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THe MAgA ziNe for THe College of Profe ssioNAl sTudie s AluMNi ANd frieNds

All in the Family — Alumni share Their Thoughts on family Business

[NOVEMBER09] CAREER SERiES: “TAppiNg iNTO ThE hiddEN JOB MARkET” WedNesdAy, NoveMBer 18 6:00PM–7:30PM 450 dodge HAll

[dECEMBER09] SigMA EpSiLON RhO WiNTER iNiTiATiON CEREMONy & hOLidAy diNNER sATurdAy, deCeMBer 12 6:00PM Curry sTudeNT CeNTer BAllrooM

For more information or to register for College of Professional Studies alumni events please visit:


CONTENTS [FALL09] 2 Family Matters dean Christopher e. Hopey


4 Building a Family Legacy Paul stella (’63) Turns family vocation into successful Construction Business 8 Smooth Sailing for Maryanne olsen’s (’91) Niche family Business is Keenly focused on Customer service, supplier relationships and Product expertise 8

12 Building Family Business the general Way entrepreneur frank granara (’92) on the Hard Work and fun of growing general insulation 16 Recent Events 18 Of Note 20 Faculty profiles: Chris and Melanie Brooks

Encore welcomes your letters and reserves the right to edit them for space and clarity. Letters for publication should be no longer than 150 words, must refer to an article and include the writer’s name, address and phone number. If sending via email, please do not send attachments. Send letters to: Letters to the Editor, Encore Magazine, College of Professional Studies, Northeastern University, 50 Nightingale Hall, 360 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115-5000 or via email to:

vice President and dean, the College of Professional studies: Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D. editor: Sue Thorn editorial director: Carla Kindt Contributor: Eileen Pacheco Contributor: Peggy Wyllie design by: Pangaro Beer Design Photography by: Rick Friedman, Heratch Photography Encore Magazine is published by The College of Professional Studies, Northeastern University, 50 Nightingale Hall, 360 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115-5000. Phone 877-668-7727. Encore Magazine is published for the alumni of the College of Professional Studies, the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, University College, the Lowell Institute School, the Boston Evening School, and the School of Education.

send editorial contributions to: Sue Thorn, Encore Magazine, College of Professional Studies, Northeastern University, 50 Nightingale Hall, 360 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115-5000 or via email to Encore Magazine accepts no responsibility for unsolicited manuscripts, artwork, or photography. Materials will not be returned unless accompanied by a stamped, selfaddressed envelope. Copyright ©2009 Northeastern University. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this magazine do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of Professional Studies or Northeastern University.


The statistics on family owned and run businesses vary widely depending on how a family business is defined. Some estimates say that between 80 and 90 percent of all enterprises are family operations, responsible for approximately 65 percent of all wages paid in the U.S. What’s more, 78 percent of new jobs are created by family businesses. Setting aside the exact numbers, it’s clear that family businesses play a major role in our economy. And while some of the world’s most widely held corporations are responsible for the current state of our economy, it’s likely that family businesses will be at the center of the recovery. Considering the statistics, the likelihood is high for a College of Professionals Studies graduate to start or participate in a family business. The College offers a wide range of programs that can prepare students for business ownership and management, from our graduate programs in leadership, nonprofit management, and project management, to our Fast-Track undergraduate programs in leadership, management, and finance and accounting management.

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Among the common traits of our alumni is a tendency to be family-centered and to have a distinctive drive and sense of purpose. These traits have come together for the alumni you will read about in this issue of Encore. Each has leveraged their education and capitalized on inspiration and opportunity to create successful family businesses. paul Stella founded P.J. Stella Construction in 1971. Now serving as the firm’s CEO, Stella knew at a very young age that his family’s history as construction workers would set the course for his future career. Maryanne and Bob Olsen founded in 2004 and have quickly built it into the Internet’s leading retailer of marine corrosion control products in North America. Frank Granara, President and CEO of General Insulation, has relied on his vision and industry experience to turn a one-office business into a $150 million distributor of commercial and industrial insulation with 38 branches across the U.S. and Canada. I hope you will enjoy stories of these fellow alums and the lessons they offer for those of you with your own family business ambitions.

Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D. Vice President and Dean, College of Professional Studies 617.373.2400




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“other members of the family have to like what the business is about. they have to decide that this is what they want to do. then they have to have a good relationship with all members of the family—from me, my wife, kids down to grandkids.” Paul Stella


aul J. Stella (’60, ’63), CEO of P.J. Stella Construction, knew at a very young age that his family’s history as construction workers would set the course for his future career. He recalls listening to his two grandfathers, one a laborer, the other a brick-layer, both Italian immigrants, talk about their jobs in construction.

