SMYRNA — Doug Hertz is CEO of Smyrna-based United Distributors, the largest beer and wine distributor in the state and the second largest distributor of distilled spirits. This achievement puts Hertz in an enviable category, but he is also in a unique “two percent club” — the percentage of family-owned and operated businesses in America that successfully transition into the fourth generation and beyond.
Hertz’s grandfather, Jennings Hertz, along with his cousins Max Kahn and Edgar Kugelman, created Fulton Distributing Company in Atlanta in 1940, seven years after the end of Prohibition.
Five years later, the trio opened Standard Distributors, Inc. as well. During the 1950s, the two companies became known as Empire Distributors and United Distributors.
Doug Hertz was destined to join the family business in 1978, but first used his business degree in New Orleans, working at KPMG in accounting and consulting services for four years.
In 1982, the three founding families divided ownership and the Hertzes moved United to South Atlanta Road.
“We moved to Cobb because it was business-friendly,” Hertz said. Two years later, Hertz, representing the third generation, became president of United at age 32.
When Hertz came on board, 90 percent of the company’s business was distilled spirits. Hertz convinced his grandfather to expand into wine distribution, a maneuver that has accounted for tremendous growth.
“My grandfather thought wine might be a fad, but he let me indulge my thoughts and create relationships,” Hertz said. “It’s still the fastest growing segment of alcoholic beverages. … It has definitely become part of the American lifestyle.”
A personal milestone occurred for Hertz when his friend, The Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank, purchased the Atlanta Falcons franchise, and offered limited partnerships in team ownership. Hertz jumped at the chance to become a part-owner.
“Arthur was nice enough to offer the opportunity in a very good long-term investment for a sports junkie like me,” he said.
In 1999, Hertz moved the company to a 375,000-square-foot facility on 30 acres off the East-West Connector in Smyrna. About 50 percent of United’s 1,200 employees work at the headquarters, where 350 trucks transport the products to restaurants, clubs, grocery, package and convenience stores.
Hertz’s son, Michael, 29, is the fourth generation to become a part of the family business. Hertz’s daughter, Amy, serves on the board of the family foundation but is a full-time mother to her three young children.
Hertz says the recession hit his industry particularly hard, though he is proud the company did not lay off any of its employees.
“It had a huge impact on our margins and our volumes,” he said, though the firm began seeing a rebound last year.
Hertz is well-known for his philanthropy, especially in the area of children. After his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he says he was motivated to volunteer at Camp Sunshine, an organization for kids with cancer. After learning that the organization, like others benefiting children with disease or disability, did not have a permanent place for summer camp, Hertz said he wondered why no one tried to get the groups all together.
The question led him to create Camp Twin Lakes, a network of Georgia camp facilities for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other challenges. The three facilities around the state have grown to serve 9,000 kids annually, 49 weeks of the year. Hertz also chairs the board of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Comer Yates, executive director of the Atlanta Speech School, has known Hertz since middle school, and has served on the board of Camp Twin Lakes since Hertz conceived of the idea.
“Doug possesses extraordinary and unique aptitude and judgment that is equally matched by the same levels of compassion and generosity,” Yates said. “I’m not surprised by anything Doug does, but I am always in constant awe.”
EXECUTIVE PROFILE: DOUG HERTZ
* TITLE: CEO, United Distributors
* AGE: 59
* EDUCATION: B.A., history, 1974; M.B.A., marketing and finance, 1976, both from Tulane University
* FAMILY: Wife, Lila; daughter, Amy; son, Michael; son-in-law, Ronnie; 3 grandchildren
* FIRST JOB: Camp counselor
* BEST JOB: High school basketball coach during graduate school
* LESSON LEARNED THE HARD WAY: Don’t assume anything, confirm!
* ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Find something you really enjoy doing or in an environment with people you really enjoy being with (or hopefully both).