John von Paris is the president and CEO of Von Paris Moving and Storage. Founded in 1892, Von Paris has helped its customers relocate their homes, businesses, and belongings for over 100 years—all while remaining under the ownership and management of one family. The company was one of the first in its category to adopt a motorized fleet, and was an early pioneer of long distance interstate and international moving. In addition to its consumer-facing services, Von Paris has handled and stored highly specialized cargo for Fortune 500 companies, museums, sports teams, and more; it is is the official moving partner of the Baltimore Orioles, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Aside from his role at Von Paris, John has served as board chair for the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland and the Black and Gold Foundation.
EDWIN WARFIELD: The Von Paris name goes very far back. How has the company changed over the years?
JOHN VON PARIS: The company was founded in Baltimore in 1892 with a horse and wagon by my great grandfather, and it has grown and diversified over the years. We started out as a local moving company and now we provide local, national, and international moving services with household goods, and also commercial. We also get involved in document management imaging and scanning and other related businesses.
Q. Can you give us a short history of the company? Is there a certain leader or generation of Von Paris owners that really made the company what it is today?
A. Well, the history of the company is focused on family business, where you have the great grandfather who started with a horse and wagon, and then his son, Bonaventure, took over. Bonaventure and Theresa took over the business, and they had nine children—five boys and four girls—and they all got involved in the business. I consider them the third generation and they’re really considered the greatest generation in more ways than one. They worked very hard in growing the business. At that time we called them the aunts and uncles—my father being one of the brothers, one of the uncles. They grew the business and they had a lot of support from the cousins in the business. I think the success of the business isn’t one person, but it’s really the family and the strength of the family, the employees—both family and non-family. It’s been a team effort and so not one person is responsible for the success of the company but many, many people.
Q. What about yourself? When did you come along in that family history, and how did you get involved in the business?
A. You know, I won’t go back and say, “I was born on a cold day in February…” or anything like that, but seriously, I grew up on a little farm out in Upper Falls, Maryland, and my dad and my brothers migrated. My father, of course, being in the business—he was a member of the third generation, and then my brothers during the summer—they would get involved and help out during the summer and also on the weekends they would get involved in moving. They became drivers and helpers and so forth in the moving trucks, and I liked that. I also joined the fire department in Kingsville, and I was looking at that as a career path to get into the fire department, but I really liked the moving business. It was exciting to me.
So, I got in during high school. In the summer, I’d go in and help and work on the trucks with my brothers. Then, when I was old enough to drive, I got my driver’s license and I drove the trucks. After that, during college, I would spend time in the summers as a driver and helping in the family business. That started my path. From there, I got involved in different things—warehousing and sales, management—and then, several years later—30-plus years later—became the CEO.
Q. Was becoming the CEO a sure thing for you? Had you been expected to take over the family business at some point?
A. Well, I can tell you that it is certainly a privilege to be involved in the family business and to lead the family business. There were many very successful people ahead of me that served in the capacity of CEO and president. We have a formal process: the shareholders elect the board of directors and then the board of directors will appoint the officers, and I was appointed to various executive positions before I became the CEO of Von Paris.
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