On The Level: Keson and SOLA: Working for a family business, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

Jude Nosek,

We will tackle a few topics on family businesses and on some of the tools we use to “measure and mark” what we do. They are topics and tools that we have found helpful in orienting ourselves toward building an effective, productive, and fun business. 

I was recently asked if I had an “Aha! moment” in my professional career. For me, the answer was simple: I watched a man standing on the shoulder of a busy intersection — in a white hardhat, steel-toed boots, jeans, and a white tee under a flannel under a high-visibility vest — wind up a 300-foot fiberglass tape measure.

I have goosebumps on my arms even now as I recall it. I was stopped at a stoplight on my way to work. What I saw and what I experienced while I waited for the light to flick from red to green profoundly changed how I thought about work, my family, and myself. The seconds I sat idling on that concrete strip watching that man work changed how I saw those individuals who sweat and toil to build a better world. It was a pumpkin orange tape measure. I was on my way to Keson, the company responsible for getting that tape measure into that man’s hands, for building that road so I could drive to that company. Aha. The company that my grandfather had begun. The company that provided for his family. The company that built and distributed tools to this person and thousands like him, who used them to build. The company that was, directly and indirectly, responsible for all that I had and a lot of who I was. Aha. Aha. Aha.

Pictured: Roy Nosek

I recognized the tape measure as a Keson product and, in that instant, I was flooded with memories of my grandfather, Roy Nosek. His incredibly strong hands (he was the son of a Chicago bricklayer) gripping mine to the point of pain. His half-smile flashed as if he knew there was a joke about coming to light. His enthusiasm, shown often in his later years as he’d jump up and click his heels together. His constant refrain, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” His passing from Alzheimer’s. 

A few years prior, Roy had died, and the fate of our company had been in question. Now, the company was again thriving, and I was on my way there. I had been hired as a consultant to assist them in defining and perhaps I was executing the strategy and types of marketing tools needed to meet the goals they were setting. What I found was something I decided to dedicate a great deal of my life to. 

Keson was (and remains) a provider of measuring and marking products to professional builders. For the previous 12 years, I worked for a very large corporation ($8+ Billion annual sales, 500 inside salespeople, 150 outside salespeople, doing business in 25+ countries). During that time, I gained a tremendous amount of practical experience in marketing, business, and working with people. I began in a skilled entry-level position and eventually left that company from management. I learned marketing communication, business writing, project management, and strategic planning. I realized that these skills were only basic introductions to what I would need to help our family business. 

I joined Keson in 2004. My brother and my cousin had been working for the company for three and seven years, respectively. These two are still at Keson every day. My brother is the president, and my cousin is our head of human resources. The three of us work together — and with so many wonderful people whose lives I would never have come to know — to continue to create a company whose goal is to provide value to our market. That value comes in two forms for us: our products and our service. Our grandfather, Roy Nosek (flip that last name around if you haven’t already), was fond of saying, “Great service is as important as great products.” He told us a lot of other things, too — things our fathers reinforced in us, things with shades of meaning that are becoming clearer and more nuanced as time unfolds. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Aha. 

Pictured from left to right: Dave Nosek, Aaron Nosek, Ron Nosek, and Jude Nosek at Founder’s Day 2018

I was pretty naïve when I came to work for Keson. I was very enthusiastic but lacked a lot of experience, especially in the construction industry. What I found here was something extraordinary. As I learned more about business and found some mentors in personal and professional growth, I found better ways to think about our company and how and what we were providing. We adopted the registered trademark term “Make Your Mark” in 2010 as part of our rebranding exercise. This simple phrase has so many layers of meaning for who we are, how we think about Keson and the people we serve, and the products we provide. In the next few articles, we will share some of the lessons and the tools we have learned that keep us balanced and heading in the right direction and how they help us keep track of our progress. 

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