Best of Madison Business 2022: Roots Run Deep
157 combined years in business. 160 years of marriage. These power couples have planted firm roots in the Madison community they call home.
Since we named the last Best of Madison Business class in January 2020, the pandemic has radically changed the way we work. Entire industries were forced to build new strategies, delivery methods and day-to-day operations, while some companies were shut down completely for the better part of a year. What stands out amid so much change are the local leaders who have remained steadfast, both in business and in their commitment to the Madison community.
It just so happens that this year’s winners are also pairs who have been through more than the ups and downs of the business world — they are life partners who have been married for more than 20, 30 and 40 decades.
The magazine has formally recognized exemplary business leadership since 2000, highlighting those who have an impact beyond the walls of their companies and make Madison a better place to live and work. This year’s Best of Madison Business awardees have weathered the storm of COVID-19 while remaining rooted in their values and principles.
“They didn’t just weather it because they had innovative ideas,” says Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. “They weathered it because they invested in the community and this community returned that investment.”
The roots run deep in these Madison-born businesses with local, national and global reach, helmed by leaders who are partners both in life and business. Their marriages have grown alongside their enterprises, undoubtedly helping keep them focused on what’s most important, especially during a pandemic: taking care of the people and city they love.
Get tickets to the Best of Madison Business Awards here.
Bringing Back The Music
Larry and Marla Frank | Frank Productions
Audiences and revenue all but vanished for Frank Productions for more than a year because of COVID-19, demonstrating how sad life becomes without live entertainment. But the show goes on for the concert promoter that turned Madison into a destination for big-name acts. Prior to its 2018 joint venture with Live Nation, Frank Productions was the largest independent concert promoter in the U.S. Now it’s partnered with the largest concert promotion company in the world. Larry and Marla Frank are part of Frank Productions’ founding family that has called Madison home since Larry’s parents, Herb and Sylvia Frank, moved here in 1963 to run Capitol Theater. Then the Coliseum was built in 1967, and Herb Frank Enterprises was contracted by Dane County to operate the box office. Frank Productions was formed a few years later as a concert promotion company. Larry Frank says it’s highly unusual for a national concert promoter to be headquartered in a small market.
“Madison is home for the Frank family and we never considered relocating our operations,” he says.
They built the Sylvee and operate it through FPC Live (a division of Frank Productions), and Frank Productions acquired the Majestic Theater operations as part of its merger with Majestic Live in late 2017. Frank Productions also operates The Orpheum Theater on behalf of Live Nation, who has a long-term lease on the venue, and Frank Productions also acquired the High Noon Saloon from Cathy Dethmers in early 2017. “The city itself has always been very important to us,” Larry Frank says.
That’s a personal sentiment, too, demonstrated in his and his wife’s many roles on community and nonprofit boards. The couple and their children were early-stage donors for The Center for Black Excellence and Culture, and the couple has dedicated significant time to the center’s board, as well as the boards of the Children’s Theater of Madison, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Capital City Theatre, YWCA, Temple Beth El and Wingra School.
The two are now in their succession stage at Frank Productions and are looking forward to spending summers in the Madison area (near their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter who live in the Milwaukee area), and winters in Nashville (near their son, daughter-in-law and grandchild).
Champions of ‘Buy Local
Carol “Orange” and Dean Schroeder | Orange Tree Imports
COVID-19 was unexpected, but it hasn’t been the only major challenge Carol “Orange” and Dean Schroeder have faced. The owners of Orange Tree Imports, a local gift and kitchenware retailer since 1975, have navigated the effects of big-box store competition, then Amazon, then a major construction project on Monroe Street. Then 2020 brought a pandemic and a health scare — Dean Schroeder suffered a sudden cardiac arrest that put him in the hospital for a month. (He has since recovered.)
Through it all, the pair have learned reinforced lessons of gratitude and flexibility. Their business turns 47 this year and they celebrate 48 years of marriage, and Orange Schroeder can be credited with writing her own success story as well as the roadmap for other local retailers around the world. She authored “Specialty Shop Retailing: How to Run Your Own Store,” which has four editions and has been translated into Russian. The English version sold more than 40,000 copies internationally. She’s shared advice and best practices in more than 100 columns for the national magazine Gifts and Decorative Accessories and has also written about 650 blog entries.
