Columbus-based Reitter Stucco transitioning business to fifth generation with co-CEO model
Kyle Reitter and brother-in-law Dustin Wilshire are stepping up to the plate.
As the child of a fourth-generation business owner, Kyle Reitter grew up with the opportunity to experience all the customary rites of passage a family firm could offer him. As a toddler, he watched Reitter Stucco and Supply employees work on his family’s home. As a teenager, he earned money doing clerical work over summer break. And after high school, he had a job waiting for him as a full-time laborer.
And then he got fired.
A week before Reitter was canned, he took his mom and sister out to a job site where he had installed cultured stone. He loved the work and was proud of it, but his father, Fritz, let his superintendent know that his son’s attendance record wasn’t cutting it. The younger Reitter called his dismissal “heartbreaking.”
He would go on to work at a cable company for about year and a half before being welcomed back to Reitter at age 21 for a warehouse position. He ascended to leading the materials sales division and companywide business development efforts. His stick-to-itiveness is about to pay off, because the man who once had him fired has created a succession plan that will elevate his son to co-CEO.
“Succession planning started years ago, but when that began my dad told me I was not entitled. There were several options on the table in addition to passing it on to the next generation,” says Reitter, 35. “I had to work to get to where I wanted to be. I told him my goal was to keep the business in the family, even if I did not get the (top) title. I wanted to make sure the business continued to be successful so I would do what was best for the company.”
The other CEO will be Reitter’s brother-in-law, Dustin Wilshire, 37. He’s responsible for the contracting division and operations.
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Reitter Stucco was founded in 1915 in Columbus by Gabriel Reitter, an Austrian immigrant. He left his family in their homeland and ended up not seeing them for years because of World War 1. After the war, his son Gabe moved to Columbus and started working for his father when he was 18, and later served as the company’s president from 1939 to 1957. His son Richard “Dick” Reitter began working for the company in 1947 and served as president from 1957 to 1980. Dick’s five sons, including Fritz, all had long careers working in the company, though Fritz is the only brother still active. He’ll retire and redeem his stock at the end of 2021. Kyle Reitter and Wilshire, who have both worked at the company since 2007, will have 50-50 ownership at the start of 2022. Wilshire also started as an entry-level laborer.
“Kyle and I have different personalities that have resulted in the formation of different leadership styles that have each proven effective over the years,” Wilshire says. “With us both being family members, we each knew we wanted to be leaders of the company. Rather than putting one of us over the other in terms of the senior leadership position, we agreed that if we each acknowledged our own and the other person’s strengths and agreed to work together, we could have a very powerful team approach.”
Wilshire’s strengths are running numbers and operational efficiency while Reitter thrives in a relationship-building role and customer satisfaction.
The duo has come up with specific rules for decision making, which have been put into an operating agreement to avoid stalemates over key business decisions. If there’s an impasse, there are rules about how to get the board of advisers involved.
Mark Corna, the retired CEO of Corna Kokosing Construction, has been on Reitter Stucco’s board of advisers for four years and refers to the company as “a great American success story.” His familiarity with the company dates to his high school days in the 1960s, when he worked weekends prepping sites for stucco appliers. The co-CEO model can work because of those different skill sets and the benefits they’ll bring as young leaders.
“This business is constantly changing and you need to bring young blood along,” Corna says. “These guys are open-minded about change and willing to adapt and also listen to advice and guidance from outside sources.”
Perry Maughmer is the founder at Relentless Leadership in Columbus and has a Vistage Chair practice that counsels CEOs. He’s worked with Reitter and Wilshire for a year to help them with the transition. In addition to being able to complement each other in the way they work, they also have the humility to make the co-CEO dynamic a success, he says.
“Together they make a great team,” Maughmer says. “Both are aware of where the gaps are, and they are OK with each other. Neither is striving to position himself over the other, and you don’t find that too often.”
Fritz’s advice: “Do not ever give up quality.”
Reitter Stucco’s contracting division accounts for about 75 percent of company revenue with the material supply division generating the balance. Serving the residential and commercial markets, the company works with homeowners as well as contractors and provides installation services for new construction, remodeling and restoration projects.
Reitter and Wilshire will take the reins of the company while the effects of COVID-19 – like supply chain problems and labor shortages – persist. “Luckily, we have remained healthy as a company, and 2020 was a great year for us in terms of sales and profitability,” Wilshire says. “2021 has been more of an average year. The outlook is very unpredictable in 2022.”
Fritz Reitter has told his son and Wilshire that he’ll stay on as a member of the board of advisers and always is just a phone call away. His advice for the new leaders: “Do not ever give up quality and keep all the things in place to maintain our differentiation from other companies that are similar to us. Do not ever let your guard down or get complacent. It takes only one bad job to ruin your reputation.” He also counseled to maintain generous profit sharing with employees, some of whom have been there nearly 40 years. “And, don’t forget your guys, keep in touch with them and don’t run the business from your desk. Even though you can do everything from a phone these days, you still need face-to-face interaction. You have to be out and about with your folks and your customers.”
Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.
Reitter Stucco & Supply
1100 King Ave., Columbus
Business: Stucco, stone veneer, exterior insultation finish systems
Top officers: Kyle Reitter, Dustin Wilshire
Annual revenue: $7 million
Ohio clients: Messer Construction, Corna Kokosing Construction, Danis Construction, Turner Construction, Schottenstein Real Estate Group, Elford, Market Construction, Valley Interior Systems