Blog | 6 min read
Family-owned companies span generations in Greater Richmond
July 24, 2023
Blog | 6 min read
July 24, 2023
Many family-owned companies in Greater Richmond have seen great success in their local efforts. They continue to do business in Greater Richmond thanks to the region’s superior business advantages and quality of life, from affordability to access to a growing, talented workforce.
Here’s a round-up of locally operated family-owned companies:
The LEGO Group:
Master carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen began making wooden toys in 1932 in Denmark, leading him to start LEGO. Many generations built upon the company: in 1955, his son Godtfred established LEGO Systems in Play – the more bricks you have, the better. His grandson Kjeld introduced the first LEGO themes such as Castle, Space and Town. In 2020, his great-grandson Thomas became the fourth-generation owner of the company along with sisters Agnete and Sofie. The LEGO Group’s $1 billion manufacturing facility is underway, due to open in 2025, bringing 1,761 jobs to Greater Richmond.
Charles Luck Jr. purchased Sunnyside Granite Company in 1923. After acquiring Boscobel Granite Company in 1930, it became the first crushed stone company in Virginia to convert from steam-powered to electric-powered operations. The company went on to open five plants, with Charles III becoming president in 1965. Charles IV was named CEO in 1999, four years after becoming president, with Richard joining the company in 2016. Today, their three business units – Luck Stone, Luck Ecosystems and Luck Real Estate Ventures – are the nation’s largest family-owned and producer of crushed stone, sand and gravel.
Estes Express Lines:
To support his family during the Great Depression, W.W. Estes bought a used Chevrolet to haul livestock to a market for his neighbors in rural Virginia. He then began transporting farm supplies and other goods to nearby farms, small towns and large cities. Within five years he hired his first drivers and began Estes Express Lines in Chase City, Va. Today, it has more than 22,000 employees, a fleet of more than 8,500 tractors and 34,000 trailers and a network of 270+ terminals in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. The company’s headquarters are now located in Greater Richmond, with great-grandson Webb Estes the president and CEO.
Lansing Building Products:
Ted Lansing founded Ted Lansing Supply Co. in 1955 after working as a roofing sales representative, eventually adding locations in the late 1960s. His son Chris took over the company in 1980. The company was renamed Lansing Building Products after the expansion from roofing supplies to exterior building products in 2004. The wholesale distributor that began in Richmond continues to thrive today, with 112 locations across 35 states and just under $600 million in sales. Ted’s grandson Hunter was named the president and CEO in 2016, representing a third generation of family leadership.
With a background in engineering, Luther Harold Lingerfelt began his company in 1957 as a commercial real estate firm. Since its start, the company has built, acquired and managed nearly 25 million sq. ft. of commercial real estate valued at $3 billion across the Mid-Atlantic and eastern U.S. The company spans three generations, with Alan T. Lingerfelt as chairman and CEO, followed by J. Ryan Lingerfelt as the president and chief investment officer. Both have been instrumental in the acquisition and development of the company’s current owned portfolio, totaling $806 million.
In 1973, camera enthusiast Guy Spiller bought a mobile production truck for remote programs, with clients eventually travelling to work in it. He sold the truck, moved the gear to a warehouse and built a control room and studio, starting Broadcasting Engineer Systems (B.E.S.) in 1977. The company was sold to Bill Meade in 1995, with his daughter Christi assisting in leadership. Both longtime veterans in the production industry, they transformed the company into a commercial and corporate video production company for many industries, from retail to healthcare, automotive to institutional clients as well as government and military. Today, Christi serves as the president and executive producer.
In 1930, Sam Markel started a company insuring buses. His four sons – Lewis, Irvin, Stanley and Milton – joined the company in 1935 which became Markel Service Inc. The company gained a national following for its work in claims adjusting and safety engineering with American Fidelity & Casualty – a sister company covering fleets of trucks and buses – becoming the largest insurer of these risks in the U.S. The family transformed the company through expanding to other markets and acquiring businesses, leading it to become a Fortune 500 company.
Robert E. Porter Sr. started Porter Realty in 1965, a one-man business specializing in the sales and leasing of industrial land and warehouses. Over the years, the business grew to handle major industrial facilities and commercial properties. Today, Robert Porter Jr. is the president with Clifford Porter serving as executive vice president and Robert Porter III as a sales and leasing associate.
Founded in 1986 by Robert Ranson, Progressive Design is a heavy industrial engineering and design consulting firm that provides valued engineering services for a variety of industries. Robert’s daughter Erica Burgess grew up in the business, assisting in tasks like answering phone calls and shredding papers when she was a young girl. In 2011, she joined the sales and marketing side of the business, then became president six years later. She acquired ownership of the company in 2021.
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods:
In 1937, Joe Ukrop, a meat manager at A&P Supermarket, convinced his father to mortgage the family farm to open the first Ukrop’s Market – the size of a two-car garage – in Richmond. Joe and his wife Jacquelin ran Ukrop’s for 26 years until it became the biggest market in Richmond. They eventually passed the business down to their two sons, Jim and Bobby, who received a namesake award from GRP in 2022 for their dedication to regional economic development. The Ukrop’s brand continues today in their prepared food business and food hall.
The Ukrops branched into other fields as well. Ukrop’s Dress Express began in 1993 to provide uniforms to grocery chain employees. The company expanded in 1998 and became Threads Uniform Agency in 2017. Today, Joe’s grandson Jeff is president and CEO.