Father Knows Best
The ties that bind dads and sons add to the fabric of these successful businesses
By Michelle F. Solomon
Fathers coach their sons’ Little League teams, play touch football in the yard, teach them to drive, give advice and try to protect them from making the same mistakes they did. It’s a foundation that runs deep. In this issue, Pinecrest Lifestyle honors Father’s Day by profiling businesses that find common ground in the special bond between a father and a son.
Clarin Eye Care Center
When Adam Clarin was growing up, his father, Bruce, was able to coach his baseball team, accompany his class on field trips—and still manage to provide financially for a family of four boys.
“The fact that he could make his own schedule was very appealing to me,” says Adam, who recalls that he didn’t have much of an interest in his father’s optometry business until graduation day from the University of Florida. “I looked to the future and decided it was time to grow up.”
When he told his father his plans, he says his father got out all of his optometry magazines for him to start reading.
Adam, who went on to graduate from Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry, says his father let him take the reins of the business and go in “whatever direction I wanted” almost immediately after he joined the practice.
However, Adam still looks up to his father’s 35 years of experience, including Bruce’s tenure with the prestigious Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
“I ask him questions and his opinion,” Adam says. “I don’t always listen to his answers, at which point he says to me, ‘I tried that and it didn’t work, but go ahead and try it yourself anyway.’”
What’s been most rewarding, however, is how the father-son relationship became a mentorship from doctor to doctor “There’s this second phase of him raising me after guiding me as a son,” Adam says. “Now, it’s him showing me how to be in this world in a different aspect—professionally as a successful optometrist.”
Some of Adam’s most gratifying moments are when his father seeks his professional advice. “I am always asking him for his opinion, but sometimes he’ll call me in to interpret a scan, or he’ll want me to look at one of his patients,” Adam says. “The first time it happened, it was amazing.”
South Dade Electrical Supply/South Dade Lighting
Being CEO of an electrical supply company wasn’t top of mind for Don C. Elliott when he graduated in 1967 from the University of Miami with a degree in accounting. He spent five years at other jobs before joining his father, Charlie, at his company, South Dade Electrical Supply.
“I came to help my father because he was tired of working seven days a week,” Don recalls. “He had the technical knowledge, and I could assist him with the financials and human resources.”
Only seven years after Don came on board, Charlie died suddenly from a massive heart attack at age 59. “I had to put the big hat on,” says Don, who was 34 when he took over his father’s business.
By that time, Charlie had already started South Dade Lighting after customer demand prompted a one-stop shop for electrical supply. “He had turned over the running of South Dade Lighting to me, and he had been focusing on the electrical supply,” Don says.
Today, South Dade Lighting and South Dade Electrical Supply operate out of 10 buildings, three of which the company owns, with large warehouses to stock massive inventory. Current projects include Brickell City Centre and the Frost Museum of Science. In 2015, the company celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Just like Don did for his father, his son, Donnie, now helps with the accounting, finance, accounts payable and “numbers-oriented stuff,” Don says. “He’s very detailed. It takes a lot of the burden off me.”
Donnie became part of the business 30 years ago when he was just 15 through a high school work-experience program. Now, Don takes off for four or five months in the summer to escape the heat of Miami, playing golf and enjoying his second home in North Carolina.
“I’m connected with my devices every day, but I don’t have to go to the office and I’m 20 degrees cooler,” he says. “Donnie watches over the business.”
Don’s grandson, Tristan, 19, who just finished his first year at Florida State University, will intern in the family business this summer
And there’s another link in the family chain: Don’s stepmother, Marina, 80, is still the credit manager for the business.
Don, now 71, says he has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I’m going to work another 10 years.”
John Lederman remembers when his father, Alan, who had been in the wholesale food business, and his mother, Joanna, had the idea for a New York-style market. “My dad had retired, and he and my mother were looking to get involved in something else food-related,” he recalls, adding that Miami didn’t have a great food scene at the time. His mother had recipes from her father, who owned restaurants in New York, and his father had the business acumen.
It was August 1992, and Alan, John and his brother, Michael, had spent the spring and summer getting ready to open Joanna’s Marketplace. Opening day, Aug. 24, 1992, just happened to be the same day Hurricane Andrew landed in South Florida.