“They taught me simple lessons,” says Stella. “Work hard, be honest, always maintain your integrity, regardless of what you are doing, and you will succeed in life and be respected.” Stella also had a favorite uncle who was a project superintendent with a major Boston construction company. “I would marvel at the stories he would tell me about the projects he was managing,” Stella recalls. “It was always a thrill to visit the projects with him and see the buildings being built.” He cherished his young years working during summer vacations with his brother as a helper for his father’s small local plumbing business. “Construction was in my blood. I always knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

When I was attending Northeastern at night, I used to go there after work to attend class,” explains Paul. “I was working on some big projects in Boston for Vappi and the other students would ask me questions and I arranged to give student tours of the jobs out in the field, which I did, and they loved it.” During that time, Stella married his childhood sweetheart, Adrienne, in September of 1957. In 1959 they began raising their family. They have three children, Stephanie, Joseph and Paulette. Paul worked hard to balance his new family life while working at his full-time construction job during the day, attending classes at Northeastern three to four nights a week, and finding time to study. In June 1960 he earned his Associate degree in Civil Engineering from Lincoln Institute. With his sights set on starting his own construction company, he decided to continue his studies for another two and a half years at University College, earning a BBA degree in 1963. “My experience of attending evening classes at Northeastern for six and a half years taught me that hard work and the desire to succeed would become the basis for starting my own company,” explains Stella.

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laying the foundation Upon graduating from high school in 1953 Stella joined the Naval the knowledge gained from Northeastern coupled with his Reserve and went on active duty immediately. Following his experience in the construction industry, Stella, with full support of discharge in 1956, and utilizing the benefits of the Korean War G.I. his wife, decided to begin P.J. Stella Construction Corp. in 1971. Bill, he enrolled in evening programs at Northeastern University to pursue an associate degree in Civil Engineering at Lincoln Institute. “It was a big gamble, considering that we only had a small sum of During this time, he worked as a draftsman for two constructionmoney to invest in the firm,” explains Stella. related engineering firms in Boston, where he learned blueprint reading, a skill that would become beneficial later when he worked in Most of the first two years, the company consisted only of his wife the field on construction projects. In less than two years working as a and himself. Paul did all of the estimating, construction draftsman and visiting job sites to inspect the designs with which he management and other duties required to run the operation while was involved, he realized that his main goal was to secure a position his wife managed all of the financial functions. At that time, their with a major construction company and put his education to use. children were 8, 10 and 12 years old. Stella attained an entry field engineer position with Vappi & Co. His first assignment was at the construction site of a new building for the New England Conservatory of Music. This project was conveniently located next to the Northeastern campus, allowing him to work full-time at the site all day, and then walk a short distance to attend his evening classes. 617.373.2400

“Adrienne was an angel,” recalls Paul. Adrienne worked part-time, at no salary, to help the company grow, and also managed to run the household and raise their children while Paul worked long days in the field supervising the construction and nights at home handling the paperwork necessary to manage a successful project.


Realizing that he had much to learn about running a company, Paul P.J. Stella Construction has built more than 30 school projects in decided to join the Massachusetts chapter of the Associated General the greater Boston area and suburbs of Massachusetts, as well as in Contractors. The AGC is the premier national association for New Hampshire and Maine. general contractors, with local chapters in all states. The guidance Paul notes, “In fact, our most recently completed Melrose Middle and mentoring that he received from several owners of established School, a $42 million project, was just selected as an ‘AGC Build AGC member contracting firms was invaluable. With their help, New England’ award winner. We are very proud of that Paul was able to learn and apply the principles of marketing, accomplishment.” management, finances, bonding, human resources and many other construction-related subjects to his business. “I’m coming in as the second generation,” explains Joe. “What I have P.J. Stella Construction became very active in both the local chapter observed is that you have to have a passion, have to be committed and you have to work hard. As a family member, you have to and at the national level of the Association. At the local level, Paul has chaired several committees and he served as Chapter President understand what that’s all about. You also have to balance everything, especially work and family. I watched my father work for two terms (1985 and 1986). At the national level, he served as hard day in and day out. Where he was successful was taking the AGC of America’s Chairman of the Building Division and then family atmosphere and extending it to everyone else in the company. national Treasurer in 2002. He is also a life member of the AGC of It’s about developing that culture.” America Board of Directors. Currently, he is on the Executive Board, which governs the affairs of AGC of America. During its first year, P.J. Stella Construction operated out of the Stella home. By 1974 they were building three to five projects per year. At that point, feeling confident that the company would prosper, Paul began to hire personnel for both the field and office to carry out the duties he was performing. During this growth period, his wife, Adrienne, continued on a full-time basis performing all of the financial operations of the firm. Today, Adrienne is still active as the Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of the company.

