Shahnine George was 38 years old when she boarded the Titanic.
She had immigrated to the United States from Lebanon six years prior, and returned to Lebanon to bury one of her sons.
She was now going back to the United States to work and save enough money to bring her two remaining sons to America.
She was poor, so she was a third class passenger.
On April 15th 1912, while on the Titanic, she awoke to shouting. She went up on deck to see what was happening and learned the ship was sinking.
“These men told her, ‘Lady, you’ve got to go,’” trying to usher her to one of the lifeboats.
She tried to go back below deck to get her three male cousins with whom she was traveling.
The men on deck, all first-class passengers, pulled her back up, told her there wasn’t time and got her into a lifeboat.
“When she looked back she realized, those men weren’t going to get off of the ship,”
“As they were going away, they saw the Titanic sinking, They all sat there listening to them screaming until there was no sound.”
Shahnine George survived.
The idea that first class passengers, dressed in their finery, helped to save her, a third class passenger dressed in her nightclothes, always shook her.
She was grateful for their sacrifice.
When she relayed the story of the sinking ship, she wept as she talked about the men pulling her into a lifeboat.
As a laundress, she never went to the front door of those types of people to pick up their cleaning. She stayed to the back door.
The Carpathia took the Titanic survivors to New York and Shahnine traveled by train back to Youngstown where she continued her life as a laundress.
She eventually brought her sons, Albert and Joseph, to the United States.
In 1918, Albert George bought some ice cream cone molds from another Lebanese man. The family called the enterprise, George and Thomas Cone Co.
Albert had an elementary school education and didn’t know how to read or write English, but he didn’t let that stop him.
Today the company is known as the Joy Cone Company, and they are having their 100 year anniversary.
The company is run by David George, Albert George’s grandson, also the great-grandson of the Lebanese immigrant and Titanic survivor, Shahnine George.
Joy Cone Company is the largest cone maker in the world, producing almost 2 billion cones per year. They employ over a thousand people.
“I think Albert would be shocked at the size of the company” says David George, Joy president and CEO. “Our market place has grown considerably from what it was when he retired in 1964.”
In the 1970’s, the company started to really take off by landing big accounts like Dairy Queen, and others. They continued to innovate and extend their product lines into other complimentary areas.
Under David George’s leadership, the company started to expand by way of acquisitions. In 2016, they purchased BoDeans Baking Group the leader in the niche market of “inclusions”, and shortly after bought Altesa, the largest ice cream cone producer in Mexico.
George explained, the business of cone-making has really whittled down to just two major brands: Joy Cone and Keebler.
“Like a lot of industries, the cone industry has seen some real consolidation,” George said.
“Thirty years ago there were probably 20 cone companies in the United States. And really, today, there’s only two large ones, us and Keebler, which is part of Kellogg. And then you have two or three smaller operations in the United States.”
Joy Cone Company is building a new $20 million, 112,000 sq. ft. facility in Hermitage, and the employees are excited. Why? Because they own the company.
Several years ago Joy Cone Company transitioned to an Employee Stock Option Plan. The company is now a 100% employee owned business.
“While there are a number of reasons for our success,” David says, “perhaps the most important has been our dedicated work force. Over the years, we have invested a lot of money in buildings, ovens, and equipment, but if you don’t have the right people in place, all of that does not matter.”
“Our employees are part of the ‘extended’ Joy Cone family, and as an employee-owned company, we all know that we are in this together.”
“Our success comes from considering the needs of our employees and their families. We offer flexible work hours which enable our employees to reconcile their personal schedules with our production schedules. The results have been greater efficiency and happier employees.”
When overtime is needed, Joy doesn’t force people two work. It asks for volunteers, and there are plenty of willing volunteers.
Most employees agree, perhaps the best perk of all about working at Joy Cone Company is the free ice cream for all employees once per week!
As an investor and business person I’m always enamored with these niche markets such as these. A year ago, I was paying for breakfast at a diner and saw a little container of toothpicks. I picked one up and slid it in my mouth and got to thinking. Who invented the toothpick? It lead to this article: The Marketing Genius of the Toothpick King.
Al Ueltschi was the father of modern flight training, founding FlightSafety International in 1951, which ultimately got acquired by Berkshire Hathaway in 1996. The amazing thing was Ueltschi continued to be an airline pilot as he grew the business, and up until he took the company public in 1968.
Then there is the story of RG Chandramogan. In 1970, he had to drop out of school due to his financial constraints. Around this same time, his family sold all the property they owned in India for a sum of $250 to start Hatsun. The business at the time was selling ice creams using pushcarts. Today, Hatsun is the largest private dairy company in India.
Great businesses and great stories almost always come from humble beginnings.
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We would also like to thank Devin Haran for alerting us to this story.