Tom Zuern ’00, MAcc’01 has been involved in his family’s 64-year-old business for as long as he can remember.
“We like to say that we have sawdust in our veins,” says Zuern, a co-owner, vice president, and sales manager for the Allenton, Wisconsin-based Zuern Building Products. He and four cousins are the third generation to run the Washington County business, which supplies a full line of building materials to professional builders and homeowners. What began as a five-person operation now employs about 130 people. Over the years, the business has expanded to four lumberyards with showrooms in Allenton, Cedarburg, Franklin, and Watertown, Wisconsin.
“[UW–Madison] broadens your horizons. You learn and associate with people from all over Wisconsin and the world. It allows you to have faith in your value system while appreciating the perspectives and ideas of others.”
“There’s really an entrepreneurial spirit in working in a family business,” says Zuern, who graduated from UW–Madison with his bachelor’s degree in 2000 and master’s degree in 2001, both in accounting. After working for three and a half years for a Madison accounting firm, he made the transition to sales management at the family business. His experience at UW–Madison helped to provide lessons that he applies in daily life.
“It broadens your horizons. You learn and associate with people from all over Wisconsin and the world,” he says. “It allows you to have faith in your value system while appreciating the perspectives and ideas of others.” As sales manager, Zuern enjoys helping staff to improve and become more strategic. “The way I view my role as a manager is to coach and motivate our great team to perform better every day,” he says.
While he stays involved on the financial side of the business, he enjoys applying his business knowledge to help the firm succeed in a variety of ways. “From an owner’s perspective inside a family business, we can create change when needed to improve the business. We all fit well together. We know what our strengths and weaknesses are,” Zuern says. “I love to be able to take what I’ve learned and apply it.”