Keeping up with the changing times

Posted on Feb 27, 2020 :: Editor , Editor’s Insights
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Maintaining a family-owned business through multiple generations isn’t easy. According to Harvard University researchers, 30 percent of family-run businesses make it to the second generation, 10 to 15 percent make it to the third generation, and about 3 to 5 percent make it through the fourth — they didn’t even research how many make it to the fifth generation. With those kinds of statistics, brothers Tripp Ahern and Tony Ahern are unusual: They are the fifth generation of Aherns to run the Fond du Lac company bearing the family’s name.

A key to keeping family-owned businesses going — for J.F. Ahern Co., it’s been 140 years — is the ability to adapt to change and stay focused on the long game.

Forty years ago, the company launched a fire protection line to win a construction bid, and the Ahern name has been showing up in businesses on fire extinguishers and other products ever since.

“People seem to know us best for our fire protection and suppression lines, but that’s something we added in 1980 — we’ve been doing mechanical contracting for a lot longer,” says Tony Ahern, the company’s president and chief operating officer. Turn to my cover story starting on page 18 to read how J.F. Ahern continues to grow and adjust to market changes.

When most people think about the availability of housing, their thoughts normally go to single-family homes and how many are available at various price points. But when economic development leaders and municipal officials talk about the demand for more housing, they are usually focused on workforce housing — apartments or townhomes for those who are either not ready for or can’t afford to own a home. The low availability of workforce housing has communities throughout the region working to address the issue. To read more about the rising demand for workforce housing, see Jessica Thiel’s Insight Insider starting on page 25.

March is a busy month at Insight. We have two special events this month: the InDevelopment conference on March 18 and the Insight Women of Influence Awards luncheon on March 31. To learn more about InDevelopment, check out the special section inserted in the middle of this month’s issue. As for the Insight Women of Influence Awards luncheon, please see page 45 to learn more about this inaugural event and then watch for the April issue of the magazine to see a special section honoring the eight award winners and the more than 80 women who were nominated. We hope to see you there!

An extra dose of Insight

Listen to Tony Ahern, president and chief operating officer at J.F. Ahern Co., talk about the Fond du Lac company’s balance of products and services that keep it growing at sustainable levels.

Ahern’s interview is just one of many you will find online at

coming up


Get updated on the latest news in economic development and commercial real estate at the 11th annual InDevelopment, which will be held March 18 at the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel and Convention Center in Oshkosh. The event features keynote speaker Michael Belot, senior vice president of Bucks Ventures and Development, and presentations on some of the area’s most important projects.

Insight Innovation Awards

The Insight Innovation Awards shine a spotlight on innovation in Northeast Wisconsin by honoring businesses and organizations with innovative ideas that are making a difference in their industry or community. Craig Dickman, managing director of TitletownTech, is the event’s keynote speaker. The event will be held May 14 at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus. Visit for more details or to register.