Montana State University

MSU program honors family-run businesses

July 7, 2014 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

Colombo’s Pizza and Pasta won a Family Business Award in 2009. Joe Colombo (center), who owns the restaurant with his wife, Janet (left), and daughter, Cassie (right), said the recognition meant a great deal. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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A gift and effort to salute one retiring businessman 20 years ago has grown into a statewide business recognition and outreach program that has honored more than 120 family-run businesses to date.

Montana State University’s Family Business Program was established in 1994 when Robert Jaedicke, a former member of the MSU College of Business Dean’s Board of Advisers, gave $50,000 to MSU, via State Farm Insurance, when he retired. The gift created a permanent endowment that supports the program. Since then, State Farm has continued supporting the program annually. Stockman Bank joined the partnership in 2006, underwriting awards and providing additional support for the outreach programs. Also in 2006, the Montana Chamber of Commerce began supporting the program.

The process of receiving a Family Business Award lends to the award’s prestige. Businesses must first be nominated, either by the business itself or by other community members. Then, if the business owners would like their nomination to be considered, they fill out an application. A panel of judges composed of leaders from MSU and the business community selects the winners, which are announced at an annual awards seminar and luncheon, usually held in the fall. Awards are given in seven different categories: very small business (fewer than 10 employees); small business (10-30 employees); medium business (30-50 employees); large business (more than 50 employees); old business (operating at least 50 years); new business (operating 10 or fewer years); and special recognition.

Colombo’s Pizza and Pasta won a Family Business Award in 2009. Joe Colombo, who owns the popular Bozeman restaurant with his wife and daughter, said the recognition meant a great deal, particularly because Colombo’s Pizza and Pasta was the family’s fourth attempt at owning a business after moving to Montana in 1977.

“[Years before receiving the Family Business Award] we had come close to packing it up and leaving the state,” Colombo said. “It was quite an honor to be recognized.”

Now, the bustling restaurant has been in operation for nearly 30 years, serving up handmade pizza and specialties to countless MSU students and community members from its location just north of MSU’s campus.

Craig Ehlert, director of the Family Business Program and teaching professor of business, said the program’s primary goal is to provide recognition to family-owned and operated businesses.

“Any time you’re recognized by peers or your fellow business community, that really helps people feel good about what they’re doing and makes them continue to want to work hard,” Ehlert said. “Most people don’t actively seek these types of recognitions, but when they come along, they’re very gracious and thankful for getting them.”

Brad Daws, a State Farm Insurance agent who is involved with the program, added that the communities in which the businesses are located are pleased to see one of their own recognized.

“It’s kind of like a local high school team that does well,” Daws said. “Everybody’s proud to see that recognition.”

Ehlert added there are several other benefits to the program. First, when family businesses are recognized, they can become something of a model to the wider business community. Showcasing these businesses can inspire other family-run businesses in Montana to also strive for excellence.

“The more visible this program and the winners are, the more it will help other family business owners see that they can also do well,” Ehlert said.

Well-run family businesses also make important contributions to Montana’s economy, Ehlert said.

“Most of these businesses are not very big, but they are huge contributors to the state’s economy,” Ehlert said. “We’re really glad to be able to provide some recognition to them for their great efforts.”

There are roughly 120,000 businesses in Montana, Ehlert said, and the approximately 120 businesses that the program has recognized really stand out.

“There are a lot of really great companies out there,” Ehlert said. “This is really the cream of the crop.”

Contact: Audrey Capp, director of communications and PR, Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, (406) 994-7026 or audrey.lee@montana.edu