Top Achievers

Top Achievers are award-worthy personalities with a single common trait: an unflinching ability to provide value on the customer’s terms.


2024 Top Achiever — Dealer

There was never any doubt in Marc Israel’s mind about where his career path would lead.

Top Achiever Dealer Marc IsraelDespite a brief detour to help his brothers launch a pavement striping company after graduating with a business degree from Western Michigan University, Israel always felt the pull of the original family business, Great Lakes Hotel Supply. Founded by his great-uncle in downtown Detroit in 1933 and later owned and led by his father, the company became a third-generation family business when Israel took the reins as a young executive eager to make his mark.

And make his mark he has. Under his leadership since the early 1990s, Great Lakes has grown from a single-branch, institutions-focused dealership with $4.5 million in sales — mostly done in Michigan — into an $111 million, multi-branch dealer and kitchen design specialist serving institutions, independent operators, and emerging chains in a core market that covers most of the country east of the Rocky Mountains. Headquartered in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Mich., since 2013 and now operating under the umbrella of Great Lakes Ventures, the company today includes Great Lakes Hotel Supply, with offices in Southfield as well as in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Denver; and Great Lakes West, which Israel co-founded in Mattawan, Mich., in 1999 and became sole owner of in 2023. Great Lakes West, in turn, operates two additional divisions: Kessenich’s, a Madison, Wis., dealership acquired in 2017, and HMAK, a Pittsburgh dealership acquired in 2018.

Along the way, Israel has committed to developing a young, diverse and highly empowered workforce. And he’s given back to the industry, serving for many years on the board of directors for the Supply & Equipment Foodservice Alliance (SEFA), a dealer-based foodservice equipment and supplies buying group. That organization, in turn, has hailed him as a “visionary who is always open to helping others.” Israel has twice been honored as SEFA’s Executive of the Year. In 2023, Great Lakes received the SEFA Salute to Excellence Award, and in 2022, SEFA’s Pacesetter Award.

Creating Traction

“When I took over the company, I can’t say I had a clear vision of where I wanted to take it,” Israel recalls. “As I got a little more involved and experienced as a leader, the picture started becoming clearer, and we made some transformational moves. Creating Great Lakes West really helped launch our growth beyond Michigan and the HMAK and Kessenich’s acquisitions not only strengthened our geographic reach, but also got us into new product categories such as supplies and tabletop.”

Originally 100% institutional, Israel has shifted Great Lakes to new customer segments as well. “We like independents and small chains, 10 to 50 units,” Israel says. “We have a saying about our company: ‘Big enough to matter, small enough to care.’ That’s how we look at ourselves and how we want our customers to see us. I’m not interested in chasing big for the sake of big. I want to be big because we happen to be really good at what we do and never lose our family-focused values.” Today, revenues come equally from institutional and commercial foodservice customers, although the company’s client list still includes schools, hospitals, higher education and corporate business.

Moving Great Lakes Ventures from downtown Detroit to Southfield was a pivotal moment for the company — and for Israel personally. Around that time, he’d sunk into a career funk, feeling, he admits, like he lost his drive and hit a wall. A longtime employee, on whom Israel had taken a chance as a troubled teenager and who rose up over 20-plus years to become a valued member of Great Lakes’ leadership team, shook him out of it. He still remembers that conversation: “She came into my office one Friday afternoon, and said, ‘Marc, your employees love you and will do whatever it takes, but you need to get it together. You may be getting tired, but this company needs your leadership.’ Over the weekend, I thought a lot about what she said and the courage it took to say it. By Monday, my commitment and enthusiasm were completely restored, and I’ve never looked back.”

Reinvigorated and committed to keep moving the company forward, Israel saw the relocation of headquarters to Southfield as an opportunity to rethink the business model, introduce new ideas, and double down on nurturing a strong and unique culture.

On the innovation front, he led development of the Great Lakes Culinary Center, which serves as a professional test kitchen. But Israel’s ideas for the center went beyond providing a kitchen where customers could test equipment: He envisioned a state-of-the-art, multiuse facility that would also generate revenue. “The idea was to build a test kitchen that benefits customers, but that’s also available for showers, weddings, retirement parties, cooking classes, charitable functions, etc.,” he says.

Shortly after the move to Southfield, Israel made another pioneering decision: He brought design capabilities in-house, enabling Great Lakes to provide turnkey service to customers. Great Lakes Culinary Design debuted in 2015 with two associates and now fields a staff of seven, working with customers throughout the Great Lakes Ventures network.

As part of his approach to growing with strong systems and a well-defined culture, Israel embraced the Entrepreneurial Operating System principles of management some 15 years ago, bringing in an outside consultant to guide and monitor its implementation.

Israel also worked with his management team to clearly define for all associates, internal and external, the company’s guiding principles — values that had been swimming around in the company’s DNA long before they were written down. They reflect his own personal style and values — and those of his father and great-uncle before him. The four values include principles such as having integrity; listening, learning and committing to the task or project at hand; embracing continuing education and the thirst for knowledge; and work hard, work smart, work together.

In addition to these values, Israel leans on the law of the 5 P’s: Proper planning prevents poor performance. “My dad always talked about the 5 P’s, and it’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received,” Israel notes. “It’s something I always stress now, too, as a key to success in whatever it is you set out to do. That, and just show up and truly care. You do that, and you’re going to win 90% of the time.”

Something Fun, Something Done and Some Next-Gen Advice

Something you’re looking forward to in 2024:

Our “Traction Cup” golf tournament, an event we do every year with one of our rep groups. It’s named for a key part of the EOS management system, which both of our companies embrace. We usually alternate hosting it, but this year, we’re taking it to Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri and spouses are included.

Something you have crossed off your bucket list:

Buying a boat for salmon fishing on Lake Michigan — and actually getting good at it.

Something you would like to tell young people entering the industry:

We may not be changing the world, but this is an industry full of very good people. That’s really important to me, especially as society continues to lose human-to-human contact to technology.