Paul has continued to grow the family legacy of P.J. Stella Construction. His son-in-law, Mark Klove, joined the firm in 1988 as a Project Manager/Estimator. Nine years ago, Paul’s daughter, Paulette, also joined the business as an Administrative Assistant. Planning for the future generation of the company, Joe’s son, Joseph Jr., is pursuing an education in construction management and civil engineering and he has worked on P.J. Stella Construction projects during his school vacations and plans to join the family business upon graduating from college. Paul’s other grandson, Chris (the son of Paul’s eldest daughter), will also enter college this fall to study civil engineering and plans to work for P.J. Stella Construction.

“I think family businesses, especially small to medium-size businesses, really have a lot to do with having an impact on how the economy goes,” says Paul. “What we do affects a lot of people and their families. We try to plan accordingly. This is probably the worst “We’re very fortunate that we really never had any issues. First of all downturn in my 30-plus years. This has had more of an impact on I think the other members of the family have to like what the us for work and overall trying to stay ahead of the pitfalls. But I business is about. They have to decide that this is what they want to think it’s on the way up. If you run a good company and have all the do. Then they have to have a good relationship with all members of family members behind you, you’ll weather the storm.” the family—from me, my wife, kids down to grandkids.” growing the family and the Business The growth of P.J. Stella Construction paralleled the growth of Adrienne and Paul’s family. Their son, Joseph, developed an interest in construction while working for P.J. Stella Construction in the field during all of his high school and college vacations. He attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute and graduated with a degree in Construction Management/Civil Engineering. Before he entered the business full-time, he also worked for Vappi & Co. for approximately two years, gaining valuable experience as a construction engineer on large-scale projects, which he would later apply to P.J. Stella Construction. Following his two years with Vappi, he returned to the family business where he took on increasing management responsibilities. While he worked days, he attended law school at night and earned a Juris Doctor degree. His legal training is an asset in managing the intricacies the firm faces on a regular basis in a complex contracting industry. In 2001, following the succession plan created by Paul, Joe became President of the company and Paul remained active as the Chief Executive Officer. In his new role, and concentrating on educational projects, Joe increased the company’s volume of work, with annual revenues exceeding $20 million per year.


Paul has built a company based upon integrity, trust, and hard work. His inspiration and desire for a lasting legacy mirrors his favorite quote by the 19th century critic, John Ruskin, who said, “When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendents will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See! This our fathers did for us.” π Paul Stella founded P.J. Stella Construction Corp., a closely held and family-run general contracting business in 1971. He now serves as CEO. The award-winning firm has a track record for delivering quality construction services for a wide variety of industries. The firm has had the opportunity to work with some of the leading owners, architectural firms and subcontractors in New England. P.J. Stella believes that its continued growth and the cornerstone of its success has been the combination of responsible leadership, honesty, trust and good work.



Take Your Career To The

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Career series NOVEMBER 18

Tapping into the Hidden Job Market

To register or for more information: College of Professional studies Alumni relations 617.373.2727 There is no charge for the workshops. Refreshments will be served.

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To appreciate the importance of a niche business like, the family business founded and operated by University College alumna Maryanne Olsen (’91) and her husband Bob (MBA, ’80), one first needs to understand the concept of “sacrificial zincs.” Don Casey, best-selling author of a series of do-ityourself boat repair and maintenance books, including “This Old Boat,” offers a succinct description of a fundamental boaters’ concern known as “galvanic corrosion.” “Any time you have two different metals that are physically or electrically connected and immersed in seawater, they become a battery. Some amount of current flows between the two metals. The electrons that make up that current are supplied by one of the metals giving up bits of itself—in the form of metal ions—to the seawater. This is called galvanic corrosion and, left unchecked, it quickly destroys underwater metals.” Maryanne and Bob founded in 2004 and have quickly built it into the Internet’s leading retailer of marine corrosion control products in North America. The company specializes in the sale of sacrificial zinc, aluminum and magnesium anodes for recreational and commercial boaters. from inspiration to the internet Between 1976 and 2003, Bob Olsen had been involved with a series of successful start-ups in the data communications industry. By 2003, in need of a break and a change of course, the Olsens set out on an at-sea sabbatical. It was aboard their boat at a national park mooring in the Bahamas, that the idea for a zinc anodes business took hold. “By 2003 I ran out of interest in high tech start-ups and was looking for something new and different,” recalls Bob. “We took six or seven months off and went boating, enjoying life and thinking about what we wanted to do next.” One of Bob’s goals was to build an e-commerce business. He wanted to learn about a side of the high tech industry that he had not been involved with previously. And so starting an online business was motivated initially by the desire to learn. 617.373.2400

