CRYSTAL LAKE – The Curran family’s business, which has nearly 2,000 employees in three states, started as a small coal and ice delivery service.
The business has evolved almost continuously since William Curran founded it as Metropolitan Coal and Ice in 1918.
But the holding company with its modern, environmentally friendly headquarters at 286 Memorial Court in Crystal Lake retains some of the same values held by the family patriarch.
“Nobody gets coal or ice delivered anymore, but we’d like to think that ... our core values – such as family, improvement, partnership, integrity, respect – were around back then,” said Curran Group Co-President Tim Curran.
By 1930 the company had moved to heating oil delivery as Suburban Oil Company. Later the company used its petroleum connections to get into the asphalt paving business, starting Curran Contracting Company in 1938.
In the following decades the family business grew with the acquisition of Stahl Construction Company in 1961.
In the 1970s and 1980s, it started to diversify. The family bought Crete-based Holland LP, a specialized contract service provider for the railroad industry, in 1974. Six years later it got into sod farming with the purchase of Warren’s Turf Nursery, a business it has since sold.
Curran Group started Crossville Ceramics in 1985 and got into the paint finishing industry in 1998. Its subsidiaries have continued to expand through subsequent acquisitions and mergers.
The company’s diverse holdings helped it to ride out the recession, said Timothy Curran, 58, who runs the family business with his younger brother, Michael Curran, 55.
“We had a very good year in 2012 overall,” Tim Curran said. “Our norm is one business is doing really well, two businesses are doing OK, and one business is struggling.”
Fittingly, the company’s motto is “strength through diversity.”
Performance issues even out over the longer term, he added. For example, subsidiary Holland LP showed strong growth during the recession, fueled largely by demand from China, which invested heavily in expanding its rail infrastructure. But the recession put a damper on road building projects in the region, hurting Crystal Lake-based Curran Contracting Co.
Tim Curran and Mike Curran took over the family business from their father Jack Curran and uncle Bill Curran. Their sister, Cathy Curran, is the company’s corporate secretary. She oversees benefit plans for the company’s non-union employees.
Both Cathy Curran and Mike Curran joined the family business out of college. Tim Curran worked as an attorney for 13 years at the Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle law firm in Crystal Lake before joining Curran Group.
Several members of the family’s fifth generation also work for the company.
Work done by Jack Curran and others has helped keep the business viable. Estate planning in the 1970s took care of estate taxes and other issues, easing the generational transition of leaders. It also put company stock in trusts.
“I know my dad was concerned about it as he was dying – that he had locked us into this real onerous thing,” Tim Curran said. “I said ‘no’ because one of your objectives when you did this was all about family and that family came first. You made sure that, at the end of the day, family was important and that we all had to get along.”
The fourth generation now running the business has taken the younger generation of cousins on trips to Mexico and Alaska and organized other events to help them get to know each other better and introduce them to the family business.
“The trips are a lot of fun and the kids get to do their thing, but then we also take time to talk about the business and what their ultimate responsibilities are and what the business is all about,” said Tim Curran. “We want to get them acclimated because some day they are going to sit in a conference room and have to try to decide who runs the business.”
Members of the fifth generation have already demonstrated their ability to work together by starting and running a nonprofit organization, Alpine Children’s Charity. The organization has raised about $1.25 million to help find cures for childhood diseases since being founded in 2004, Curran said.
Even so, the younger family members aren’t guaranteed a job in the family business. That’s a privilege that must be earned.
While many have worked for the company or its subsidiaries part-time while on break from college or for internships, they must work outside the business before getting a full-time job.
“From a career standpoint, they are required to go work somewhere else before they come back here,” Tim Curran said. “Then you can bring in fresh ideas.”
He has taken on the role of a mentor to the fifth generation, hoping to leave the family business in good hands.
“There is a big responsibility to make sure that this continues,” he said.