December 14, 2017

Generations

Operators pause for a photo in Middlebury in 1962 where they were building I-84 east and west

A family-owned business like O&G Industries, now into its fourth generation of ownership and management, is a rarity.

According to the USC Marshall School of Business and the Harvard Business Review, ninety percent of all businesses in the USA are family-owned. They provide sixty percent of the nation’s jobs. But about seventy percent of family-owned businesses survive for just one generation. To have grown and thrived into its fourth generation of family ownership ranks O&G among under four percent of all firms.

Like other of these rare, fourth-generation family businesses, the DNA at O&G passes down traits of mission and accountability that are larger than the present and more important than self. Family members are unusually willing to sacrifice short-term self-interest, deferring to the long-term greater good. It is DNA with hard work woven through it.

“Things” are expected of family, even if unspoken. And those expectations – centered on core values like commitment to the vision, loyalty to each other, working hard and smart – are passed down.

“Our fathers worked hard six days a week. That’s what we saw growing up,” says O&G Vice Chairman Greg Oneglia, several of whose adult children are now in the fourth generation in the company. There were Saturday family meetings so everyone would know what the other was doing or wanting to do, especially important as the company’s interests broadened and size increased. Oneglia remembers those meetings and others like it: “By osmosis, as the three brothers talked, we would learn about the company. Each brother had his area of responsibility and each brother’s children lined up under what their father was doing.”

With the passage of decades all generations have found themselves with different dynamics and facing different business climates. In 1923, first generation Americans Andrew Oneglia and his partner, Flavio Gervasini, pioneered with little more than hand tools and outsize hearts to “make it” in their new country. Andrew’s three sons, Francis, Raymond and George, joined and boosted the vitality and horsepower of the company, capitalizing on opportunities to diversify and expand the business. Through successes and disappointments they persevered, paving a pathway

for their children. The third generation, cousins Raymond, Greg, David and the late Bob Oneglia, have strategically taken O&G to new horizons and continued the training they expected for their own children – the first generation of management with women and six members in their ranks.

Each generation has hoped that at least some of their children would step into the company at the ground level, the way they had, to learn and ultimately assume positions of leadership.

As has been said elsewhere, the lines between company and family have never been distinct at O&G. The company’s commitment to supporting families and family values remains such that even workers unrelated by blood or marriage feel ties to the generations of O&G.

And has also been said, a business is called a “company” because it is a collection of people in the company of others. It’s the good of the company that matters, out-leveraging the good of any one individual. “We are a family company. We feel proud that we’ve been able to offer good, long-term employment with good benefits,” says Oneglia. “All we ask is that everyone work hard and in the company’s interest every day. It’s gratifying to see how steady and loyal many of our employees are and how they encourage others to come work here.” Since the 1930s, men and women have joined the O&G family and embraced the idea of generations and bringing their own relatives and children into the company after them. They have all made immense contributions at every facility and project. They have built their own legacies of hard work done well. They have demonstrated to their own family and coworkers in the larger O&G family the determination to do their own jobs well and carry their weight.

It’s like “pulling on the rope in the same direction,” as retiring 55-year veteran Tony Damiano puts it. His story (see page 5), while uniquely his own, reflects the commonality of virtues that have propelled the O&G family of employees forward.

The following two pages profile eight different families with generations in the larger O&G family. They exemplify the founding values of the company. They were chosen to represent different business areas of the company; our dilemma was having to choose between so many worthy families with generations at O&G.