The business graveyard is littered with family enterprises
that surged but ultimately faltered, a fact Allied Logistics CEO Lake Polan III
Roughly 70 percent of family-owned businesses
fail or are sold before the second generation takes over, according to the
Harvard Business Review. Just 10 percent make it to the third generation
intact. Founded in 1922 by Walter Lewis Sr., Allied has defied the odds,
thriving now in its fourth generation.
Polan has managed Allied in part by
maintaining a long view, developing the Huntington, W.Va., company from a
single warehouse to a full-service global logistics firm operating in seven
“Any company that fails to expand its
capabilities is in trouble,” Polan said. “You need to be able to meet the needs
of your customers. If you can’t, you’re not going to survive.”
Polan still is looking ahead, this time
to succession, with his daughter Rebecca set to take the helm.
“The selection and preparation of the
next generation of family leadership is the most important task of my career,” Lake
Polan said. “My father set the example by recruiting me to the business,
training me and then having the trust to turn me loose to succeed (or, of
course, to fail).
“My job is easier because my daughter
is more focused and skilled than I was at this point in my career. I have
complete confidence that our business will have a great future with the
leadership that she and our management team have to offer.”
Rebecca Polan is braced for the challenge.
In 2011, she took over as president of Allied Realty, the corporate hub for the
logistics business and the company Lewis formed 92 years ago. She obtained
master’s degrees in public administration from American University and business
administration from William & Mary, and she holds a certificate in supply
chain management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Growing up around my father and this
company has given me a unique understanding of how it all works and a real
appreciation for how we do things,” Rebecca Polan said. “I’ve learned from a
Under Lake Polan’s watch, Allied has transformed
from a family business to a family of companies, including Reo Distribution, a
logistics firm led by Reo B. Hatfield, president of Allied’s Virginia
“Lake is a visionary. He’s constantly looking
ahead, and he’s developed a diverse base that allows us all to meet customer
needs working together,” Hatfield said. “He really is a pioneer.” The product
of that pioneering entrepreneurial spirit is a company offering warehousing,
trucking, logistics and processing services.
“What we’ve been able to do is really attributable
to a great deal of forward thinking on Lake’s part and a commitment to doing
things the right way that I think really is part of the family values that we
bring to our operation,” said Jeff Smith, president of Allied’s West Virginia
That, Lake Polan said, springs from a recognition
of the value of relationships. “Our customers are a part of us,” Polan said. “We’ve
had to develop as their needs have evolved. That’s a big part of why we’re
where we are and who we are.”