It’s the American dream: Immigrants come to the United States with the clothes on their backs to give future generations a better, fuller life. This is the Adelman story.
Ollie Adelman was raised by Russian immigrants in Shorewood, Wisconsin. The family opened Adelman Laundry and Dry Cleaners, the largest cleaning business in Wisconsin for years, priding itself on cleaning 1,000 shirts a day.
He went on to become a star football and tennis player at Northwestern University. After turning down an NFL contract, and at the request of his father, he returned home to Milwaukee to help with the family business.
In 1944, Edith and Ollie Adelman gave birth to their third son, Craig, who would eventually follow his father’s footsteps in tennis and in business. A close family friend, Frank Lloyd Wright, worked with Ollie to make his dream become a reality—Wright designed both the Adelman home and laundry business.
On the back of a napkin, Wright sketched the Adelman home in which Craig still resides today. The blueprint proudly hangs in the Adelman Travel headquarters in Milwaukee, donned with the renowned architect’s signature.
Where It All Began
Craig would grow up traveling the world on the courts, but like his father, was highly encouraged to pursue a career in anything but tennis.
Leveraging his experience in world travel and evading the cold weather of Wisconsin, Craig founded Travel Systems, Inc. in 1985 in southeast Florida. Little did he know that his two employees and a pair of IBM computer terminals in a back room would turn in to a $600M company.
Riding in the back of a limo in New York City, Craig struck up a conversation with the driver, only to find out he had connections at The Gap and Ralph Lauren. Soon after, Craig was in front of the two global brands and scored them as clients. Adelman’s client portfolio grew to include Goodwill industries, American Nature Conservancy, and Lucent Technologies.
Adelman Moves & Expands
Not long after establishment in Florida, the company moved back to Adelman’s hometown of Milwaukee and hired multiple travel agents. Within the next five years, Adelman Travel had a board of directors with Ollie as the chairman, and it was chosen as the official travel agency for the International Special Olympics in 1995.
In 1996, the company celebrated two great milestones: Ollie’s retirement and $125M in sales. Life out of a suit wasn’t long lived for Ollie. Within a week, he was back in the office, giving back to the family business.
Adelman was outgrowing its space and seeking a larger place to call home. The company moved into the beautiful headquarter space it’s in today, just north of Milwaukee’s city limits. The building architecture was inspired by the Johnson Wax headquarters in a nearby town, which was designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.
Using his father’s approach for expanding the laundry business, Craig made a few acquisitions that enabled Adelman to operate on the West Coast. The company grew to forty skilled travel consultants, many new clients, additional agencies, and annual sales of $175M.
By 2004, Adelman reached $200M in sales and acquired the last independent travel school in Milwaukee. This academy, approved by the American Society of Travel Agents, intended to continue development of staff for Adelman Travel. This investment has paid off considering employee turnover rate is less than 3%.
Ollie was involved in helping Craig grow the business until his passing in 2012 at the age of 96 years old. The Adelman family is led by example with the success of the family dry cleaning business and a dedication to moving the business forward. To date, Craig still has a hand in each operation under the Adelman roof.
Fast forward a few years, and the once three-man show had reached $600M in sales. Acquiring a large Dallas-based travel company and offering real-time artificial intelligence contributed to Adelman’s continual growth. The organization extended its offerings to include food and wine trips around the world.
Today’s Family Business
Craig and Judy Adelman’s son, Jono, followed a similar path as the men before him—seeking other endeavors before joining the family business. Jono has been involved with Adelman Travel for over twenty years, but he originally worked in film production. After a couple of years in L.A., Jono moved back to Milwaukee, working his way through each department of Adelman Travel. Today, Jono is the Vice President, keeping it a family-owned business and continuing the legacy of Adelman success.
Any Adelman employee will confirm that Ollie and Craig’s passion for people lives on. Adelman is in the relationship business first and the travel business second.