Over a 10-year period, while raising two children and going to school nights, Maryanne had earned her bachelor’s degree in Information Systems (Summa Cum Laude). She graduated from University College in 1991 and returned to Northeastern in 1998 for a one-year certificate program to become a webmaster. She worked as a subcontractor and freelancer, building websites. “We ventured into this particular business as boat owners and do-it-yourself kind of people,” explains Bob. “We had to provision and maintain our boat for a 5,000-mile cruise. Boat owners go on the Internet for products and marine supplies. It became apparent in the provisioning of our trip, just getting zinc anodes for our boat was a painful process.” The Olsens saw a real opportunity for developing a customer base interested in purchasing this class of product at a fair price, particularly if the products were readily available. Testing the Waters with an online Anodes Business In 2004 they launched on a part-time basis as a trial. During the first year, Maryanne built the website and Bob handled promotion and focused on lining up a supplier. They purchased products, carried an inventory and began operating the company from their home. Almost immediately Maryanne and Bob discovered they we were tremendously under-stocked. Their initial inventory capacity could not keep up with the demand, particularly during spring, when people were getting their boats ready for the summer season. This reinforced their belief that there was a substantial interest in buying this class of product online. The key was to have a large, readily available inventory, and the ability to ship quickly. Throughout the 2004 trial season, Maryanne essentially ran the business on her own. After that first year, the Olsens realized the business showed enough promise for Bob and Maryanne to jump in full time. The following spring they were inundated with business. Maryanne hired local kids to help out with packing orders. They built up an inventory of both common and hard-to-find products— a competitive advantage over traditional marine supply companies. Along the way, Maryanne and Bob became experts about anodes. It is a difficult class of product to stock, as boaters require a range of anode types. Getting them all from one supplier at a reasonable price was not previously possible.


“We stepped in to fill that void,” explains Bob. “Our goal is to ship the same day an order is placed. We are able to do this by maintaining the inventory. It has taken time to build the inventory and supplier relationships that allow us to deliver the highest level of customer satisfaction. We now stock over 650 products.”

Navigating the ebb and flow of a seasonal Business The anodes business is seasonal. It spikes March through May, making for long 12-hour days during the spring. At the end of day, after orders have been filled, there are the administrative tasks that have to be completed to keep the business running smoothly, such as accounting and updates to the website. Business reverts to a more steady level for the rest of year.

The Olsens learned that one of the keys to delivering an exceptional customer experience was developing relationships with the right suppliers. Being able to display the products on the website was also “It’s been very enjoyable,” says Maryanne. “No one has a specific job important. description. If something needs to be done, there’s always someone able to handle it.”

“no one has a specific job description. if something needs to be done, there’s always someone able to handle it.”

And while the boating industry has suffered during this year’s economic downturn, has enjoyed growth and stability. The Olsens explain that the do it yourself maintenance business is somewhat recession-proof. As consumers increasingly look for ways to save money, they look for products that enable them to do it themselves.

Products are now more technologically advanced, which requires more of a consultative relationship with customers. The Olsens “Each spring we evaluate where we are and what we can handle,” work closely with customers to provide corrosion protection solutions for a wide range of marine applications. Both Bob and son explains Bob. “In this economy, sales of new and used boats are down. But since we sell to people who maintain their vessels we Dan received their Marine Corrosion Certification from the ABYC have seen no decline. People are going to maintain their boats. Even (American Boat & Yacht Council), which sets the standards for the if a boat doesn’t leave the dock, you need to maintain it. People marine industry. spend so much on their boats. A few zincs will save it. It’s a small “People trust as a resource,” says Bob. “They have investment to protect a big investment.” confidence in the products and the information they get. The “I never thought that we would ship so many zinc anodes or that economics of an online business goes away fast if you have to take people would want them overnight,” adds Maryanne. “But we do it products back. So when something goes out the door it has to go every day.” π out correct.” The Competitive Advantage of a family Business Maryanne and Bob are not the only family members behind As the business has grown, their son Dan and his wife Angela have joined the crew. Everyone pitches in where needed. Angela assists with customer service, answering phone calls, packing orders and accounting. Dan concentrates on the company’s operations, helping improve efficiencies and lowering supplier costs. Dan, a mechanical engineer (BSME, NU) who recently completed his MBA at Northeastern, is also a CAD/CAM developer. He has designed anodes for the foundries they work with—specialty products that customers can’t find through other sources. In addition, Dan’s engineering background enables him to identify problems with products, which he communicates to suppliers and manufacturers so that a fix can be developed. Having a close relationship with their suppliers enables the Olsens to give them feedback on their products, from pricing and packaging to holes in the marketplace that represent opportunities for new products. “A family business offers a compelling competitive advantage, if you can have everyone working together right,” says Bob. The market for anodes is changing. Since 2004 there has been a regionalization of competition in the U.S. In 2004 and 2005 was the only online player in the anodes space. The Olsens have begun to notice challengers modeling themselves after their niche business.


