Very few family-owned companies survive as such past the third generation. Bemis Manufacturing Co., a leading manufacturer of toilet seats, is one of them. It recently announced that Vesla (Bemis) Hoeschen will serve as the next chairperson of the Board of Directors. The appointment was effective May 24.
Hoeschen, who has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and an executive MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, first joined Bemis in 1992 and served in a number of roles throughout the company. She represents the fourth generation of Bemis family members serving in leadership roles for the Sheboygan Falls, WI–based producer of proprietary and custom injection molded plastic products.
“This is a significant moment in our company’s history,” said President and CEO Jeff Lonigro. “Vesla is a strong leader — for the company, the community, and the Bemis family — and she embodies the hard work, innovation, and strong values that have propelled the company forward for four generations. We are thrilled that she will help shape the company’s future, continuing the entrepreneurial spirit and legacy of Richard and Peter Bemis; their father, F.K. Bemis; and [company] founder, Albert Bemis.”
A growing global footprint
|Vesla (Bemis) Hoeschen|
Over the past 30 years that Hoeschen has been in the family business, she has seen many changes. She shared some of those with PlasticsToday, noting that one of the biggest changes has been the company’s global footprint. “We have expanded our global footprint by adding manufacturing facilities in Burnley, England (1987); Monterrey, Mexico (1994); Grenoble, France (2016); Ivanic Grad, Croatia (2018); and in 2020 we acquired a premiere washing toilet seat company, Bio Bidet.
“We need to stay close to our customers, and our customers are located throughout the United States and the world,” Hoeschen said. “From our manufacturing centers in North Carolina, Mexico, and at our headquarters in Sheboygan Falls, we are strategically positioned near our North American retail, wholesale, and contract customers. Our European manufacturing centers provide the sales and manufacturing teams the same capability in regards to delivering to our DIY and wholesale customers across the EU.”
Bemis is known for its innovation. “We constantly push boundaries in our manufacturing processes, including the introduction of co-injection, automation, and gas-assisted injection molding, and we find creative design solutions through over 200 thermoplastic materials used in our facilities,” explained Hoeschen.
“Bemis has thrived on innovation over the 120 years we’ve been in business,” she continued. “We have evolved from making wagons, wicker furniture, and wood composite products in Wisconsin to a global enterprise manufacturing toilet seats and custom plastic injection molded products. I’ve seen significant advancements in our product offering, manufacturing processes, materials handling, and safety throughout our facilities over the past few decades.”
Building on a legacy
When asked what challenges she might face walking in the footsteps of her father, Richard A. Bemis, and how she might put her own imprint on the business, Hoeschen responded: “Family business or not, I think any time your predecessor is 30 years your senior, you will have big shoes to fill. With decades of experience, my father will continue to be my mentor and provide feedback as I build upon the legacy he, Peter, and the generations before them created.”
Hoeschen’s role as board chair, she explained, will focus on the governance of the business, not the day-to-day operations. “We have a highly qualified board of independent directors and a talented non-family CEO, which makes my job a lot easier. The challenge is to keep all the stakeholders — management, board, and family — pulling in the same direction,” she said.
Given that keeping a family business together through the generations is not easy, and that many do not survive past the third generation, I asked about the Bemis family secret for maintaining and growing a strong company? “We are very fortunate that our third generation grew the company 10-fold during its tenure,” Hoeschen said. “My father is an entrepreneur at heart and my uncle, Peter, was an innovator. Together, they acted more like a first-generation partnership. Those qualities along with their strong work ethic and passion for problem solving proved to be a winning combination. We defied the odds and are one of the 3% of family businesses that have made it to the fourth generation.
“My siblings and cousins in this next generation are committed to keeping the business family-owned and are already working to ensure the success of the next-generation transition,” stated Hoeschen. “The longevity of Bemis Manufacturing will be driven by our family values — stewardship, respect, innovation, integrity, and sustainability.”