Member Spotlight on Gail Schumacher and Family

Chicago Family Business Council: What year was your company founded?      

Gail Schumacher & Family: Northwestern College was originally founded in 1902. Fifty four years later (in 1956) it was purchased by the Schumacher Family, which still owns and operates it today. This year we are pleased to be celebrating our 110th anniversary!

CFBC: Tell us a little bit of the history behind the company?

GS & F: Northwestern College (formerly known as Northwestern Business College until 2008) was founded in 1902 in Chicago at 1747 N. Robey (later renamed “Damen” Avenue) just north of North Avenue. It has continued to be a family-owned institution of higher learning which began with a mission of providing men and women with specialized training necessary for successful careers in business. In 1956 the Schumacher Family bought the College when Violet Schumacher – a former student, receptionist, staff member and finally Director of the College – attained ownership. Decades later, Violet (who recently turned 98 years old!) sold the College to her two children, with her son Lawrence Schumacher, my husband, taking over as President in 1978. Lawrence became the sole owner of the College in 2007 and has continued to serve as its President for the past 34 years.

When the College first started, it offered just two programs: Stenography and Accounting. Today it boasts of Schools of Commerce & Technology, Health Sciences, Legal Studies, and Nursing, and it has expanded to include three campuses (Bridgeview, Chicago-Jefferson Park, and Naperville) as well as NC Online. Northwestern College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and several programmatic agencies, and in addition is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

CFBC: What family members work with you in the business (if any)?

GS & F: My husband, Lawrence Schumacher serves as the College’s President and our daughter Lauren Schumacher serves as the College’s Marketing Coordinator.

CFBC: How did you hear about the CFBC and what motivated you to join?

GS & F: We learned about the CFBC through a few other family business owners and shortly thereafter were approached by the CFBC’s Director and were invited to attend a New Members event.   We were motivated to join as a result of our desire to gain guidance and wisdom from other family business members as we faced the addition of new generations of our family to the operation of Northwestern College.  We hoped to gain insight in how to best develop conducive relationships with all family members incorporated into the business, or possibly learn how to better develop methods of communication with each family member in their various roles within the College’s leadership. Finally, we  hoped to better understand protocols used by other family businesses when adding new generations to our  operations, such as initial compensation for new family members; sensitivity regarding who sits in on what meetings; and how to best hold family members to the same standards as all other employees.

CFBC: How has CFBC helped your company succeed?

GS & F: Northwestern College’s membership in the CFBC hasn’t directly helped it to succeed, however its most significant residual benefit has been the relationships garnered with other families experiencing similar issues synonymous with running a family business.

CFBC: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your experience with your forum and the CFBC?

GS & F: The most rewarding aspect has been the fact that I have gained a sounding-board and support system with families that experience similar issues when trying to run a business together.  This support system was instrumental to me and my Family as the College went through changes in the mid to late 2000’s. No one understands a family business and the unique issues of running a company alongside your relatives than other families that are doing the exact same thing.  At times it can take a toll on the individual family members emotionally, physically, and psychologically. As we grappled with the issue of the addition of third generational family members and how best to accomplish that to the satisfaction of each of the families involved, my forum provided me with not only emotional support but also acted as a reliable and confidential sounding board. The various perspectives that they shared with me assisted us in making decisions that were in the best interests of both our business, and our family.  Throughout the years, I have come to cherish my forum as more than just fellow members of the CFBC, but friends that I love dearly.

CFBC: Is there one thing you have learned from being a member of CFBC that has impacted your business or your life the most?

GS & F: I have learned how to “listen” better and have come to understand the true value of listening.  Listening is an art that takes time to hone, and I now fully appreciate that there’s enormous value in learning how to do it.

CFBC: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

GS & F: Reading.

CFBC: What one book would you recommend to your fellow CFBC members?

GS & F: I would recommend, “Anam Cara: Book of Celtic Wisdom” by John O’Donohue.  It’s a wonderful book on Celtic philosophy concentrating on supportive relationships in life.  I found it similar to the forum protocol of the CFBC. The book builds upon your emotional intelligence while stressing basic common sense.  A very good read!

CFBC: Name one person who had the biggest impact on you as a leader?

GS & F: Pat Carman of Stand Fast Packaging. She’s a brilliant lady with a tremendous financial mind.  But aside from her business sense, I am more-so in awe of how she handles things so graciously, one-by-one pulling each of her children into the family business while avoiding many of the pitfalls that so often befall family businesses. It amazes me how she’s handled each stage of running a family business as well as each stage of her own life so well. Pat is unflappable!  She’s taught me more than she’ll ever know!

CFBC: How does your Company celebrate successes?

GS & F: We celebrate successes on a regular basis, continually hosting both small and big events marking the accomplishments of our individual staff members as well as the College as a whole. Personal as well as business successes are worth celebrating, and we’re always up for bringing in food to recognize accomplishments. Ten years ago we had a large celebration when Northwestern College marked its 100th anniversary. Currently we are celebrating our 110th anniversary, marking the occasion with individual ribbon-cutting events at each of our three campuses and our administrative office.  Thus we are able to revel in this milestone accomplishment (110 years!) not only with our students, faculty and staff, but with the communities that we are a part of.  We are proud of our longevity, which is something truly worth celebrating!

CFBC: What was your first job?

GS & F: My first job was a memorable one! I was just 15 years old and I was hired for the summer at the Fudge Factory in Chicago’s Old Town! I actually worked in the shop’s window, making fudge in 50 pound batches in a giant metal bowl all day long while passersby gaped through the window!  To this day I hate fudge, although I still love chocolate.

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