AdViCE FOR pROSpECTiVE FAMiLy BuSiNESSES The olsens offer valuable advice for anyone considering starting a family business: • stay focused on a particular space and be an expert on it. you have to know your products. • The ability to ship and not just take an order is important— if you can’t ship quickly in a predictable way, you cannot succeed and thrive. • if you are going to be in a business space, you have to be a low cost provider. Keep costs down. This doesn’t mean you can’t pay people well. you can still run a business like this without the traditional “store front.” • develop strong supplier relationships—having suppliers that work with you and appreciate you. you are vulnerable if you don’t have this.

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M A K E A DIFFERENC E FOR YOUR SELF A ND FOR NORTHE A S TERN A charitable gift annuity with Northeastern provides you with income and tax benefits, and offers future students the gift of an accessible education For generations of alumni, Northeastern made the dream of a college education a reality by providing innovative, flexible programs that met the needs and schedules of students. That pioneering approach continues today through the College of Professional Studies. By establishing a charitable gift annuity with Northeastern, you will receive income and tax benefits. But more than that, you will be providing essential scholarship aid to worthy students who are juggling work, family, and educational responsibilities, and who are struggling to find the funds to make it all work. In exchange for your gift of cash or securities, Northeastern will pay you a fixed amount annually for your lifetime. A charitable gift annuity with Northeastern will provide you with: • • • • • •

Guaranteed, enhanced lifetime income An immediate tax deduction for your gift Income for others you wish to support Highly attractive rates Substantial capital gains tax savings on appreciated securities A legacy of making a Northeastern education accessible to worthy students

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the General Way From his early days as a union insulator to his current role as “I was watching from the ground, and then I said, ‘I want to go up President and CEO of General Insulation, Frank Granara (’92) has relied on his vision and industry experience to turn a one-office business into a $150 million distributor of commercial and industrial insulation with 38 branches across the U.S. and Canada. roots in the Boston Contracting industry Frank Granara grew up in Quincy, MA, in a two-family home with his parents, two sisters and grandparents. Upon graduation from high school in 1975, he briefly attended Quincy College, but an academic focus wasn’t in the cards at that time.

there.’ So I went up in the lift with one of the mechanics. I held onto the guardrails and refused to move until they brought me back to the ground,” he said. “So I went home that night and said to my father, ‘I’ve got to do something else.’ He said, ‘You’re staying in the union until you decide what you’re going to do.’” “It was not much fun,” he says. “That’s when I decided I’d better get my butt into gear and get back into school.” Frank continued in the union for another nine months and then began working as an estimator for his father’s business, Alltemp Insulation. The right Time for an Academic focus

“I wanted a bachelor’s degree, and Northeastern at the time offered That year, Frank’s father’s company had closed, prompting a decision to open his own insulation contracting business—Alltemp the best array of classes and scheduling to fit in. They accepted my other school credits as well.” Insulation. “When the company my father worked for ended, he had two choices: either go into business for himself or go back to work with the tools. He had health issues, so he didn’t have any choice.” Frank joined his father in launching Alltemp. A year later, he took the Asbestos Workers Apprenticeship test and joined the insulator’s union. The often dangerous and physically challenging insulation work was not a good long-term fit for Frank and his career goals. A turning point came while he was working on the Tobin Bridge on a frigid January day in 1977. Frank was working for Atlantic Insulation. The job was insulating pipes under the toll booths on the bridge, which involved riding 100 feet in a lift to do the work. 617.373.2400

Frank pursued his Northeastern degree for ten years, though he took most of his classes between 1988 and 1992. During that time, he also married and had two children. Frank lauds Northeastern’s flexible schedule and “real-life” instructors for delivering a meaningful academic experience for students. “Most of my instructors at Northeastern were professionals who could come in and teach from a practical standpoint. These are people who’ve actually worked in the business world and could understand a marketing plan or finance,” he says. “Just because it’s in a book doesn’t make it the right way to do it. You have to be able to go different directions. Northeastern allowed me to do that by their class schedule and by the ability to get through the classes and understand more than just the book.”


