Charlie Shuman became full owner of the firm in 1994, and then sold the business to Ken and Dan — his two sons — when he retired in 2008. Ken now serves as Shuman president and Dan as vice president.
Ken Shuman joined the family firm in a consulting role and later moved into sales. He and his dad and uncle “reached an agreement where I eventually would run the business if I could prove myself and earn that privilege and responsibility,” he recently said. “They said they'd let me know if it wasn't working out and I said I'd do the same for them.”
Over time, Shuman Plastics has worked its way through the advantages and disadvantages of family ownership. “The advantages or disadvantages are what you make of them,” Ken Shuman said. “For us, it's all upside. My brother and I have common values that we share as a larger family.”
“We believe in doing the right thing no matter what — in caring for our people before expecting them to care for our clients and suppliers and in giving back to our community,” he added. “The rest is simply plastic.
“My brother and I share these values, and we trust that we have each other's back. This extends to all our associates. When you respect and trust each other, you can allow yourself to be vulnerable and communicate openly and honestly. When that happens, you can do amazing things together.
Like many family firms, Shuman Plastics had to handle the topic of succession planning. Ken Shuman said that succession planning “was huge for us moving into 2008 when my father Charlie planned to retire after a lifetime of building this business
“I'd worked with him for 23 years and with my brother Dan for about a dozen years at that point. Our dad was such a strong personality and accomplished business person that I honestly questioned if I could ever fill his shoes. It occurred to me that I could never do so, but I could still lead and run this business,” Ken Shuman said.
“He had given us all the tools, good values, and great business experience, we just had to fly on our own,” Ken Shuman added. “Knowing that, he retired, and promptly left for Florida!
When Ken joined the firm, he said, he was “both reluctant and terrified” to work with family, but he's now grateful for the experience. “What a gift to know my father from this perspective, which would never have been available to me without joining this business,” Ken Shuman said.
As for work/life balance, he said the firm keeps things simple. “Work is work and home is home. That sounds so completely cliche, but that's pretty much how it works.”
Since neither of Ken's two kids nor any of Dan's five are even in college yet, the family hasn't had to look at fourth-generation issues. But Ken said there are “no expectations” for any of the kids to follow in the family footsteps.
“We've got a prerequisite for them to get an education and their own worldview,” he explained. “After that, there could be a conversation to be had. But having a job here isn't an inheritance.”
Ken Shuman added that the firm's relatively small 38-person workforce doesn't have a lot of extra room for family members. “I can think of no better way to disparage our associates and wreck our culture than loading up the place with a bunch of family members,” he said. “Sorry, but I had to say it.”
On the business side, Shuman Plastics is a bit unique in that customers who buy resin from the firm aren't always aware of its Dyna-Purge unit. The same sometimes holds true for Dyna-Purge customers. Or if they are aware of both, customers don't realize the businesses have the same owners
Looking ahead, Ken Shuman said that global economic and political underpinnings “are weak and unpredictable.”
“Disruptive technologies and change in general are occurring at a rapid pace,” he added. “Our success depends upon staying lean and laser-focused on what we have skill and experience with, and in refining and polishing that model over and over.
“The business doesn't look like it did 25 years ago. It may look different again over the next 15 as we evolve and react to manage risk and change. We take nothing for granted here. We're humbled daily with the challenge to get it right,” Ken Shuman said.
“Each day is a gift — who knows what tomorrow brings?” Ken Shuman asked. “As my brother wisely reminds me — ‘Man plans... and God laughs.'”
Read an overview of family-owned businesses and find links to other profiles.