Al Fuchs Photography

All in the Family

It could be seen as a battle of David versus Goliath, but Amy Gerson enjoys the challenge of taking on the giants of the home-improvement industry.
      Gerson is president of Corlett Lumber Company, a full-service, retail home-center business her family started three generations ago in Cleveland. Corlett competes with the Home Depots and Lowes of the world, and is not only staying afloat, but succeeding. It’s a particularly sweet victory for Gerson, her family, and the dedicated staff she employs. “We’re not going head-to-head with the big boxes [national chains] in price or advertising,” she says, “but we have a very fine reputation and people know they can get in and out of our store quickly with what they need.”
      After earning a bachelor’s degree from the School of Education in 1976, Gerson taught special education for three years before joining Corlett to work for her father. She started as a bookkeeper and worked in the office for 14 years before becoming president in 1995. In 2000, the National Association of Women Business Owners selected Gerson as one of the top 10 women business owners in Northeast Ohio.
      Gerson says that although the lumber business is male dominated, she felt comfortable becoming Corlett’s president because of her father’s success and the mentoring she received from him. “I came into an already established business where my father and grandfather set the tone,” she says. “I had to prove myself to my contacts and the people who work here, but it wasn’t the same situation as someone trying to open a new store.”
      Gerson believes it’s the family atmosphere of her company that appeals to customers. “There’s a lot of history in this store that is very meaningful to me,” she says. “I want to live up to that tradition and continue to help it grow.

—Jonathan Hay

 

Manufacturing Medical Miracles

Bill Allyn always wanted to work in the medical instrument business that his grandfather founded. He got an early start when his father hired him to work in the company’s metal finishing division every summer during high school. “It was really tough work, but I learned the value of teamwork and that every job is important,” Allyn says. “My father is one of the wisest people I’ve ever met.”
      Today, after 21 years as company president and CEO, Allyn is regarded as a visionary in the field of medical diagnostic equipment. Under his direction, Welch Allyn Inc., located in Skaneateles, New York, has grown into an international company that makes medical diagnostic instruments; bar code readers and optical scanning devices; miniature and subminiature incandescent, halogen, and arc lighting products; and inspection devices.
      In addition to his business responsibilities, Allyn is a community leader who works to improve the quality of life in upstate New York; a philanthropist who aids people in need; an avid ice skater and former hockey coach; an active member of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science advisory board; and a Syracuse University trustee. “There are very few things I’ve enjoyed more in my career than serving on the Board of Trustees,” Allyn says. “I’m deeply appreciative of this honor—it’s something I’ll always treasure.”
      After earning a mechanical engineering degree from Dartmouth College in 1958, Allyn studied finance at Syracuse University, where he met and married Penny Jones Allyn ’60. For the next three years, he served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Coast Guard in Portland, Oregon, before returning home to enter the family business. Four sons and eight grandchildren later, he’s ready to pass on the reins to a fourth generation of Allyns, as he and his wife look forward to retirement in Florida. “I love to see the next generation taking over,” Allyn says. “They’re all so capable and sharp.”
      Although Allyn is no longer at the helm of Welch Allyn Inc., he’ll remain active in the company as chairman and CEO of Welch Allyn Ventures, a holding company that was created when the parent company split into three distinct businesses. In his new role, he’ll look across all three companies to integrate the latest technologies. “I can take a broader view, see the possibilities, and put new ideas together,” Allyn says. “We’ve already begun exploring the marriage of our medical diagnostic equipment with computer technology to make health care more efficient. I believe all things are possible.”


—Christine Yackel

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