Leaders of the Pack

How the Berkleys formed an award-winning business and a new family dynamic

“Customers are at the top of our org chart.“ – Jeff Berkley

Jeff Berkley sold his packaging business in 2000 to spend more time with his family. Little did he know he would exit retirement and return to business 12 years later to again spend more time with his family.

During his senior year of college, Jeff’s son Eric persuaded him to start an eco-friendly packaging business, Berkley International. “We hashed through a plan over coffee, and then off we went cold-calling for new customers,” says Eric Berkley, president of Berkley International.

The Berkleys—Jeff (dad), Heidi (mom), twin sons Eric and Sean, and youngest son Brett—live close-knit lives in Southern California. An entrepreneurial inclination runs in the family, so it came naturally for them to partner in a family business.

Berkley International started in 2012 with nothing—no customers, no vendors, no facilities. Fast-forward five years, and Eric’s brothers, Sean and Brett, have joined the company to help manage its runaway success. Revenue has grown from $0 to $20 million, and is on track for $25 million this year. There are now three plants in California (Carson, Napa, and Santa Fe Springs) and another in Arkansas. Berkley International earned a spot in the 2016 Inc. 5000 list as the No.1 fastest-growing manufacturer and No. 17 overall.

“If someone would have said in 2012, ‘You’ll be doing $20 million [in 2017],’ I would have said, you’re crazy,” says Jeff Berkley, CEO of Berkley International.

‘We start by listening’

The key to their success is plastered on the walls, but more than that, they live it: “We start by listening.” It’s really a 360-degree approach to listening, starting with the customer. “Customers are at the top of our org chart,” says Jeff. A sign on the wall asserts, “If we treat our customers well, our own success follows.”

“Everything we do is focused around our customers, understanding our customer needs, and delivering the highest value,” says Eric. Among their customers are Burt’s Bees, Honest Company, and numerous wineries.

The Berkleys place equal value on their employees’ voices. Together with their staff, they codified the company values, known as “The Berkley Way.” The values are reflected in their culture and their results. In addition to a customer-first approach, employees embrace:

Think big—not just on the opportunity at hand.

Be resourceful, and never take “no” for an answer.

Have no limits—set high goals, encourage competition, and then keep score. There is always room for improvement.

Jeff prizes transparency. “It’s easy to figure out who we are,” he says, “and where we are tracking to our goals. It’s just part of the culture.”

Faster, better problem-solving

When the Berkleys want new perspectives from outside their business, they listen to their peers. Jeff, Eric, and his twin brother, Sean, are each in Vistage groups. For Jeff, who had been a member when he owned his first business, it was a return to Vistage.

“My dad walked over to my desk,” Eric recalls, and said, “You need to join Vistage. It will make you a better businessperson.”

“I wanted Eric to have a different perspective than just mine,” says Jeff. He gave Sean the same advice.

“Among our three groups, we have three separate pools of feedback from some of the most successful and smartest minds in the area,” says Sean Berkley, VP at Berkley International. “It keeps us from getting single tracked,” he adds, “and has really sped up our problem-solving.” The Berkleys’ Vistage groups provide them with perspectives and ideas and allow them to process complex issues concerning the business and family dynamics.

Giving each family member a voice

For Jeff, the group has served as an invaluable source of information on how to run a family business, a big change from his first business. “My biggest concern was that the family never suffers,” Jeff says. “We have a close family, and I didn’t want that destroyed.”

Important to the family’s harmony in life and business is listening to each other. “That’s key as we try to build something together as a family and as a team,” Jeff says.

This means having monthly family meetings with a Vistage Chair, Sean says. “We include the whole family because it’s a family business, and it’s all of our livelihoods.”

“A big part of the mission is for everybody to find their voice and then blend their voices,” says Chair Larry
Cassidy, who runs those family meetings. “I give Jeff a lot of credit for creating an environment in which he steps back just enough to allow each son to have a voice in the organization. Not easy.”

If it’s more family time that Jeff wanted in starting this business, he got it. The Berkleys have a new closeness and spend more time together. Amid Berkley International’s hectic growth, the family carves out time to grab lunch with each other every day. This experience has shifted the dynamic of Jeff’s relationship with his boys: “I see my role changing to become more of a mentor to my sons—to step back and let them make decisions together.”

 

Related > The Berkleys’ member success story