expansion into new markets and revenue growth from $8 million at the time he took office to $500 million today.
Chaiken joined Almo in April 1963, back when corner stores still had TV tube testers. He came to the company with schooling and work experience in accounting, having spent six months in the Army. With the help of Green, who shared with him his sales and marketing secrets, and general manager Arthur Seltzer, who taught him the nuts and bolts, he learned the ropes in distribution. “Between the two of them, I got a very broad education,” Chaiken said. He also took life cues from two other personal heroes: his father, who taught him never to settle for being second best, and his brother, Sheldon, who went on a sabbatical from investment banking for six and a half years after Chaiken’s father-in-law passed to join Almo and help Chaiken move the business to the next level. “He’s an older brother who has always made sure his younger brother was always taken care of first,” he said. “It’s a wonderful relationship.”