Legacy Series Part I: Mel & Dan Berzack on Family Across Generations in the Sewn Products Industry

By SPESA

Over the next several weeks, SPESA will be featuring what we’re calling the “Legacy Series” which will include conversations with different families who have generational ties to the industry. The first conversation is between SPESA Board member and current Sewn Products Equipment Company (SPEC) President Dan Berzack and his father, former SPESA Chairman and former SPEC President Mel Berzack.


From Mel:

How were you introduced to this industry?


MB: I was born into this industry. My father was an industrial machinery distributor in Central Africa and also manufactured steam pressing equipment and domestic sewing machines. These were the first sewing machines ever manufactured in Africa.


How did the industry change during the span of your career?


MB: I started in the industry at the age of 17. Over the course of my career, I worked in the industry on three continents. So, not only have I lived through the radical changes in automation of production machines in the industry, but also was embedded in three different methods of apparel and related sewn products production. The most obvious and notable change in the industry that I have lived through is the shift of mass production to Central America and the Far East. Having experienced all of this, the biggest common denominator — which still remains — is the labor intensive nature of the industry (this is not necessarily negative).


Why do you think this industry lends itself well to family-run businesses?


MB: First of all, I would say that in this case the question pertains to equipment distribution and not to manufacturing. Historically, equipment distributors formed very close alliances with the equipment manufacturers. The only way to gather strong knowledge of the equipment was through experience. So, given that distribution relied on these close alliances with the manufacturers and that the years of experience gleaned by the owners of the distribution companies — it has lent itself to being the type of business that is naturally passed along from generation to generation. A good example of this is our family’s relationship with the Svegea company in Sweden — manufacturers of the highest quality collarette and slitting systems. This relationship goes back three generations for both sides.


Did you think your child would follow in your footsteps? If so, why was that important for you?


MB: No. I never expected any of my children to follow in my footsteps, but I am absolutely thrilled that my son decided to join our business and continue the tradition.


What is one piece of advice you’d give yourself as a newcomer to the industry?


MB: Stay continuously and internationally involved and always seek out new innovation to bring to the industry.


From Dan:

What made you want to follow in your parent’s footsteps? And do you hope your children will do the same?


DB: My college degree and first career were in no way related to the family business. However, over time, I saw the unique opportunity I had to get involved in SPEC and have been extremely happy about that decision ever since. It was a fantastic opportunity to work with and learn from my Mom and Dad. I am very pleased to have had that experience with them and work very hard to grow the family legacy by growing our businesses and ensuring that they can be proud of their legacy. With regards to my kids — of which I have four boys — I share the same mindset as my Dad. If they decide to join the business, they would certainly be welcomed. If they decide to pursue other careers, they will be supported. There really is no pressure either way, but this family business has treated the Berzacks very well for multiple generations, and would be ready for the baton to be passed as soon as I have their college education paid off!


Now that you’ve talked to your dad, is there anything new that you learned that you didn’t already know?


DB: Nothing completely new revealed itself as a result of this interview. However, some of Mel’s important lessons learned and historical perspectives on what has been an instigator of success for him still holds true for the next generation (me) — so I was reminded of these, which can sometimes get lost or forgotten.


A Final Question for Father and Son:

What part of your business’s legacy are you determined to maintain?

MB & DB: Honesty and integrity.

Sewn Products Equipment Company is a major supplier of machinery, parts and accessories to industries that manufacture apparel, furniture, marine and aviation vehicles, industrial fabric products, products formed from flexible composites, and many other allied industries.

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