Ozinga, a local ready-mix concrete company that’s gone national, has learned a lot about how family, community and strong values can impact a business.-
By Arianna Hermosillo
Bright red and peppermint colored trucks with the name Ozinga are hard to miss in the Chicagoland area. They’re a staple brand on construction sites, but behind those trucks lies a strong history.
Pronounced “Oh-zinga,” the company’s roots go back to 1928, when Martin Ozinga Sr., a first generation immigrant from the Netherlands, and Bill Conrad, a local businessman, opened Conrad & Ozinga Coal & Coke Company in Evergreen Park, Illinois. The next year, Martin bought Conrad out to become sole owner. Four generations and 90 years later, Ozinga continues to operate with Executive Vice President Paul Ozinga, his five brothers and a cousin at the helm.
Paul recalls summers as a young teen when he swept, cleaned and shoveled in company yards. “It’s a lot of responsibility being fourth generation to honor and respect the legacy that the generations before set out with respect to a good name and reputation,” he says. Paul got exposure to other aspects of the business and decided to pursue a degree in concrete industry management and continue with the company.
Ozinga is more than those that carry the name. Its employees number over 2,000. They include an R&D department, material scientists, engineers and of course, the ready-mix concrete drivers in those peppermint trucks. ”We really believe that it’s as important that our employees’ home life is as healthy as the work life. And that it results in a healthier community,” Paul says. “It’s a big responsibility to make sure that we maintain everybody’s livelihood, too.”
It’s clear that the community outside the company matters, too. Paul works in the Pilsen location and also resides in Pilsen with his family. “If this business is the tool that we have to meet [community] needs then we’re going to make sure that business does the best it can to serve our community the best we can.”
According to Paul, a focus on growing vertically is key to overall growth: identifying opportunities to be self-reliant in all aspects of the supply chain, from sourcing sand and stone, to handling logistics and shipping. It helps that Ozinga isn’t afraid of technology, either. As newer generations of customers seek information more readily, Paul says that Ozinga is finding ways to “put a lot of transparency tools into our customers’ hands.” Ozinga has built apps that allow customers to see outstanding balances and invoices, and track a truck’s location. “I believe that in the next ten years, our entire industry is going to be totally disrupted…and if we’re not prepared and staying ahead of that, it will be very difficult to operate,” Paul says.
The attention to technological advances and operational growth doesn’t supersede the Ozinga approach to family business. “I think it’s one of the most critical things to work on: being healthy as a business and a family,” Paul says. He adds that it’s important to respect boundaries. “Am I talking to a family member or a coworker?”
There are 32 members of the fifth generation of Ozingas. At this stage Paul’s generation is discussing how to best equip those that might be interested in getting involved in the family business. “I’m really excited to see how the 5th generation will come into play [and] their understanding of the world.”