“The vast majority of entrepreneurs, in retail at least, do not have business backgrounds,” says Orange Schroeder, who notes she was among the inexperienced when she started Orange Tree. “I love the idea that I’ve helped other people be successful.” In addition to being a generous local philanthropist along with her husband, she is one of Madison’s original “buy local” champions, having been an early member of Dane Buy Local and a chairperson of the Monroe Street Merchants Association since its founding almost 45 years ago.
“The ‘buy local’ movement became very important,” she says. “The idea of letting people know what role your business plays in our community and why it’s important to maintain the uniqueness of our community by supporting the businesses that are located only on Monroe Street or only in Madison.”
Riding on Family Values
Chris and Sara Fortune | Saris
Chris Fortune, who runs the day-to-day operations of Saris, a Madison-based manufacturer of bicycle racks and accessories, says his wife, Sara, and daughter, Heather, are the soul and conscience of the business. Heather runs the business by Chris Fortune’s side, and Sara has been a part of the business from the start.
“She’s my partner, soulmate and she’s been on this journey with me for over 30 years,” Fortune says about his wife. The couple, married 46 years in 2022, bought then-named Graber Products in 1989 and renamed it Saris — a combination of their first names. Saris employs 196 at a 75,000-square-foot facility in Madison, and it is a global business selling locally made products.
Fortune is first and foremost proud of his team; he often calls it the “Saris tribe.” He’s also passionate about Saris Foundation Bike Parks for Kids, the nonprofit created to build bike parks for underserved children around the world. The Fortunes are also huge supporters of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. “It goes back to growing up and the values you get from your family about being a difference maker in people’s lives,” Fortune says.
Family values are important both in their business and in their personal lives — Chris and Sara Fortune were foster parents for several years, acting as a bridge between birth parents and adoptive parents. (Sara herself was adopted.) In addition to raising four children and welcoming nine grandkids, they have fostered about 20 babies. Fortune says he and his wife were the beneficiaries of great parents who “showed us the way of what’s important in life and treating others with self-respect and making a difference in the community how you can.”
An Innovative Pair (For Separate Nonprofits)
Every year, Madison Magazine chooses an innovator in the local business scene to receive the Brian Howell Excellence in Innovation Award, named after the late editor of Madison Magazine. We’re naming two winners this year. Like the 2022 Best of Madison Business award recipients, Kaleem Caire and Lisa Peyton-Caire are a married couple who have made a considerable mark on Madison life. But unlike the other winners, Caire and Peyton-Caire, married for 29 years, make their mark in very different ways through their respective nonprofit work.
Kaleem Caire’s impact on the Madison business scene is at its very foundation. Through One City Schools, a nonprofit school management organization that operates a preschool and public charter schools, Caire is helping graduate more students who will become vitally important participants in a thriving business community. “I tell people I’m a social architect,” he says. “I’m trying to build structure and systems that help move humanity forward and really focus on our children.” He’s an above-and-beyond innovator, even in the charter school space, which is all about disrupting traditional models in order to achieve better outcomes. In his case, the goal is to graduate more children, especially children of color, who will turn into tomorrow’s family leaders, entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Lisa Peyton-Caire is also shaping the present and future Madison business landscape by empowering the Black women who live, work, own businesses, spend money and raise families in our community. The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness works to secure Black women’s well-being and eliminate health and social disparities that impact the lives of Black women and the people around them. Peyton-Caire is the founder, CEO and president of the foundation, which opened its brick-and-mortar center on Madison’s west side in January 2020. This longtime passion stems from the life and loss of her mother, who died at age 64 from congestive heart failure in 2006. In 2008, Peyton-Caire launched Black Women’s Wellness Day, a day-long annual health summit that would later spark the foundation’s start in 2012.
Get tickets to the Best of Madison Business Awards here.
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