Ask corporate CEO’s their opinion of families within a business and controversy ensues. Visions of public meltdowns and divisions within families fill their heads. But the fine jewelry industry beats to a different drum. Family businesses are common and longevity respected.
Just ask Brad Koen of Joe Koen and Son Jewelers, the oldest family-run business in Austin, Texas. As the fourth generation of Koen’s to operate the family business, Brad and his brother Bill live every day in a world created by their great grandfather. Just the name of their company garners respect and credibility earned through 130 years of continuous, successful business.
“My great granddad Joe Koen was a Russian immigrant who, with 45 family and friends, landed in the US in 1881. He was 24. With watch jewels in his pocket he made his way through Staten Island and made his way to San Antonio where he’d been promised a job as a watchmaker. Along the way he stopped on the banks of the Colorado River in Austin and, according to one report, knelt down, kissed the ground and declared it so beautiful that he refused to go any further. That’s when he, and the rest of the group, decided to settle in Austin, Texas.”
Just two short years after landing in the USA, Joe Koen opened his own jewelry counter in a hotel drug store and began creating his own family heirloom. Passed from father to son for more than 130 years, Joe Koen Jewelers and Son has seen its share of strife.
“We’ve weathered two world wars, the Great Depression, the 2007 Recession and family disagreements, but through it all the relationships between the generations of this family have been critical to its longevity. My great grandfather’s motto was honesty and service to his fellow men and women. The concept of hate had no place in his world. We treat our employees like family and we know if everyone works hard we’ll all prosper.”
Brad’s logic is documented. According to Ann Kinkade, president of Family Enterprise USA: “Family firms have leadership tenure four to five times longer than shareholder-controlled businesses. They also have greater workforce stability and are more likely to hire and retain employees in the face of a tough economy.”
But family-owned companies are more than just inheritance. For Brad his family’s company allowed him the space and time to try on different ‘hats’ within the business until he found out what he wanted to do with his career.
“There wasn’t any pressure on me to go into the family business,” recalls Brad. “My older brother graduated from the University of Texas and went on to New York to obtain his GIA certification, so our family business was taken care of. But I struggled through life trying to figure out what I wanted to do until my family let me try different aspects within the business. I realized I wasn’t good at bookkeeping or bench work, but I was good at selling.”
Surely Joe Koen wanted to hand down something of value to his children when he realized a second generation would be carrying on the business, but allowing his great grandson the freedom to find his niche in life was a nice bonus.
Like their father before them, Bill and Brad are a part of the Texas Jewelers Association. In fact, Bill was president and Brad is vice president. They both love their job and they, like their father and grandfather before them, have learned to work well with family and continue a legacy of integrity.
Proof of that integrity lives on the walls of a hallway in their store. Called their ‘Hall of Fame,’ the walls are framed with thank you letters and certificates from their community for their philanthropy. From the Cancer Foundation to the local theatre, the Koen family has always participated in giving back to their community.
“My great grandfather worked for 80 years in this store and each generation has come to realize what a gift it is to have industry veterans remember my dad, great granddad and my family. It makes me proud to carry on his legacy as the oldest family-run business in Austin and our longevity makes this industry another extension of our family.”
Congratulations Joe Koen and Son Jewelers on 130 years of running a successful fine jewelry business. Here’s hoping the fifth generation will continue the legacy.