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Fifth generation of L.E. Schwartz family works in 105-year-old Macon business
Photo Credit: JASON VORHEES — email@example.com
Michael Kruger’s toddler runs around the halls at the office -- just as his dad did when he was a boy.
It’s not the only tradition the Kruger family has.
As vice president of the roofing division at L.E. Schwartz & Son Inc., Michael Kruger, 34, is the fifth generation of his family to work in the business, founded in 1910.
The Macon-based company is one of the largest firms in the Southeast involved in the fabrication, installation and maintenance of roofing and sheet metal products for commercial and industrial use. It’s also had a residential division since 2008.
It’s often said about family businesses that the first generation grows it, the second generation enjoys it and the third generation destroys it.
That has not been the case at L.E. Schwartz & Son.
Michael’s father, President Steve Kruger, 59, has worked at the business since he was 16 years old. His father, CEO Melvin Kruger, 86, remains involved and comes to the office nearly every day.
Steve Kruger holds a special position in that his father and son work at the company.
“As my grandfather used to say, ‘every day is Father’s Day,’ and so I don’t know that we can appreciate that the day is called that,” he said.
Steve grew up in the business working from the ground up -- the same as his father and his son.
“We always believed you had to understand all the aspects of the business, and it’s awfully hard to move through a business when you can’t appreciate what everybody in the business does,” he said. “So going from sweeping the floor to doing whatever it took to get the job done in my opinion to this day remains a very important thing that I experienced.”
By the time he was 16, Steve was working on roofs, which he did for a couple of years. He worked up through the company before being named president in 1994.
It’s been important to him to have the respect from fellow employees that he earned his position -- “not that you were just handed that position.”
And he said he understands the responsibility he has for the more than 100 employees at L.E. Schwartz and their families.
“What we do affects a lot more than just me and my family,” he said. “I carry that with me every day.”
After Michael was born, he said it entered his mind that his son might work with him someday -- but it wasn’t a given.
“I didn’t want to mess things up so it wouldn’t be available if he chose to do it,” Steve said. “But he certainly had the opportunity to make his own decision. I was thrilled that he chose to join us, and he’s just been wonderful.
“We celebrate the opportunity to work together, and watching him grow and develop is thrilling.”
FATHERS AND SONS ARE CLOSE
Michael has always had a close relationship with his father and grandfather.
“We did a lot of things together as a family,” he said. “The three of us played tennis on weekends when I was a kid. It would be me and my grandfather against my dad and someone else ... when I was 10 or 12.”
But as Michael became a better player, “they stopped letting me play with them,” he said, laughing. He was captain of the tennis team at Central High School for a few years.
When he was 16, Michael began working in the warehouse during the summers.
“Then when I was 18 and I was allowed to (by the company’s insurance), they put me on the roof for the first time. Every summer ... while I was in college I was working on the roof, which was tough. But it was a good thing. It gave me a lot of empathy for what the guys go through because it’s a very, very difficult job. ... It’s kind of a rite of passage.”
He was leaning toward working in the family business before he went to the University of Georgia.
“At the time, I was looking at the different career paths,” he said. “But to have an opportunity with your dad and your granddad, ... not to mention all the other non-family members that I’ve known since I was a kid who are basically family, was too much to pass up. It was the people that drew me to this than the actual work itself.”
After getting his bachelor’s degree in business administration, Michael said he wasn’t ready to move back to Macon just yet. So he lived in Atlanta and worked on some jobs that L.E. Schwartz had in the area.
When he got engaged in 2009, he came back to Macon. He was promoted to his current position about a year ago.
It’s never been difficult to work with his father, Michael said.
“I don’t know what it is with our family, but we’ve never had an issue,” he said. “We work together very well. It’s a lot more of a team approach versus your way or my way kind of thing. We talk things out and not just between us but with other people in the company.
“I know a lot of people in family businesses that really clash with their fathers. But it has just never been an issue with us. It really hasn’t. We are very fortunate, especially five generations in.”
The three Krugers -- Melvin, Steve and Michael -- get together for lunch two or three times a week. Steve said it’s satisfying to watch the interaction between his father and his son.
But the three don’t talk shop so much when they’re at family events.
“The business doesn’t dominate the family,” Michael said. “When we’re together, the business is part of the family.”
Both Steve and Michael said their fathers were not tougher on them than other employees.
“I think he treats me the same as everybody else,” Michael said. “He’s tough but fair to everybody. That’s just his personality.”
Steve said the company’s leaders have shared ideas and shared approaches to management.
“That’s really the wonderful thing about the three generations, because my dad is by far as visionary as anybody I know, and Michael is a good balance of the millennials and I’m an implementer,” Steve said. “We have a good balance between us of our skills sets so we don’t trip over one another.”
He said it isn’t a given that Michael will take over running the business, but that the opportunity would exist for him to participate in leading L.E. Schwartz in the future.
“Certainly the hope is that he wants it and that it’s right for the company as well,” Steve said. “Just as with me, it wouldn’t just automatically happen. Those kinds of things have to be earned.”
Steve has already considered that the sixth generation might work at L.E. Schwartz.
“If and when my grandchildren decide this is where they want to be, then hopefully the fourth generation won’t screw it up for the fifth and beyond,” he said. “And it will be here for them to have that opportunity should they choose it.”
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.