“We had very little damage to the store,” says John. “But the clientele we expected to come got totally wiped out; for the first two years, people were leaving the area. They were selling their plots of land that were no longer buildings.”
While it wasn’t what they expected, the experience helped bring the Ledermans together. “As a family, we met almost every day to make the store viable, and we worked well together,” John says. “My brother and I were new to the business and our father was the patriarch who was teaching us. While he was teaching, we were doing, we were learning and getting our own perspectives on business.”
Over time, the Ledermans have learned that there are drawbacks to being related when running a business. John cites different dynamics, but says the family has learned how to adapt in order to work together. “We began calling our father Alan instead of Dad at the store because we wanted to have a separateness in the business relationship,” he says.
At family dinners, John says it’s difficult to keep the market out of the conversation. “It always goes back to Joanna’s—what we are doing well, what we can improve on,” he admits.
Alan, who turned 80 this year, remains active in the business, although he doesn’t come into the store to work. “He’s still a buyer for all of our products,” John says. “We rely on him a great deal.”
Frank DeValdivielso’s wife, Liede, started their real estate business 17 years ago, soon after they moved back to the States from Brazil. Seven years later, Frank joined her in the business. Now, with the addition of their two sons, Michael, 22, and Jonathan, 24, the DeValdivielso Team has strength in numbers as part of the Keyes Company.
Michael was the first son to join the family business. “He was working for a soccer company that hosted games at public parks,” Frank recalls. “He was working long hours; he saw what my wife and I were doing and he wanted to give it a try. Michael is a people person and a natural for this business. He saw that he could make more money putting in as much effort and get paid better than working for someone else.”
Jonathan, who coaches soccer in Pinecrest, was a professional soccer player in Spain for three years before returning to the area last May. With his coaching in the community, he’s opened up his sphere socially in ways that benefit the family business.
Both boys were exposed to real estate, like it or not, when they were very young. “They’ve been around it since they were little,” Frank says. “They were always taken to showings and open houses.”
Like any family business, there are ups and downs. On the upside, Frank says, one of the benefits of working with family is the guarantee of follow-through. “You know they’ll take it all the way to the end,” he says. “There’s no need to keep checking in with them because it’s their business, too. They have a built-in interest.”
But there are struggles, too. “When there’s a downturn in the market and everyone is depending on the same source of income, that can be rough,” Frank says.
The younger DeValdivielsos also have taught their father a thing or two about a business he’s been involved in for a decade. “They’ve opened up to me a whole new market of young buyers that I was unaware of,” Frank says. “There are young people moving into Pinecrest, moving back from other areas, and Michael and Jonathan are tapping into this broader slice of the market more than I did previously.”
Michael has taken the team online and tracks the results of over 900 websites on which the team advertises and cultivates leads through the internet and social media.
“That both Michael and Jonathan know how to communicate through social media and effectively reach out to people and use that as a medium was something we would have never done without them,” says Frank. “It’s been a real eye-opener.”
When Adam and Aaron Cohn were youngsters, their father, Jack, would put them to work in his dental practice. “We had to clean up the lab or work on trimming dental models,” Aaron says. “He had a slide projector on the wall back then, and even though they were pictures of teeth, we would scroll through them.”
The two brothers, who are five years apart in age, attended different dental schools: Adam received his D.M.D. in 2007 from the College of Dental Medicine at Nova Southeastern University, and Aaron received his D.M.D. in 2012 from Temple University Kornberg School of Dentistry.
“I was always into health care and the sciences, and once my brother went to dental school, I had the idea we would go into practice together,” Aaron says. “My dad never really pushed dentistry onto us as a profession. I think what rubbed off on me was that I saw how happy he was doing what he loved to do.”
Adam recalls when he first joined his father in business and the two would attend professional dental club events. “I saw the admiration other dentists showed toward him, and it really made me proud and believe that he was as great in other people’s eyes as he was in my own.”
Jack has now pared down his patient list to two days a week in the office, but his sons say he is still involved and not completely “ready to walk away” from his 40-year practice.
“We have third and even fourth generations of families coming in who started with my father as their dentist,” says Adam.
“We’re all lifelong Pinecrest residents,” Aaron adds. “We went through Pinecrest Elementary, Palmetto Middle and Miami Palmetto Senior High, so we feel very much a part of the community.”
And the community is indeed a part of Smile Miami.