Paying Forward a Family’s Traditions: The Stull Family Professorship in Entrepreneurship

The Stull Family Professorship in Entrepreneurship honors a family that stands for everything good about business and enterprise, belief in the future, values and hard work. Theirs is a Saint Mary’s story and the story of a post-World War II generation.

Two brothers, Aaron ’53 and Don Von ’55, like many of their school mates at Saint Mary’s College,  “were eager to get out and get going, start a new life and a new business,” as Aaron put it.

And that’s what they did. Don bought real estate in Kern County, and, at his father’s urging, planted orange trees, starting the seedlings in his parents’ back yard. Don assembled a good deal of acreage in orange groves, in a place that had never been developed with citrus before and is now prime agricultural land mainly used for that purpose.

“Don always involved the family in all of his business ventures,” Aaron said. In 1968, he, Don and Pat, Don’s wife, all weary of working in large corporations, started Pacific Coast Chemicals (PCC), a small firm in Berkeley that sold chemical raw materials to the paint and coatings, inks, plastics and resin industries. Eventually, the company expanded to serve 11 states west of the Rockies.

Don managed the finances “and got us through,” Aaron recalled. “We aimed for focused growth. Don didn’t let us get in over our heads. We paid all our bills.”  

Aaron, who possessed the knowledge of chemical technology, used it to develop all the sales for Pacific Coast, while Pat developed and managed the inside sales support, customer service and distribution of products. “Don kept thinking of new things, anticipating problems,” she noted, also describing her husband as the kind of manager who kept an eye on everything.

“Every stray cat and dog,” she said, chuckling. “He used to stand around with the guys on the loading dock and in the warehouse, listening and talking with them, finding out what was going on. He helped people when they were in trouble.”

Pat recalled that around 5 p.m. everyday, the sales force and other employees stopped in at Don’s office to just talk about things. Such human contact and communications was the key to their business success, she said.  “The human part is so important, and it’s the heart of customer service.”

Pat first met Aaron when he was consulting at a company where she worked, “and I was complaining about not finding any good men to date,” she said, eyes twinkling. “Aaron said he had a completely harmless brother in Los Angeles working at Occidental Petroleum.” Aaron arranged a blind date, and six months later Pat and Don were married.

When the three started their company, Aaron focused on sales, and Pat started at the order desk, learning about the customers and the chemicals they purchased, and went on to do publicity and marketing for the PCC. She was the first woman to serve as president of the Golden Gate Paint and Coatings Association.

It’s no surprise that the Stull brothers ended up at Saint Mary’s. Aaron remembers their father, for whom he was named, as a smart, literate man who loved the Great Books. He read Plato to the boys when they were growing up. He had come west to California from Illinois as a young man to settle in Monrovia and eventually work for Chevron. He taught his sons to believe in possibilities and to work hard. His own father had been a farmer in Illinois who was ahead of his time. On his father’s headstone the word “environmentalist” recognized the man’s interest in caring for the Earth, perhaps inspiring Pacific Coast Chemical’s particular focus on environmental health and safety. Indeed, Aaron credits much of what he and his siblings did in their lives to the spirit they inherited from their father and grandfather: work hard, take care of each other and the environment, and never, ever give up.

The Stulls' mother was brilliant in her own right, Aaron added. “She was offered a college chemistry scholarship when she graduated from high school, but unfortunately was unable to take it.” Aaron remembers both parents for their keen intelligence and for being “high energy and creative, thinking outside the box.”

Today PCC, located in Berkeley, is owned and managed by Aaron’s son, Dominic, who started working at the company when he was a teen, learning the business from the ground up. Aaron is chairman of the board, but Pat, who sold her share of the company to Dominic, when she retired as President, still stays involved “only doing the fun stuff now,” she said.

Other family members are involved with the company, as well, including Dominic’s sister Deirdre, the chief financial officer, recruited away from her position at the Securities and Exchange Commission by her Aunt Pat.

With the Stull Professorship, Aaron and Pat hope that the values that helped them succeed in life and business will be passed on to future Saint Mary’s Gaels.  “Don was a mentor. He believed in passing things on,” Pat said. “That’s what we hope to do with this professorship.”

"The establishment of the Stull Family Professorship in Entrepreneurship could not have come at a better time to the School of Economics and Business Administration (SEBA). SEBA has recently revised its business curricula and is in the process of implementing the Entrepreneurship Concentration in both undergraduate and graduate programs. This endowed professorship will help SEBA attract or retain high-quality faculty of Entrepreneurship and thus benefit students' learning in the classroom."  - Dean Zhan Li, SEBA

In Loving Memory of Aaron K. Stull (September 19, 1927 - August 16, 2012)