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Growing together: Family businesses know it's best to go slow when transitioning between generations

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From left, Charlie Hirsh, chairman, Lisa Hirsh, president, Samara Schlossman, inside sales representative, and Mark Schlossman, executive vice president sales and marketing of Accurate Box in Paterson.
From left, Charlie Hirsh, chairman, Lisa Hirsh, president, Samara Schlossman, inside sales representative, and Mark Schlossman, executive vice president sales and marketing of Accurate Box in Paterson. - (PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

Lisa Hirsh didn't grow up dreaming of taking over the family business.

In fact, when she graduated from Smith College in 1982, she was just like any other college kid.

“I needed a job,” she said.

When she got one at the company her father owned, Accurate Box, she still didn't think the family business was in her future: “I figured I'd work here for a year,” she said.

More than 30 years later, she's still there, serving as president of one of the largest independent box manufacturers of litho-laminated packaging in the U.S.

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Her ascension, however, did not happen overnight. It was more than a decade in the making and her father, Charlie Hirsh, still serves as the company's chairman.

It also serves as a key reminder for family businesses: Finding someone in the next generation to take over is only the first step — giving them enough transition time to learn the job is just as important.

“Family businesses may not always be successful because the older generation holds on to too much and can be critical of the younger generation,” Hirsh said.

“Or, family businesses let the next generation take over immediately, giving someone in their 30s with no real experience the presidency and walking out the door.

These are the things that have caused families to struggle.”

Charlie Hirsh found out how difficult transition can be first hand.

In 1950, Charlie left Bowling Green at age 20 to help his father's small and troubled folding-carton company in Newark.

And while he enjoyed being with his dad — he said his father “was the kind of man who praised me if I swept the floor” — the business itself was suffering.

Then, in 1964, the elder Hirsh passed away, leaving his son to become president of Accurate Box.

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So Charlie began to experiment with a new product line in the marketplace called litho-laminate, or high-graphic corrugated packaging, in the 1970s.

In 1983, a year after his daughter joined the company, he purchased a carton company in Paterson and moved Accurate Box to its current 300,000 square-foot facility in that city.

Charlie even recruited Lisa's husband, Mark Schlossman, to quit selling radio advertisements and came to work at Accurate Box.

“Charlie made me the classic offer I couldn't refuse,” Schlossman said. “He said, 'If you can sell air, you can sell empty boxes.' ”

Together, the three were able to turn business around.

Today, Accurate Box employs about 230 and works mainly with clients in the food and beverage industry such as Kellogg's, PepsiCo Inc. and Harpoon Brewery.

Now with Lisa Hirsh as president, Charlie as chairman, and Schlossman as executive vice president, the company has grown 20 to 30 percent each year for the last five years.

“We've started to max out the space here, which is a challenge,” Lisa Hirsh said.

While an ongoing discussion continues as to how to accommodate additional growth, Hirsh said that, for now, Accurate Box will continue to look at its capacities and invest in new equipment.

The staff also will continue to work on creating new avenues and differentiating their markets — for instance, e-commerce, with clients such as Marc Jacobs using Accurate Box's elegant packaging to ship luxury products to customers; or quick-service restaurants, such as the weight-resistant tailgating box for Bojangles, a Southeastern regional food chain.

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Founded in 1944, this third-generation family business will celebrate its 70th anniversary this year.

There's even the potential for a fourth generation, as Hirsh and Schlossman's 24-year-old daughter, Samara, already is employed there.

But don't call her “Boss” just yet.

“We had a very long transition. Mark and I were here 15 years before we took over the reins of running the business,” Hirsh said. “That was time enough for us to really learn the ups and downs of the business.

“So my daughter is not going to be expecting to be running this business any time soon.”

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

ON THE MOVE?

You can make an argument that Accurate Box is one of the most deep-rooted manufacturing institutions this state has ever seen.

It was founded in 1944, based in two of the state’s biggest industrial cities — Newark and Paterson — and run continuously by the same family for three generations.

So why is there no guarantee the company will stay here another 70 years?

“We’re talking about either renovating and adding onto this space, or moving to another location,” President Lisa Hirsh said. “We’re looking at all our options at this point.”

All options, according to her father and the company’s chairman, Charlie Hirsh.

“This might mean moving out of the state,” he said. “Opportunities in neighboring states are opening up.”

Executive Vice President Mark Schlossman said those options have some appeal.

“Other states are much more aggressive in terms of their incentives,” he said.

While Lisa Hirsh wouldn’t say which states are making overtures, she did say why Accurate Box is looking elsewhere.

“There’s not a lot of land here; it’s very congested,” she said. “A facility that’s the size we need may not be in this area. So we’re looking in New Jersey and also outside of New Jersey.”

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry

Meg Fry covers manufacturing and retail. Meg joins NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television. She continues to write and market her own spec scripts and screenplays. You can contact her at megf@njbiz.com or @MegFry3 on Twitter.

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