Val & Annie Hollingsworth - 7th Gen Hollingsworth & Vose - Manufacturing Innovation Since 1728 [The Business of Family]


21 December 2020

1 hr 2 mins 56 secs

Season 1

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About this Episode

It's not often we get to hear from a 7th generation American manufacturing family with a company that dates back to 1728 and in their family since 1793. The Hollingsworth & Vose Company is a technical manufacturer with a rich history of R&D and innovation.

Here to share their story with us are Val & Annie Hollingsworth, first cousins and both members of the 6th generation, stewarding this incredible and impactful company to the next generation.

Val Hollingsworth has served as President of Hollingsworth & Vose Company since January 1997, and added the title of Chief Executive Officer in January 1998. He began in operations, working as a Shift Supervisor and as a Production Manager, then held a series of manufacturing, sales, and marketing positions. He served as Mill Manager of our West Groton Mill and General Manager of the Battery Separator Business Unit. While the majority of his career has been at H&V, he also spent two years in the Investment Banking Division at Lehman Brothers in New York. Val earned a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.

Annie Hollingsworth was elected to the H&V Board of Directors in 1997. She currently serves on the Nominating & Governance and the Executive Compensation committees of the Board. Prior to joining the Board, Annie worked at H&V starting in 1984. She held several positions in Sales and Marketing including Product Manager, Battery Separator and Marketing Manager, Nonwovens. She was instrumental in getting H&V into the battery separator business. Annie’s father, Mark was the CEO of H&V from 1963 – 1983.

Standout Quotes:

  • "Our company's history has been one of finding new and more technically oriented products in order to replace products that are maturing and obsolescing… Because the family had so much invested in this, we couldn't take the risk of being obsolete" - [Val Hollingsworth]
  • "If you're trying to optimize profitability, which we all are, how do you start to invest in things that may cannibalize an already existing product?" - [Val Hollingsworth]
  • "If we could be a good company.... that would attract good people, those good people would do good work" - [Val Hollingsworth]
  • "Ultimately, you have to trust other people to become the real experts and get in-depth, so it's more a matter of helping find and develop the right people and giving them what they need" - [Val Hollingsworth]
  • "There has always been an unwritten ethic of having to go the extra mile if you're from the family and you're in the business" - [Val Hollingsworth]
  • "If the family can contribute in helping set the right tone, and helping nurture the sense of purpose and values that are relevant, both for the family and ultimately for the company… that's invaluable in creating the atmosphere and dynamic that attracts good people" - [Val Hollingsworth]
  • "Be a good steward, Don't take it for granted" - [Val Hollingsworth]

Key Takeaways:

  • Annie highlights that the company's resilience over the decades comes from a strong focus on customer relationships as well as Research and Development.
  • Val notes a conscious intent in the company from the beginning to continually reinvest, describing some of the intricate planning involved in the company's production line.
  • The business tries to keep up with a mantra of having the best product in the market, a better one in customer evaluation, and an even better one in the labs.
  • Val also describes the role of the workers in building the company's resilience, stressing the importance of having and keeping good people.
  • Trusting the employees plays a vital role in creating a balance for Annie and Val, between having knowledge of the technical expertise required in the family business and the job of stewardship.
  • Unlike Annie's Father who had to step up to the needs of the company without having much of a choice, Val and Annie were not under any pressure and joined purely out of interest.
  • The challenge for the older generation (6th generation) is to be open to change, to understand the important things that can make the company relevant to the next generation, and to know how to communicate with them.
  • Annie shares that she would encourage her kids to pursue their passion, as there are many ways to be a good family member or stockholder, but to ensure they continue to honor the company.
  • Val points out that with good stewardship, the family business could give meaningful contribution to the world.

Episode Timeline:

  • [00:49] Meet Val and Annie Hollingsworth, as they share the early origins of their family business dating back to the late 1700s
  • [07:17] What is it about this company that has allowed it to remain so resilient for so many years?
  • [14:55] Val points out that the business also has multiple generations of employees
  • [16:42] Can you share some of the more notable products that the company is known for manufacturing today?
  • [22:14] Annie and Val each highlight events leading up to their entrance into the company and the journey so far.
  • [29:35] How do you balance understanding the depth of the technical expertise in the business with your stewardship role as a family member?
  • [33:33] Some of the strategies employed in keeping all the various stakeholders up to date with happenings in the business
  • [39:04] The business has an associate development program that exposes workers to the different areas of the business so that they can make a good match.
  • [43:38] Val describes the role of non-family members in the success of the overall business.
  • [46:30] How does the governance side of the family business work?
  • [54:24] Does the family do anything to ensure that the business's history is documented over time?
  • [55:50] The future of Hollingsworth and Vose.
  • [59:44] Annie's letter to her children
  • [01:00:40] Val's letter to his children

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Episode Links

  • H&V - Hollingsworth & Vose — Hollingsworth & Vose Company (H&V) is a global manufacturer of nonwoven materials and engineered papers used in filtration, energy, and industrial applications. The firm is a privately held business founded in 1843; its headquarters are in East Walpole, Massachusetts, USA.