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For 90 years, Hamilton Parker has supplied building materials and specialty products for thousands of homes and businesses across Ohio. Now, third-generation owner Adam Lewin—who started working in the company’s brickyard as a kid—leads a team of 140 and has expanded statewide. Here, he touches on topics from family to keys to success.

Q: What are your earliest memories of the family business?

A: I remember driving around with my dad to look at subdivisions on Sunday mornings. We would go to breakfast, and then we would drive around to see who was building, and he would share those leads with the sales people. I just grew up in the business—working Saturdays, working summers. I was stacking brick. Picking up trash. Sweeping warehouses. Cleaning trucks. Cleaning toilets. Unloading trucks. Unloading railcars of brick. And helping customers when they came in

Q: What did your father, Milton, teach you?

A: He taught me the importance of a hard day’s work. The importance of margins and profits. The importance of building good relationships. He taught me the importance of being trusted by someone— and doing what you say you’re going to do.

Q: Hamilton Parker has survived every economic disaster over the past nine decades—The Great Depression, The Great Recession and COVID, among other challenges. How?

A: We have very loyal people who care. So they want to work together to help the business. They trust what we say as owners—whether it was my grandfather or my dad or me—about how we’re going to try to take care of them during difficult times. And we have. I think the people are the reason we’ve survived: They care, and they trust us. If you care and you trust, then you get through those tough times together.

Q: You believe that a big part of building trust is transparent communication. Why?

A: People appreciate it. And it’s even more important to do in tough times. If people don’t know, they don’t trust.

Q: What are the keys to running a multi-generational family business?

A: I think you have to respect the past as part of the story, but you have to make it your own. You have to be willing to break some things so that the company can be progressive, which is emotional for a lot of family businesses.

Adam in the newly opened Hamilton Parker showroom on Leonard Avenue in Columbus, Ohio in 1999.

Q: How have you put your own stamp on the company?

A: Growth doesn’t happen overnight. It evolves. It’s not like Milton passed away and I decided, “This is what I want the company to be.” But over time, I started being more open about how the company was doing and sharing that information. I started having company meetings to get everyone in the same room. With the help of the leadership team, we established our core values of HEART—History, Enthusiastic, Adaptive, Reputable and Team-Oriented.  We put out monthly newsletters. We started growing, and I communicated as we did. People want to know where you’re at and where you’re going so they can help. I think all of this sort of evolved, and all of a sudden you realize, “Oh—that’s a reflection of me.”

Q: Had you always wanted to take over the family business?

A: I went away to college, and I wasn’t planning on coming back. Then, just before I graduated, I decided I wanted to come to Hamilton Parker. My dad was a smoker—three to five packs a day—so I didn’t know how long I was going to have him around, and I wanted to maximize my time with him. I met my dad at Fifty Five On the Boulevard to share the idea of me driving around the country and meeting all of our manufacturers. He really loved it. Within a week, he said, “I have your things all lined up.” That’s how he was. Actions speak louder than words. So I spent four or five months on the road, learning about the companies and meeting people. I still have relationships with some of those same people today—people who were at the start of their career and are now leaders.

Q: You then spent almost 10 years working your way up in the company before purchasing it from your father in 2006. What was that like?  

A: I had already done all the yard stuff as a kid and teen. After college, I was in sales, so I called on builders, I called on architects. I was in the accounting department. Then I took over the brick department. When our VP of sales left, I took over the outside sales team. Eventually, I was president under my dad. But some days I was just Milton’s son. That’s how it is in a family business. (laughing)

Q: What is the most challenging part of running a family business?

A: There might be a point in time when you do it because you have to or you feel the burden to do it. Or you don’t know anything else. However, it’s also possible to shift your mindset and see yourself as an entrepreneur within your family business. I credit my wife for pointing that out to me. When I took on that attitude, it felt different.  I believe that most individuals in family businesses need to go through some sort of evolution within the company to truly thrive. 

Q: What is the most rewarding part of running a family business?

A: It’s the people. The employees. I like that in a family business, I’m in control of how I take care of the people. During challenging times, I don’t have the obligation of having to worry about other stakeholders. I can put my people first, not just the bottom line.

“Not every day is perfect, but we have a reputation for providing a high level of service and we do the right thing. We care.”

Q: How do you cultivate a culture where people feel inspired and valued?

A: First, we’re grounded in our core values. We’re just constantly thinking and talking about them. In every meeting, we try to connect back to that. You hire, nurture and grow really good people that way. You trust them, and you take care of them. I care about people as people. I want them to have balance. I want to understand what they’re passionate about and make sure they’re not missing out on those things, like their kids’ ballgames. We’ve also set up a volunteer time off program that allows our associates to take time off to volunteer with groups and organizations they’re passionate about, and we compensate them for that time.

Q: You are a devoted husband and father of three kids, and you are passionate about being present and involved. How do you achieve balance for yourself?

A: I think it makes it easier because I want work-life balance for my team, so they want it for me. Some weeks you work more, and other weeks you might have to be with your family more. You have to understand you have to tilt back and forth. I was told early on that if I have to be at the company for 60 hours a week for it to be successful, I was not being a good leader. You have to delegate; you have to trust. When I only had one child, I was still able to do work after she went to bed. By the time our third child was born, I was spending a lot of time at our then-new location in Cleveland, and I realized I had to give up more control. People were waiting for me for answers. I realized I couldn’t move fast enough. So I named Christie Miller president. She became the first female and first non-family member to lead the company as president. I empowered the team so I could focus on the work I do best and still be present for my family.

Q: What’s the best advice you can give to other leaders trying to find that sustainable balance?

A: It makes it a lot easier if you have a really supportive family. But you have to stop and just check in on yourself. It’s not selfish to do that. Make sure you’re in a good place to handle what’s coming at you personally, what’s coming at you professionally. I tell our leaders to take care of themselves so they can bring the best version of themselves to work and take care of their people.

Q: HP has a rich history of giving back. How did that start, and how does it continue today?

A: It’s just part of our family DNA. My grandparents were very charitable. My dad and my mom were very charitable. We want to support the community that supports us, both personally and as a company. We established two priority charities—Pelotonia and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio. But we give to many other organizations, too.

Q: What do you hope people say about you behind your back?

A: I just want people to say that I’m a good person. That I’m an honorable person. That I’ve got integrity. That I can talk with anybody. I do like to leave people smiling. Not me smiling—them smiling. (laughing)

Q: Hamilton Parker is the second-longest-standing member of the Columbus Better Business Bureau—and you have an A+ rating. What’s your secret sauce?

A: It’s all about investing in your people. I’m not in every transaction. They’re in the transaction and building those relationships. They represent. They carry it out.

Q: 90 years in, what makes you most proud?

A: Watching people grow and win. That’s what makes it fun—to create a platform for people to grow. That and Hamilton Parker’s reputation. Not every day is perfect, but we have a reputation to provide a high level of service and we do the right thing. We care.