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Laura Juarez
38 years old
President and Chief Executive Officer
L.E. Smith Company

The L.E. Smith Company was founded in 1950 in Bryan, Ohio (USA), by Laura's grandfather Lawrence E. (L.E.) Smith as a small business selling moldings for countertops in Northwest Ohio. Under the leadership of the second generation, the business grew to become one of the largest custom laminate manufacturers in the Midwest. In 2006 the second generation sold the business to five members of the third generation. The business currently has 85 employees and $10MM in sales.

Preparing for Leadership
"I graduated from Miami University (Ohio) in 1993 and went to Andersen Consulting in the areas of change management and organizational design. I loved consulting and said that I would never return to the family business, but in 1997 my uncle asked me to return to the business. I am the oldest of 18 members of the third generation, and my father and uncle wanted me to succeed them in leadership. After my return my father and uncle slowly reduced their time in the business, and by 2002 they were largely out of the business -- but it had been enough time for me to learn the business. It was a privelege to work with my father and uncle, and to experience my father as a professional."

Policies and Governance
"We have been very disciplined to put programs in place to create a sustainable business and for people to explore careers. We put in a family employment policy which requires a family member to work outside the business for three years if they have management aspirations. We have outside members on our Board. The members of the third generation who work in the business are the shareholders. We have quarterly shareholder meetings to share business challenges and to discuss strategy so that everyone feels included. We have buy-sell agreements which stipulate that we will remain family-owned and operated."

Changing the Culture
"We have retained the core values that my grandfather and father and uncle established while at the same time revitalizing our culture. We have become more proactive and strategic. We are creating a much more disciplined, results oriented, and measurement based culture. It is fun and fast paced. It has been a big cultural shift."

"If the family is not flourishing, the family business is not flourishing. Family members are not given opportunities they don't deserve. There has to be parity between family and non-family employees so that we are all part of one big unit. We don't have entitlement expectations. There is a very transparent structure. People say what they need to say, and are candid, but everyone is focused on creating business success. This is the culture that we intentionally designed, and got buy-in for the culture from the second and third generations."

There are five members of the third generation who work in the business and are shareholders.

Ms. Juarez was nominated for the "10 Under 40" Award by Kevin Smith

Family Business Wiki Town Square Profile: Laura Juarez

Categories: 10 Under 40 Award