Originally created 03/31/97

Family business named finalist



When customers call Sizemore Inc., they often ask to speak to Deana Sizemore or other family members.

Charlene Sizemore considers requests for "Deana Sizemore" a compliment to the family-run company's culture that makes all employees feel like part of the family. That is because Deana Dykes is really no kin.

Family members work harder to protect a company name than those in other businesses, she said. And she is glad to have employees who adopt that level of pride.

"It's not just a job. It's our name, our family. It's our reputation," said Mrs. Sizemore, who married into the family.

Sizemore Inc. and its security, personnel and janitorial subsidiaries won recognition this month as a finalist for the Georgia Family Business of the Year Award. Sponsored by the Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University and The Atlanta Business Chronicle, the award annually recognizes Georgia-based businesses operated by multiple family members.

"It's somebody that we felt not only represented the qualities of a good family but also represented a good business," said Bert Bowden, director of the award competition.

Only 100 of the 1,050 nominated companies completed the 15-question application. Then the sponsors selected nine finalists based on family involvement, succession, sales growth and civic contributions.

The finalists will be given awards at a luncheon in suburban Atlanta on May 15.

Sizemore, with revenues above $30 million last year, 18 offices in the Southeast and a payroll that includes 7,000 employees, became a finalist in the large business category.

Mr. Bowden said the judges were impressed with the company's history.

In 1955, retired police Lt. Eddie Sizemore started Georgia Merchant Patrol to check the doors of Augusta retailers at night. But his eight-man company produced too little for him and his family to live on, so he also accepted the job as Jesup police chief, according to his son Preston Sizemore.

Driving between Jesup and Augusta, Lt. Sizemore was killed in an automobile wreck that left his widow with two broken legs and grave injuries. Having no other income, Thelma Sizemore took over the company, learning it as she went along.

"It's not a business that a woman would normally get involved in," Mr. Bowden said. "They say she had an iron hand under a velvet glove with these security officers."

Preston Sizemore and his brothers and sister worked off and on in the company. Preston Sizemore, for example, was just 21 when he signed a security contract with Continental Can in the morning and had to man a guard post that evening until enough guards were hired to relieve him.

He was a student at Georgia Teachers College in Statesboro when his father died. He finished his education and gained some experience outside the company before Thelma Sizemore asked him to return in 1972 when her oldest son, William, died.

When she retired, she gave more stock to him because of his education and experience. Having more stock than his brother, Patrick, and sister, June, Preston became president and eventually bought out Patrick's share. June still works for the company as have two of her children, William's daughter and three of Preston's children.

To prevent his children from repeating the conflicts he had with his brother, Preston Sizemore has laid out plans for transfer of ownership and succession that include hiring an experienced executive from outside the family to be the next president. He knows none of his children have enough experience yet to run a company with a 15-percent annual growth rate that he hopes will have $50 million in sales by the turn of the century.

While their experience in the executive suite may be slight, the Sizemore children's on-the-job training includes cleaning toilets, working the midnight shift and other entry-level duties - at pay below other entry-level employees.

Over the company's 41 years, 15 family members have worked there in some capacity.

"Sometimes in a family business, I have seen other cases where they become complex - where they have members of the family disagreeing," observed Dan Leonard, safety director of International Paper's Augusta mill and a longtime Sizemore client. "In this case, it hasn't impacted the business here."

Mr. Sizemore said his mother set the tone for the company to have a family-like atmosphere for all of its employees.

Often that level of closeness gives family businesses an edge, according to research at Kennesaw State, Mr. Bowden said.

"They have a competitive advantage since they trust each other. Their customers feel like they listen better since their name is on the building," Mr. Bowden said.

Does all that closeness get confining? Both Preston Sizemore and his wife, Charlene, say no.

"We go to sleep talking about business," she said.