Ed Hart, director of Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Family Business, is passionate about the impact that family-owned firms have on the Southern California community and on those who work for and with them. His advice and leadership provides guidance and support that impacts Southern California local businesses across all industries.
By Daniel Coats, California Business Journal
For dozens of Southern California business executives and visionaries, CSUF Center for Family Business Director Ed Hart has played a pivotal role in assisting their firms as they seek to stay competitive and impactful in the ever-changing 21st century environment and pass the leadership baton to a new generation.
“Ed’s ability to connect us with the appropriate business professionals has moved us forward in our journey towards continuity. He has a deep understanding of family-business dynamics; thus he is able to offer the appropriate help, but he also personally cares about the wellbeing of his members and, most importantly, has a genuine desire to help others,” says Michael Gaviña, a member of the Center for Family Business and purchasing director of F. Gaviña & Sons Inc., a four-generation Los Angeles area coffee importer, roaster and supplier. “Our family has derived a large value from the partnerships we’ve built with family-business professionals. The center is a great place to share stories with family businesses and meet professionals who can guide your business governance. I have no doubt that you will experience a similar value-add by participating if you have a family business.”
It is a sentiment shared by dozens of executives from organizations encompassing industries ranging from aviation manufacturing to private education, who are inspired by Hart’s leadership to build a community and ensure that family businesses are equipped, through expert-led workshops and thought sharing, for continuity and increased success for generations to come.
“Ed Hart is a part of our business family. He cares about each family business as if it was his own” says Deanne Mendoza, co-owner and executive vice president of Teacher Created Materials, a member of the center’s peer-nominated Hall of Fame. “He celebrates our successes, mourns our losses and will stand beside us as we fight for something better in our marketplace. In life and in business, finding someone with a heart as big as Ed’s is rare, and I am honored to call him my friend.”
A Lifetime Fullertonian, Committed to the Cause of Family Business
While Hart is not an alumnus of Cal State Fullerton, he has lifelong roots with the institution. Born at St. Jude’s Hospital in downtown Fullerton, the Pepperdine University management alumnus grew up in a home about 500 yards from what is now the Steven G. Mihaylo Hall.
“I used to ride my bike to campus to watch the L.A. Rams practice here back in the 1970s. My mom and one of my brothers graduated from CSUF, and my brother played baseball here. I have deep Fullerton roots – I went to school from kindergarten to community college here, met my wife Laurieann in Fullerton and raised our kids here for most of their lives,” says the grandfather of seven. “When the opportunity came in 2011 to work on campus, it was a dream come true. Though I have never attended college here, I have a loyalty and passion for Cal State Fullerton since early childhood. I wear the Titan colors with great pride!”
In his role as director, Hart oversees the center (formerly known as the Family Business Council) that provides professional development, mentoring and peer-nominated recognition for Southern California family-owned firms. With 30 years of professional experience, including positions in three family-owned businesses, Hart has seen what works – and what doesn’t – in this sector, insight that is a lifeline for startup or transitioning firms.
“I have seen businesses that were tremendously successful, yet struggled. I also worked for a business that was very successful, but the family was a mess,” says Hart. “Finally, I worked for a family business that was a leader in their industry, and the family was amazing. Great chemistry, a lot of love in the family, and they treated their employees exceptionally well.”
With monthly meetings featuring expert speakers discussing topics such as inter-generational succession, family dynamics and thriving in today’s digital spaces, the center’s members, who represent industries ranging from manufacturing to education, develop a mutually-beneficial bond and network.
“Many of our center members are now friends and mutual advisors due to the relationships they established here,” he says. “I have always been a connector, and I love seeing personal and professional relationships develop through our efforts. Our monthly meetings feel more like family reunions than business events.”
Three Decades of Leadership: From Family-Owned Firms to Minor League Baseball
Looking back on his career, Hart recalls his first significant leadership role, when, as a 30-year-old, he oversaw 15 employees in a highly technical environment. Though lacking in technical know-how, the young professional was chosen for the role due to his acumen in managing a team with unique personalities and cultural backgrounds.
“We had a tragedy on our team and I was forced to deliver some devastating personal news to an employee,” he recalls. “Meanwhile, our call center was very busy, and the work had to continue so we could support our nationwide customers. In the few hours that day, and the days that followed, I learned a lot about my leadership style, and it gave me the confidence to handle leadership in difficult situations. I started to trust myself more and learned how to balance the importance of leading people with love and care, while still expecting great results. Experience is the greatest teacher, and it is imperative that we learn from every event that happens to us and around us.”
In 2004, Hart’s career reached a personal high point, when he fulfilled a dream by becoming general manager of a professional baseball team – the Orange County Flyers, a minor league team playing at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field.
“When I was 18 years old, I wrote a paper for an advanced composition class in high school, describing what my life would be like at age 40. One of the details I wrote was that I would be the general manager of a professional baseball team,” he says. “I turned 40 in April 2004, and in December of that year, I was offered the general manager job with the Flyers.”
While baseball team management was not the likely career path for the professional who had focused in a wide range of business-related spaces, Hart met the league and team owners in his role as sales manager for North America stadiums and arenas for Quest Retail Technology.
The role gave Hart front-row access to former major league players, such as Garry Templeton, Darrell Evans, Charlie Hough, Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson and Paul Abbott, as well as upstart greats who would earn championship rings in baseball and other sports, such as with the Los Angeles Lakers and Anaheim Ducks.
“I am proud of the opportunity to hire or sign nearly 30 front-office and game-day staff and players who went on to major professional sports,” the sports aficionado says. “Finding, developing and mentoring people has been the best thing about my career. It is what I love doing more than anything else. I also loved the interaction with fans and sponsors. People came out to the ballpark to have fun, escape life for a few hours and build memories. My job was to make sure my entire team delivered night after night. It was less about baseball than it was about people.”
Building Success by Asking the Right Questions
Hart encourages young professionals, whether starting out in the business world or pursuing their higher education, to abide by the acronym A.S.K. – always seek knowledge.
“I’m a firm believer that the most brilliant and successful people are not the ones with the best answers but those who ask the best questions,” he says. “Throughout my career, I have always served in some sales- or business-development capacity. Asking good questions is, to me, the best way to sell, build trust and develop relationships.”
It is this ethos that has guided Hart’s lecturing at Cal State Fullerton, UC Riverside and the University of San Francisco. “At the end of every quarter or semester, I end with a discussion on how to be successful. I try to reinforce the need to be inquisitive, to seek knowledge and to ask great questions, and then really listen,” he says. “Far too many people listen with the intent of responding, rather than to truly understand. That skill will be one of the most important that anyone can develop.”
For Hart personally, while his professional life and interests have taken him to destinations across the U.S., Canada and South America, and he and his wife plan to continue traveling for years to come, the family feels a special connection to their hometown.
For More on Family Business
For more on the Center for Family Business, including ways to get involved as a Southern California firm or advice on launching or growing as a family-owned firm, reach out to the Center for Family Business online.
Read more of our articles about family business here.