“just because it’s in a book doesn’t make it the right way to do it. you have to be able to go different directions. northeastern allowed me to do that by their class schedule and by the ability to get through the classes and understand more than just the book.”

The start of something Big In 1982, the same year he began at Northeastern, Frank took advantage of a fortuitous opportunity and purchased General Insulation, a 55-year-old local distributor with one branch office in Somerville. “One of my customers had bought General Insulation in 1978. He was in the mechanical contracting field, not insulation. One day in his office, he said, ‘I have this General Insulation—it’s doing nothing for me. Would you be interested in buying it?’” Driven by a keen interest in the regional contracting industry, Frank jumped at the chance to own a business that would allow him to buy directly from insulation manufacturers. A bonus was the ability to establish a competitive foothold. Frank bought General Insulation in April 1982. The majority of his time was still spent with Alltemp, and he relied on General’s management team for day-to-day operations. He realized one day how he’d have to make some changes to establish his new “General Way” of business operations. “I visited the office on a Friday and noticed the calendar on the wall that marked off who worked on Friday mornings, but no one worked Friday afternoons. The manager said to me, ‘Well, we don’t come in on Friday afternoons because there’s no business.’ I said, ‘How would you know?’ That was the beginning of the end of that management,” he says. Frank hired Larry Murphy, who remains on his executive team today, to run the company on a day-to-day basis while he continued working with his father and Alltemp. Together, Frank and his General Insulation management team focused on growth opportunities, which began with a second branch in Worcester and a third in Lewiston, Maine. Frank credits his union and installation experience for his ability to build relationships and dialogues with customers. “I could go and talk to our customers as someone who’s been in insulation, someone who’s been in contracting, and we can talk about common problems. When I traveled, I would spend time with customers and talk about what worked for them, what worked for me, and I’m not their competitor.” establishing Beachheads Nationwide The New England economy in the 1980s spurred Frank to explore other geographies to reach their growth goals.


“Somewhere else” turned out to be Orlando and Dallas, which they visited for a week at a time to explore the market activity and competition. To fully understand the local market, Frank and Larry would check out their competitors, buy insulation and speak with the workers. They also asked manufacturers for lists of good employees at competitive distributors, whom they would visit and interview. “Orlando was booming, and we knew it would be busy for a number of years. We ended up speaking with the manager of what would be General Insulation’s biggest competitor in Orlando. He joined General in 1991,” Frank says. In 1995, Frank’s father succumbed to asbestosis, a condition he developed from years of working with insulation. At that point, Frank made General Insulation his full-time focus and embarked on a more aggressive expansion strategy. Taking general to the Next level General Insulation’s acquisitive growth strategy gives local businesses the opportunity to compete more effectively in their markets, and the relatively small U.S. insulation industry makes it easy to identify acquisition targets. In fact, about 60% of those Frank has contacted over the years have become successful General Insulation acquisitions. “Expansion now is about buying opportunities. We’ve bought several companies over the past 10–12 years and molded them into General Insulation.” A key to the success of expanding General Insulation is finding and training the right people. Given the company’s decentralized management structure, Frank looks for employees who are driven and self-directed. “It’s all about people... We call all of our managers general managers. It’s their location to run; we’re here for support,” he says. “The General Insulation manager has to be that person who wants more out of life, and they surround themselves with people who can make that happen. I want people who are entrepreneurial.”

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decentralized, yet united by a Common Culture Two years ago, Frank put together a high-charged board of directors, including Andre Laus (’69), a fellow Northeastern graduate. General Insulation’s explosive growth necessitated a corporate restructuring last year that included the addition of six regional vice presidents to directly oversee the firm’s 38 branches.

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The company’s also been updating its internal computer systems to facilitate communications and build transparency into information for all employees, and a new CRM system is on the way. “Our computer system is live, real-time, all day long,” Frank says. “Everyone’s interacting in the company; they can see what’s going on with all the branches’ inventory. Everyone’s interested in the company being successful.” To maintain knowledge-sharing, teamwork and camaraderie, the company’s management team gathers once a year in Dallas for an inspirational conference that includes recognition, role-playing and getting to know their peers. In line with the ongoing recession, this year’s program theme was “Only the Strong Survive.” “In the Dallas meeting, when the managers get together, they become one big family. They understand the value of the company,” Frank says. While the company has grown too large for him to see everyone frequently, for the past three years, Frank has ensured that employees receive a hand-signed card from him on their birthday. “They really appreciate that it comes directly from me,” he says. He also recently formed a General Insulation Cultural Committee, comprised of a diverse group of employees that is surveying the employee population to identify three initiatives that employees would like to see the company pursue in the next year. A family Affair

