When Thomas Demakes’s three sons walk across the stage to receive their diplomas from Suffolk University on Saturday, he will not be sitting in the audience with the other proud parents.
Instead, he will be joining his sons as all four receive their master of business administration degrees.
For the past five years, Demakes and sons Elias, Timothy, and Andrew have spent many evenings taking classes at Suffolk’s Sawyer Business School. Father and sons took every class together while working full time at their family-owned meat company, Old Neighborhood Foods in Lynn.
“I’ve encouraged them, leading the way by my own example, if you will,’’ said Demakes, 69, who wanted to go to graduate school after returning from Vietnam in 1967, but never found the time while he worked at the business.
But once his sons graduated from college, Demakes, now president of the business, said he felt they had too much time on their hands, even as they joined the company.
“They needed to keep learning - anything. It didn’t necessarily mean it had to be an MBA,’’ said Demakes, who has also completed a two-year real estate appraiser’s license program and a three-year commercial real estate program with his sons and is already thinking about rounding up his sons to begin working on a law degree.
“In my opinion, you just have to stay engaged,’’ he said. “The world is changing so fast.’’
His sons see him as the driving force behind their continuing education.
“He said, ‘Listen, when else are you going to have an opportunity to do something like this?’ He really steered the ship,’’ said Elias Demakes, 34, who with his brothers is the fourth generation to work in the business.
Added Andrew Demakes, 31: “My father is not a teacher, per se, but he’s always trying to teach us through his experience and other people’s experience.’’
The father and sons said they enjoyed learning together and helping one another, but it wasn’t always easy.
“We’re glad we were able to do it as a family, said Timothy Demakes, 32, while joking, “Sometimes you want to strangle your brothers or your father, but you can’t.’’
Elias Demakes said he wanted to slide under his desk when his father would begin lecturing the Suffolk class - and the professor - about the finer points of running a business.
His father, however, remembers those times differently, saying he was just sharing his experiences.
“The class finds it interesting,’’ said Thomas Demakes, adding that professors, often younger than him, would ask him to share his perspective.
He also said he felt he learned as much from younger students as they learned from him.
David Hartstein, an executive in residence in Suffolk’s marketing department, taught the Demakeses in a class on retail strategy. He said he admired Thomas Demakes’s desire to learn and teach his sons.
“You have to be progressive, open-minded, and really a father who is driving his children to have them not just work in his company and learn within the company, but also reach out to other sources like academia,’’ Hartstein said.
While the classroom lessons learned will help the family business, the elder Demakes says he also liked staying in contact with his sons outside of work.
“They have a pretty good work ethic,’’ he said. “I’m very proud of them.’’