Phillip Cooper knows bugs. “We would talk bugs at dinner,” he says of his childhood. “We knew the business inside out.”
That business is the Lawrenceville-based Cooper Pest Solutions, which Cooper’s father, Theodore, launched in 1955. Phillip, now 49, started helping his dad when he was just a boy and officially became a sales representative for the company in 1984. “I just thought that I could achieve all my dreams [here],” Phillip says. “My dad made an amazing foundation.” When Phillip came on board, Cooper Pest only serviced Mercer County, and lower Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Fast-forward 30 years, and the company now serves 10 more New Jersey counties.
The company has also expanded beyond pest-management. In recent years, Phillip and his brother Richard, 47, now co-owners, recognized “a void” in bedbug education and product sales. In 2007, they created BedBug Central, a free educational website that also sells bedbug- and pest-control products.
Phillip is now president and CEO of the company and Richard has become quite the name in the bedbug industry. He regularly speaks at industry gatherings; has edited and written books and articles on pest control; and serves as a member of various pest-control associations. He is currently taking a sabbatical from his role as technical director at the company to finish his doctorate in entomology at Rutgers.
Theodore Cooper passed away in 1998, but Phillip and Richard’s mom, Sybil, 71, is still very much involved with the day-to-day. “We don’t have accounts-receivable problems,” says Phillip, referring to just one of his mother’s duties as the company’s “director of stuff.” (Yes, that’s her official title.) “I don’t see her stopping any time soon,” Phillip adds. But soon enough, Phillip and Richard might see themselves passing the reins to a third generation of Coopers. Phillip’s children—Samantha, 18, and Andrew, 14—and Rich’s offspring—Andrea, 16, and Julia, 19—all have had roles at the company. “Andrew, he thinks he’s running the company already,” Phillip says of his son, who spent last summer shadowing the sales people.
Operation of Cooper Pest is not limited to the Cooper bloodline. The company has a staff of 82.
“Everyone treats [the company] as if this is their own,” Phillip says. “They innately care about it and about each other.”
Summing up the firm’s culture, he says: “It’s not corporate America. We have something unique here.”
Owners: Phillip and Richard Cooper
Business: Pest management service and educational website
Family Members Employed: 8
Generations Actively Involved: 3
FINALISTS Revenue up to $10 million
NASSAU TENNIS CLUB
After moving to New Jersey with his wife, Carolyn, in the 1960s, engineer and life-long tennis player Benton Camper Sr. developed an idea for an indoor facility where fellow tennis lovers could play their favorite sport year-round. The couple eventually opened their club in Skillman in 1971. It was designed and built by Camper himself.
Though the senior Camper passed away in 2006, Carolyn, 78, and her son Benton Jr., 49, president of the club, have continued to run the facility, which offers summer camp, lessons and fitness training to members and the general public. The club operates with a staff of 35 seasonal and 25 year-round employees, including 12 tennis pros.
“We do have high standards for how we conduct a business,” says the younger Benton, adding that the family is passionate about running the club. He and his mother, he says, “want it to be the best facility in the area.” That means constant improvements and upgrades, as well as a focus on customer service. “As a family business you feel so much more responsible for everything,” says Carolyn. “I mean the slightest thing goes wrong, you just feel so deeply and want to make it right.”
Cuban immigrant Leonard Zeik wanted the best for his family, so in addition to working at Cosmo Bookbinding factory in Elizabeth, when he came to New Jersey in 1961 at 32, he started selling jewelry door-to-door on weekends. “My father left [Cuba] with nothing but that vision that everything can be done with hard work and honesty,” says daughter Lourdes Zeik-Chivi. That work ethic led to the opening of Zeik’s first shop—with products ranging from jewelry to small appliances—in 1964. Eventually, he opened Leonardo Jewelers in Elizabeth.
“It was something that was done with sweat and tears, as all great businesses are,” says Zeik-Chivi. “My father did not believe in employees—he only believed in family,” says Zeik-Chivi, who started working in her father’s stores at an early age alongside her parents, siblings and cousins.
The high-end jewelry and watch company still has a location in Elizabeth, and has added a second location in Red Bank. Zeik-Chivi, 55, and four siblings—Michael, 56; Leo, 51; Vivian Leonard, 53; and Ivette Fernicola, 46—all are involved in managing the business. Though the elder Zeik, 82, is no longer involved with daily operations, he still asks about the business every day, says Zeik-Chivi.
SEMIFINALISTS Revenue up to $10 million
MESSINA WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT
Certified landscape architect and former nursery owner Jim Messina created his first deer repellent in 1988. Ten years later, with several formulas perfected, he went into business with his son and recent college-grad James. Together they built their Warren County-based business into a respected purveyor of organic repellents for wild and domestic animals. Jim’s wife, Marie, (James’s mom) is also involved in the business, as are James’s wife, Megan, and his sister Jamie, who runs the service division with her husband.
In 2000, after 35 years of working together, Daryl Rand took the reins of the Guttenburg-based advertising company from her late father, Harold, who had founded the firm 57 years earlier. Today Daryl—a 2008 inductee to the New Jersey Advertising Club Hall of Fame—runs the company with her sons David and Jason, who are partners in the company.
SINGER NELSON CHARLMERS
Founder Al Singer and his sons David and Jonathan run the Teaneck-based insurance agency, which the senior Singer founded in 1987. SNC prides itself on customer service and community involvement, and continually matches funds raised by employees for various charities. Jonathan has even written The Special Needs Parents Handbook, and all proceeds go to Advocacy 4 All, an initiative that helps families with special-needs children.
RAINEY’S REPAIR CENTER
Paul Rainey launched his New Brunswick auto repair center in 1970. He soon hired five of his brothers—he had 11 siblings—to work alongside him. Rainey’s father, Ed, also joined the business for 10 years. Paul is now retired, but brothers Jimmie Sr., Thomas and David have taken over the business. It now has eight employees, five of whom are family members.
RIVERVIEW SERVICE CENTER
After 21 years operating Riverview Sunoco, Wayne H. Ferrarini and his family decided to leave the space in Elmwood Park and buy property down the street to create their own auto repair shop. Ferrarini and his wife, Gayle, opened their new service center in 2009. Today their staff of six includes the Ferrarinis’ children Michael and Nicole. —N.K.