Frank’s daughter Michelle also worked for the company until her recent return for her senior year of college at Holy Cross. The road Ahead Points to global expansion General Insulation’s strategy calls for doubling company revenues every five years—a goal that has been sustained despite the deep recession. At age 52, and still raring to grow, succession is not yet an issue for Frank. His travels to Europe and Asia in recent years have stoked the flame of international expansion for General Insulation. A goal is to have his son lead the expansion overseas while Frank is still running the corporation from the home office: “So he can manage something and get that experience, without working side-by-side with me. So, when I am ready to retire, he will have the experience of running a division in a worldwide marketplace.” Until that time, Frank remains focused on building and training his employee base the “General Way,” through a mix of hard work and fun. π

Frank’s sister Ellen Sirois has been with General Insulation since the beginning, working in a variety of functions. Upon graduation from College in 2008, his son Frank worked for General Insulation vendors in a marketing capacity in Milan and in manufacturing in Shanghai. He’s currently working for the company in New York City and preparing for graduate school.

“the strategy is to double our revenues every five years. we’re on plan for that even with the recession.” “He got to see the international culture, which is the experience I wanted him to have. To see that, as Americans, we don’t know everything is a very humbling experience,” he says. “I was 48 years old before I realized that; he needs to know it sooner.” 617.373.2400



on august 29, the College of Professional Studies held a graduation at the Sheraton Boston for august graduates. Dr. Carol Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, was the keynote speaker at the morning ceremony for undergraduates. She encouraged the graduates to use their degree as a launching pad to help others in their communities achieve their dreams.



The afternoon ceremony was for graduate and doctoral students. Tom Peters, a best-selling author and partner and co-founder of organization effectiveness, was the keynote speaker and encouraged students to bring humanity to the workplace.

on august 30, the celebration continued at the Museum of Science where the College hosted an event for new graduates, alumni and their families. 617.373.2400


OFNOTE ALuMNi ShARE ThEiR NEWS ANd FiLL uS iN ON ThEiR OWN BuSiNESSES Steven OlSOn [’81, ’87] is a Senior Project Manufacturing Engineer at Flextronics, Inc. in Charlotte, NC. Paul McMurtry [’95] has owned and operated small businesses for two decades. Since 2002, he has been the owner/operator of Dedham Community Theatre. In 2007, he was elected State Representative of the 11th Norfolk District. June GerMain [MS ’09] was offered a job with the Food and Drug Administration as a Regulatory Health project manager. Earning her master’s degree in Regulatory Affairs for Drugs, Biologics, and Medical Devices gave her a great advantage in her new job. Of her time at Northeastern, Germain says, “I am grateful to the professors for their invaluable contribution to a wonderful and priceless education.”

Alumni Businesses rOSeMary nixOn [’68, Ma ’70] retired from a career as a financial advisor and commercial banker and then created a retirement coaching business. She realized that financial planning was not enough to help people prepare for retirement that could last 30 years. She uses an online Retirement Success Profile and conducts personal coaching sessions by phone to provide clients with an on-purpose retirement plan. The focus of her practice is people who are five to 10 years away from retirement., 561-706-5338.

SuSan WOrthen MccOMbS [’74] became a certified clinical hypnotherapist in 1990 and in 2001 became Board Certified. She is qualified to use hypnotherapy in many areas of life to help people realize their full potential. She has worked with professional actors, singers, musicians and sports professionals. brenda WOrnuM MOOre [’86] is President and CEO of BWM Consulting, Inc., a management and training consulting firm that works with businesses from start-ups to corporations to fine tune their business performance. She recently published a book “Unleash the Power of a Business Plan: What you need to know before you open your doors for business.” She recently served one year as President of the South Shore Women’s Business Network, which is organization that helps its 300+ members successfully grow their businesses. liSa rObinSOn [’01] started her own business, the Pembroke Cookie Company, in 2008. Starting her own business allowed her to spend more time with her family and enabled her to devote her career to something she loved—making cookies.

WE WANT TO hEAR FROM yOu! send the latest news on the people and events in your life to We’ll include your update in the next issue of Encore.



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A LOVE OF TEAChiNg RuNS iN ThE FAMiLy… For Chris and Melanie Brooks, teaching is a family business. The couple, who lives in Nashua with their two children, teaches in the College of Professional Studies’ Fast-Track programs. Following a busy summer, in which Chris spent six weeks teaching graduate courses at the College’s partner Swinburne University in Australia, Encore recently caught up with the academic duo for a chat on their devotion to teaching and dealing as a family with the challenges that can arise.


