Leaders: Keep the past in mind, but the future in focus

By As told to Patricia Olsen

Nancy Bruns, CEO, J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, Malden, W.Va., talks leadership

Generation of family ownership:

Seventh. My brother Lewis and I revived our family’s company in 2013. My great-grandfather’s brother’s family was the last to run it. They stopped making salt in 1945.

Revenue: $1.2 million.

Number of employees: 10.

First job at this company: CEO. I started learning about the family history when I was on the investment committee of our larger family company, The Dickinson Group. I’m now chairman of the board there. Our companies include investment, land and real estate development companies. The J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works does not fall under that umbrella.

Most memorable thing I learned from researching the company: The challenges the different generations faced, and their perseverance. Their challenges were extraordinary: a civil war or a huge flood or trying to get product across these Appalachian Mountains. They hollowed out tree trunks and drilled wells by hand, without electricity or big equipment. Whenever I think about my challenges, I realize they’re nothing compared to what my forebears faced.

Best thing about this job: Building this business and the relationships with our partners here in Appalachia. I love having a great team of employees who really care about the business and want to see it grow.

Our greatest success: Being accepted by the restaurant community and the chefs who love our salt. The chefs are very well-known and love our product for its unique flavor and how they can use it in their dishes. That's really affirming for my dream to revive this company.

Best advice I ever got: A small comment that made a difference to me is, “Make sure you like the people that you work with, both in the company and when you pick your partnerships and other businesses. It's important to find that right fit and that there's good energy so you help each other grow.”

On my wall: A piece of art by a local artist that says “Salt King” It’s a guy holding a big bucket of salt. I love looking at it.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Starting the Appalachian Mercantile, which is under the J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works umbrella. It features other Appalachian producers’ goods — crafts, foods and home goods — in a subscription service. We send a box monthly or each season. I saw it as a way to be part of a sustainable economic community. We believe we’re making a difference in the region and, by our support, helping other businesses grow.

Advice for other family business leaders: It’s important to keep the past in mind while carrying out your vision for the future. It helps to understand the progression of a family business. Authenticity is a key component to a family business. The goals have to grow out of the foundation of the past.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: We support food, farm and healthy lifestyle initiatives, such as the Farmers Market Association. We give to agricultural and educational organizations, 4H clubs and other groups that support the community.

Words I live by: “Have integrity.” I always want to have integrity in my community and my work, with everyone from my employees to my vendors and other partnerships.

— As told to Patricia Olsen


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