Bob Stewart was thinking about leaving Stark County and taking his international business degree to the coast.
But a phone call in 2006 kept the St. Thomas Aquinas graduate home.
On the other end of the line was the board chairman of the M. Conley Co., the company Stewart’s great grandfather, Michael Conley, incorporated in 1910.
The chairman said they were contemplating whether to sell the company or to pass it along to the fourth generation. The chairman wanted to know whether Stewart wanted to be involved and possibly lead the company in a few years.
Stewart said “yes.”
“It’s not an opportunity that is presented to you very often, to carry on the legacy of a 100-plus-year-old company,” said Stewart, who earned his bachelor’s degree in international business from the University of Akron in 2000. “It was an honor and privilege to be afforded that chance to carry it onto the next generation.”
Stewart, who had served as director of advertising and sales for The Akron Legal News, joined M. Conley later that year working in sales. In 2008, he was promoted to chief operating officer and became co-president a year later.
In 2010, he became M. Conley’s chief executive officer, the title he still holds.
Stewart said one of his early and ongoing goals for the company, which specializes in wholesale distribution of janitorial products, paper, packaging and food service materials, has been to develop and train young talent. The company employs roughly 100 employees in Canton and North Carolina.
“What has made the company great over the years is the quality of our people and the longevity of our people,” said Stewart, who estimated that roughly a dozen relatives, including his dad, sister and brother, still work for the company. “We have to make sure that we have the next group ready.”
He said M. Conley Co. has weathered the economic downturns better than most because of the employees’ commitment. During the height of the coronavirus crisis when the supply chain was overwhelmed and many of its products were limited, M. Conley Co. rewarded its employees’ hardworking efforts with a $500 bonus.
Stewart said he keeps those employees in mind whenever he’s deciding whether to take a risk, such as expanding or trying a new technology.
“You have to make the right decision, otherwise their livelihoods could be dramatically affected,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t take risks, but they are calculated risks.”
Another continuing investment Stewart has made since becoming CEO has been in the Stark County community. M. Conley supports more than a dozen community events and groups, from A Community Christmas to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival to ArtsInStark and the Early Childhood Resource Center.
Outside of work, Stewart’s day revolves around his girls, Jamie, a sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, and Mary, a student at The Golden Key Center for Exceptional Children.
“I’m spending as much quality time with my kids as much I can,” he said. “You can’t get that time back, so it’s really important to me.”
When asked whether he wants his girls to be the fifth generation of M. Conley, Stewart said he just wants them to be happy.
Bob Stewart’s local favorites:
What is your favorite local restaurant?
My favorite local restaurant is Gervasi Vineyard. From The Bistro to The Crush House, you can’t go wrong. Ted Swaldo and his team have done an amazing job at creating a fantastic menu, ambiance and environment that can accommodate any occasion.
What is your favorite thing to do?
Without question, my favorite thing to do is to spend quality time with my two daughters, Jamie and Mary. When they were born, many people told me to embrace their childhood because in the blink of an eye, they will be grown up. The three of us absolutely love sushi. After work, school and practice, you can often find us at Basil Asian Bistro, Jasmine Asian Bistro, Sukho Thai or Sakura Japanese Sushi & Hibachi.
What local CEO(s) or business owner(s) do you admire?
Two business owners immediately come to mind: Dave Grabowsky, of Standard Plumbing & Heating, and Doug Sibila, of Peoples Services. I am fortunate and thankful for having the opportunity to create friendships with both Dave and Doug. They possess strong qualities that I feel are important to emulate for any successful CEO and business owner.
What does your favorite date night consist of?
Wow, this is a tough question to answer in 2020! With so many restrictions in place, it has been somewhat of an adjustment for my girlfriend, Kasie, and me. Not only have we spent a great deal of time swimming, enjoying time by the fire pit and playing cards, we have enjoyed dining out at Basil Asian Bistro, Royal Docks, John’s Bar and The Twisted Olive, to name a few.
What is your favorite lunch spot?
Without question, my favorite lunch spot is Bender’s Tavern. It is a Canton institution; if you have not been there, then you are really missing out. Their scrod is amazing, but I think I may have a new favorite. A friend of mine, Phil Lakota, talked me into ordering the Cobb Salad with a side of horseradish. It sounds like an odd combination, but it really does work, and I think that is going to be my new ‘go-to’ for a while.
What is your favorite local coffee shop?
I love getting coffee from Mary Ann Donuts. I am not sure if it is the coffee or an excuse for me to also get a cream stick!
What is your favorite local spot to grab a drink?
One of my favorite places to grab a drink is Canton Brewing Co. It is such a unique place in downtown Canton. The speakeasy bar in the basement is a great place to meet friends and family for a cold beer. Great selection of beers, great environment, great choice!
What is your favorite local spot to exercise?
There is no better place to exercise for me than the Meyers Lake YMCA. I have been going there since I was 8 years old and still have a hard time not calling it the CYC. There are still a few people working there that were around when I was a kid, and that speaks volumes to me. From the pool, to the gym, to the workout room, to all of the special programs and classes they put on, the Meyers Lake YMCA is a special place.
What is your favorite local event?
How can my favorite local event not be the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week? As a lifelong football fan, I am still in awe when I randomly come across a former NFL player at a restaurant or store during HOF week. It is such a great moment for Canton to come together as a community as we become the focal point of the football world. Between the balloon fest and concert, there is something exciting happening daily!
What is your favorite local theater?
Nothing compares to the Palace Theatre! Its history and beauty are unmatched. I can still remember as a child being mesmerized as I stared at the stars and clouds on the ceiling. Be it a movie, play, show or special event, the Palace Theatre is a great place to spend an evening.
What is your favorite local volunteer opportunity?
My favorite local volunteer opportunities are serving on the boards for Stark County Catholic Schools and the Early Childhood Resource Center. Both entities help to foster an environment of growth and advancement on so many different levels for our children. It is an honor and privilege to be involved in both organizations.
Favorite place to shop local for gifts?
Who does not like a nice bottle of wine as a gift? There is no better place to find that special gift for all occasions than the Avenue Wine Shop. The owners will take the time to individually help everyone who walks into their business and make sure you get exactly what you are looking for.