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D&H Gets A Breakfast Sugar Kick From Dan Schwab’s 25th Anniversary Celebration

“This business is very personal to us, we treat everyone like they are family because they are family,” said D&H Co-President Dan Schwab. “We feel a very deep responsibility to keep the company in a good financial condition because we know all the people that work here and we want to make sure that we’re setting them up for personal and professional success.”

D&H Distributing’s 750 “co-owners” got a big breakfast sugar kick from D&H Co-President Dan Schwab’s 25th anniversary celebration.

That’s because Schwab—who loved sugar-packed cereals as a kid, especially Kaboom—hosted a breakfast cereal bar for all 750 employees at the employee-owned company’s new 50-acre campus in Harrisburg, Pa.

“It was the most enjoyable morning of my career at D&H,” said Schwab, who officially started as the educational division manager of D&H on Feb. 20, 1995, but who cut his teeth working summers in the D&H warehouse, pulling orders for $3.35 an hour while he was in college.

For his anniversary breakfast, Schwab said it was important to have some fun with D&H co-owners.

“I greeted our co-owners in the lobby and welcomed them as they were picking out cereal. We laughed about things like Fruity Pebbles, which makes milk turn pink. It was great to have a nice moment of levity with co-owners. With everyone working hard and working together, it was nice to be able to have some fun together. A lot of people were reminiscing about their own childhood and their first day at D&H. It wasn’t about me. It was a reason for us all of us to have an occasion to celebrate together.”

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Schwab was even presented with a box of Kaboom, which is no longer on store shelves, by his sister Amy Slifen, who had scored an unopened box of Kaboom on eBay.

For Schwab, making a personal connection with what he calls his D&H family is critical given that he believes his “greatest accomplishment” to be the “co-owner” culture at D&H. In fact, when he started 25 years ago he made sure that he knew the names of all 200 employees and their family members.

Schwab says he and his co-president brother, Michael, have made a concerted effort to maintain the “family-oriented culture” at D&H even as the company has grown from $1.45 billion since the brothers took the helm as co-presidents in 2008 to $4.4 billion.

Schwab says key to the distributor’s success and growing MSP footprint is the personal commitment from D&H co-owners, who look at working at the company as more than a job and always go the extra mile for D&H partners and vendors. That extends to the personal relationships that D&H co-owners build up over many years with partners. It even extends to policies such as one in which every customer, regardless of size, gets a dedicated sales rep.

“This business is very personal to us, we treat everyone like they are family because they are family,” said Schwab. “We feel a very deep responsibility to keep the company in a good financial condition because we know all the people that work here and we want to make sure that we’re setting them up for personal and professional success.”

Schwab said that personal sense of responsibility to set up the company for future generations came from his father, Izzy Schwab, who took a full-time position on D&H’s sales desk in 1957 and remains the CEO of the 102-year-old company. D&H was co-founded by Izzy’s father and Dan’s grandfather, David Schwab.

David came to the U.S. from Vilna, Russia, with his family when he was just 11 years old. The family landed at Ellis Island with just $12 and David quit middle school to sell newspapers. He co-founded D&H in 1918 and then pushed the onetime tire retread company into electronics in 1929.

“My favorite fact about D&H is that my grandfather—the ‘D’ in D&H—came to this country with nothing,” Schwab said. “It’s a rags-to-riches American story.

Schwab said that he has always taken to heart his father’s advice on taking care of employees, customers and setting up the company for the next generation.“I always wanted to make my Dad proud,” he said. “We do events like this to remember where we came from. Michael and I look at it as an honor to continue the D&H family legacy. But we don’t look at it as our company. We look at it as we are stewards for the next generation and representatives of the employee owners.”

Schwab said he is proud that it was his grandfather who started the D&H incentive bonus plans and that it was his father who in 1998 made D&H an employee-owned stock ownership company—one of less than 1 percent of the employee-owned businesses in the U.S.

One of the highlights of the 25th anniversary celebration was a heartfelt speech from Michael on the dynamic duo’s strong bond as brothers and co-presidents.“It was very meaningful to me,” said Dan. “He talked about how lucky we are to have each other. That was really important to me.”

The celebration also included a video tribute to Dan from 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup USA Champions Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris—who are teammates on the National Women’s Soccer League Orlando Pride team. The two soccer superstars helped celebrate the grand opening of D&H’s sprawling new headquarters last fall.

“You’re amazing, we’re so happy for you,” said Krieger in the video tribute. “We wish we could be there to support you and hang out with you. ...You deserve it. You are incredible.”

Schwab said one of the great things about the sugar-packed cereal celebration was the memories it brought back. One of his earliest memories, Schwab said, came at D&H’s old headquarters. It was a birthday party in a D&H conference room when he was 8 years old that included a screening of “Young Frankenstein.”

Schwab also recalls working as a junior in high school pulling products like Cobra CB radios and car stereos to be shipped out of the warehouse. “Back then—just like today—there was no favoritism for family members,” he said. “I was treated like everyone else and probably even given a little tougher time because my Dad was like the Little League coach who was toughest on his own kid.”

Schwab also worked as a telemarketer selling the first laser printers and packaged laser video disks in a shrinkwrap machine. “I remember that machine was crazy hot and you had to be careful or you could lose a finger,” he said. “That machine was 400 degrees.”

Schwab, a 1991 graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, started his climb to the co-president job as the education manager at D&H after working for four years as a buyer for Lord & Taylor in New York City.

“I started in retail because I thought it would give me the best training and education for my career,” he said. “Lord & Taylor at that time was known for having one of the best management training programs in the country.”

Schwab said he didn’t know at the time he was going to eventually go to work at D&H. “We were brought up to set our own course and find our own career, and it turned out I came back to D&H, but there was never any guarantee of that,” he said.

Schwab recalled showing up at the company on his first day as education manager with little fanfare—dragging an old metal desk out of the warehouse so he had somewhere to sit. “I always tell everyone the funny story that I started in December, but they didn’t put me on the payroll until February,” he said.

Schwab said the breakfast cereal get-together also got him charged up for D&H’s future. “As I look out to the next 25 years, I see continuous growth and prosperitfy for D&H co-owners. In 25 years I still hope I’m coming to work and look forward to a breakfast of hot Pop-Tarts for all because what smells better than hot Pop-Tarts?”

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