(Photo courtesy Suffolk University)
When Thomas Demakes’s sons receive their diplomas from Suffolk University Saturday morning, he will not be sitting in the audience with the other proud parents.
Instead, Demakes will be walking across the stage with his three sons to receive his own diploma.
For the past five years, Demakes and his sons Elias, Timothy, and Andrew, have spent their evenings taking classes at Suffolk’s Sawyer Business School.
The father and his sons took every class together while working full time and on Saturday will graduate together all with Master in Business Administration degrees.
“I’ve encouraged them, leading the way by my own example, if you will” said Demakes, 69, who wanted to go to graduate school after returning from Vietnam in 1967, but never found the time while he worked at his family’s meat-manufacturing company.
But once his sons graduated from college, Demakes, now the president of his family’s Old Neighborhood Foods in Lynn, said he felt they had too much time on their hands.
“They needed to keep learning--anything. It didn’t necessarily mean it had to be an MBA,” said Demakes, who has also completed a two-year real estate appraiser’s license program and a three-year commercial real estate program with his sons and is already thinking about rounding up his sons to begin studying for law degrees.
(Photo courtesy Suffolk University)
“In my opinion, you just have to stay engaged. The world is changing so fast,” said Demakes, who is seen by his sons as the driving force behind their continuing education.
“He said, ‘Listen, when else are you going to have an opportunity to do something like this?’ He really steered the ship,” said Elias Demakes, 34, who works at Old Neighborhood Foods along with his brothers as the family’s fourth generation in the business.
“My father is not a teacher, per se, but he’s always trying to teach us through his experience and other people’s experience,” said Andrew Demakes, 31.
The father and sons all said they enjoyed learning together and helping each other, but all admit it wasn’t always easy.
“We’re glad we were able to do it as a family," said Timothy Demakes, 32, while admitting, “Sometimes you want to strangle your brothers or your father, but you can’t.”
Elias Demakes said he wanted to slide under his desk when his father would begin lecturing the class--and the professor.
His father, however, remembers those times differently, saying he was just sharing his business experiences.
“The class finds it interesting, but my kids roll their eyes like I’m going off to a tangent,” said Thomas Demakes, adding that professors, often younger than he, would ask him to share his perspective.
He also said he felt he learned as much from younger students as they learned from him.
David Hartstein, an executive in residence in Suffolk’s marketing department who taught the Demakeses in a class on retail strategy, said the family’s experience was an asset to the class and that he admired Thomas Demakes’s desire to learn and teach his sons.
“You have to be progressive, open minded and really a father that is driving his children to have them not just work in his company and learn within the company, but also reach to other sources like academia,” said Hartstein.
The family says the concepts they’ve studied and the people they’ve met have already helped them run their business, which employs more than 300 people.
“Our business will be 100 years old in two years...the Suffolk business school will definitely help propel us into the sixth generation,” said Elias Demakes.
While the lessons learned will help the family business, the elder Demakes says he also saw it as a way to stay in contact with his sons outside of work.
“They have a pretty good work ethic,” he said. “I’m very proud of them.”