Member Spotlight: Ann Mitzkus-Chen & Heiko Mitzkus of Vaxcel International
Chicago Family Business Council: What year was your company founded?
Ann Mitzkus-Chen & Heiko Mitzkus: 1993
CFBC: Tell us a little bit of the history behind the company?
AM-C & HM: Ann’s parents - and Heiko’s beloved parents-in-law - founded Vaxcel, which started as a trading company. We imported all types of products produced in Taiwan, from knee pads to ultrasonic pest repellents. Over the years, we started to specialize in lighting. Today, we supply decorative, residential lighting fixtures and ceiling fans to DIY stores and lighting showrooms across the country.
CFBC: What family members work with you in the business (if any)?
AM-C & HM: We both joined the family business after we were married: Ann dove in first, and Heiko half a year later. Ann’s parents, brother Richard, three uncles, one aunt, three cousins, and one distant cousin also work in the business.
CFBC: How did you hear about the CFBC and what motivated you to join?
AM-C & HM: About five years ago, we heard our family business expert Greg McCann speak on the topic of family businesses and realized that, as a family business, we have extra homework to do, compared to non-family businesses. We thought one way to go about it is to get to know others going through the same situations. We found CFBC through the magic of the internet and joined in 2011.
CFBC: How has CFBC helped your company succeed?
AM-C & HM: The CFBC has been a catalyst in our process to determine where we want to take the family business. In particular, the CFBC, through its speakers, workshops, and members has provided fresh perspectives that help us run our business better.
CFBC: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your experience with your forum and the CFBC?
AM-C & HM: Two aspects: First, the understanding and appreciation that we have gained regarding the challenges that our forum members face. Second, the feedback and appreciation that we have received from our forum members, which has been completely honest and unbiased, more than anything that we have experienced before.
CFBC: Is there one thing you have learned from being a member of CFBC that has impacted your business or your life the most?
AM-C & HM: Knowing yourself better. It’s so powerful. If you truly know yourself, you will be a better employee, leader, parent, spouse, or whatever else you aspire to be!
CFBC: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
AM-C & HM: Recently, Heiko has been building little cages to fight off the rabbits that are eating up our garden plants. He also does long-distance running, to stay out of trouble. Ann is a compulsive bread baker.
CFBC: What one book would you recommend to your fellow CFBC members?
AM-C & HM: “What Color is Your Parachute,” specifically the flower exercise portion. It’s a great tool to find out what’s important to you, and a very good complement to the experience of being in a forum.
CFBC: Name one person who had the biggest impact on you as a leader?
AM-C & HM: For Heiko, it’s his father, who has always been true to himself in everything he did. Ann is still looking…
CFBC: How does your company celebrate successes?
AM-C & HM: Great question! It turns out that we don’t really celebrate those. We’ll work on this.
CFBC: What was your first job?
AM-C & HM: Ann flipped burgers at the student center in college. As a summer job at age 16, Heiko did “quality control” at an automotive supplier where he manually sorted out stamped metal parts.