Encore: Tell us a bit about your background and how you came into teaching.


ChriS: The passion of dealing with people and time was always of interest to me as a kid. It grew into this love of learning about it in school, which then led me to see how to apply that as I got older. At first, I didn’t want to be a teacher. I thought I was going to go into law, and when I started college, I still had that in my mind. But, I really fell in love with critical thinking and the history of ideas. So, that’s where I started to focus my work: Learning why people think the way they do, what important events occurred and why they occurred. I then came to the realization that the next logical step was to impart that passion and how I was going to do that. Melanie : I also was not on the teacher track originally. I grew up in a family of doctors, and I was planning to be a nurse. But in my senior year of high school, I took a number of science AP classes… I nearly died! The only relief was this English class I was taking. I loved it. I remember my father sitting me down and saying, ‘You may want to reevaluate your career focus.’


I quickly made a change in my college plans, and I majored in English and History. From there, the idea of teaching emerged. I taught high school, and then middle school, and then had children, at which stage I stopped my full-time teaching. When I was pregnant with my second child, I saw that one of the community colleges here in Nashua was looking for instructors for its college writing program. That’s where I really fell in love with college teaching. Then the opportunity opened to interview at Northeastern—they were re-vamping their cohort program and looking for instructors to teach the writing component. I truly enjoy teaching at Northeastern and really like the student base.





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Encore: Chris, how did you come to northeastern? ChriS: That would be Melanie; she was teaching at Northeastern first. I got to know the administration pretty well, and from there we moved forward. They loved what I was doing and thought it would be a great addition to the leadership track, in particular helping business students to be more critical in their thinking and in developing a more highly-disciplined, academic orientation for the business leadership discussions. It also was a great opportunity to deal with ethics, an area that I had really developed over the last 10 or 12 years. So, applying all of these areas of focus to the various fields of the students in those tracks was a great match, and I really enjoy it.

Students in the Fast-Track programs are very focused on what their goals are. They have high expectations for what they’re going to get out of the class, and that in turn challenges me and keeps me on top of my game.


Melanie : Overall, it’s worked out quite well for us. It can be challenging. For example, in the spring, we had a situation where we were both teaching the same night, and our daughter had a performance at school. And, our first class was on our son’s birthday. On the other hand, the real benefit is that we both understand the profession and the challenges inherent in it. So, there’s no resentment of time spent on work, because we understand what teaching is all about.

Encore: What challenges do you see for your students, and how do you address them in your teaching? ChriS: It’s so important with philosophy and critical thinking to begin the process of helping students to challenge thought and the norms of society—to think about things around them. The whole point of the ethics class is to challenge the leader to be better in terms of their decisionmaking. We spend a lot of time developing that. Particularly, given the many industries that the students are in, it’s very difficult to take the time to sit back and think about things or to be aware and more diligent about learning and taking things in. So, that’s the challenge for me, to push their thinking that way; to help them problem-solve and strategize what to do, and also learn to integrate this with their business expertise. That’s my goal. Melanie : Critical thinking is a big component in my class as well. It’s the critical thinking that’s involved in being an effective communicator. My challenge for my students is to help them recognize that writing isn’t just for writers; effective writing is something that will make them promotable in their careers. In today’s fast-paced world, people make very quick judgments about them based on how they present themselves in writing. We spend a lot of time talking about how to effectively communicate and promote ideas and thoughts. It’s a challenge for them to find how they can apply that in their workplace. 617.373.2400

Encore: how do you balance your teaching loads with living and working as a family?

ChriS: The schools we’ve worked for have been wonderful. Northeastern is amazing. We are working for great people, and our schedules have worked out because of that. It comes down to the fact that we both love what we’re doing. So, it makes it easier when you love your jobs.


Encore: What do your children think of having teachers as parents? Melanie : They’re able to see us in the workplace, since we often are working while at home. They also benefit from the flexibility of a teaching schedule, which allows us as parents to participate in many of their activities as well. ChriS: I spend a lot of time with the kids not talking about education. I don’t know whether I’m the ‘anti-teacher teacher’ or what. When it comes to dealing with school-related issues, I might be a bit more laid back. I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about education or harping on the homework… Melanie : He leaves that to me!


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50 Nightingale Hall, 360 Huntington Ave. Boston, MA 02115-5000 Encore Magazine is published for the alumni of the College of Professional Studies, the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, University College, the Lowell Institute School, the Boston Evening School, and the School of Education.

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Northeastern University's College of Professional Studies magazine for alumni and freinds.

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