Relationships: Father/Daughter

From father to daughter

Some women who have taken over a business from their fathers never even expected to work in the family company, let alone become the CEO. Yet once they took the helm, those daughters discovered that they have the right skills, experience and values to guide their companies through the transition to the next generation and beyond.

Karen Buchwald Wright is chairman, CEO and president of Ariel Corporation, a highly successful business that manufactures reciprocating natural gas compressors in Mount Vernon, Ohio. She became the CEO somewhat by default when she and her husband (who had been president) divorced and her younger brother, who decided to pursue a different career, sold her his half of the company.

Karen's dad, Jim Buchwald, an engineer and entrepreneur, started the business in the basement of the family home in 1966. He expected that eventually his son would take over running the business after his daughter and son-in-law divorced.

Karen's mother, Maureen Buchwald, also worked in the business, as vice president of administration, and made a major contribution to Ariel's success. Karen began working there in 1980 and for three years was in an "impromptu management-training program." She decided to work part-time when she had her first son in 1983, and continued while raising four sons. When her mother retired, Karen took over her mother's role, working full-time at Ariel.

No one, including Karen, thought she would take over the company until 2001. Her marriage had ended and her brother had left, and she was, as she puts it, "the last man standing." Her family, who doubted she would be able to run the business herself, suggested she hire a non-family executive. Karen did hire someone, but within a couple of weeks it was evident that the new hire was not qualified.

At the same time, Karen was in the process of rehiring a former employee to replace her brother as chief engineer. He suggested that she was perfectly capable of running the company and didn't need to hire someone else. Karen took his advice. "All I needed was for one person to say I could do it . . . that one vote of confidence," she says. "That's all it took for me to stop and say, 'You know, that's right! I can do this.' Men often have less trouble with personal validation, but women tend to look for external validation. It was an 'Aha' moment for me."

Of course, it took more than encouragement to prepare Karen for the role of CEO. Karen considers raising four boys while working part-time to be a significant component of her preparation for leadership. "As a mother, you're a manager, a psychologist, a disciplinarian, a motivator, a time manager and a leader," she says. "It's a real job that requires you to learn on the job, and learn it fast. As it turns out, that's very much like being the CEO." Her advice to hiring managers: "If you know a woman who has raised several children and is looking to get back into the workforce, hire her right now, because she can do anything you throw at her."

Soon after taking over, Karen realized the most important task she faced was taking the business to the next level of development, from an entrepreneurial start-up model to a broader-based, multilevel management structure that would be important for the next phase of growth. "There was a lot of turf-guarding, and people were sensitive about their roles," she says, "but the task of the second generation is to create that structure for growth. It's important to understand that one person cannot know and do everything and that the leader is only as strong as the team she leads."

The man who encouraged Karen to take the lead is now her second husband and one of her closest team members. Her older two sons have joined the company and are working toward significant leadership roles. Her dad, now 88, still likes to come into the office and is writing a book on the early days of founding and establishing the company, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. He has told her, "I am so impressed. I could have not possibly done what you've done." It is clear that Karen has successfully transitioned Ariel from a small company to a large, complex and successful enterprise.

Earning support

When Kristy Knichel took over her dad's company, Knichel Logistics, based in Gibsonia, Pa., she had the full support of her family and her employees, but she definitely had worked hard to earn it. Her father, William Knichel, founded the company, which is now an international freight and shipping business. Kristy began working there at age 19. Her dad was a very tough and stubborn boss, yet she ultimately proved to him that she could succeed in a male-dominated industry. Neither Kristy nor her dad expected her to take over the company, but it was definitely a good move. Under Kristy's leadership, Knichel's annual revenues have grown from $2 million to $50 million. "My relationship with my dad fueled my determination, and it still does," says Kristy, Knichel Logistics' president and CEO. "He instilled a strong work ethic in me from an early age and pushed me to constantly strive for success. I didn't like his management style and we would often disagree on business decisions, but I believe his guidance helped make me the leader that I am today, and for that I am grateful."

Working "in the trenches" and taking on every job in the company, Kristy developed strong relationships with employees, vendors and customers. As her confidence grew, Kristy realized she could lead the company. While she had great respect for her father and what he built, she also knew that she wanted to be a different kind of leader and to create a different culture, one in which employees were encouraged to speak freely about their ideas and concerns. She has made it clear to her employees that they should feel comfortable speaking up to her and to her siblings, who also work at Knichel. "It doesn't matter whether someone is a friend of mine or a family member," she says firmly. "I'm running a business, and everyone here needs to work as a team. I do not play favorites—value is proven through one's work ethic, not personal ties."

Of course, running any business has its challenges. Kristy is navigating Knichel Logistics through the mergers and acquisitions that are occurring within the freight industry. While the competition is real, Kristy believes that relationships are the key to business success. "I still say that there's a niche market for a company where you can still get someone on the phone," she says. "With all the changes, there's a lot of chaos in our industry behind the scenes, but we're trying to streamline our systems and quickly get customers through the door."

Thorough preparation

Tacy Byham recently became CEO of DDI, a global leadership development consultancy based in Pittsburgh, and is following in her father's footsteps on a very well-laid path. Like her dad, William Byham, who co-founded DDI in 1970, Tacy is an industrial/organizational psychologist. The fact that her father was in the business of assessing and developing high-potential employees and preparing them for significant leadership roles worked to her advantage as she learned the ropes.

Tacy did not immediately join DDI, though her father recognized her leadership aptitude when she was a teenager. Tacy, who was talented in math and computer science, started out at a computer company in New York. That experience helped her decide to enter her father's firm. In her previous job, she had a difficult manager who neglected her and members of her team; as a result, Tacy says, she learned "what kind of a boss I never, ever wanted to be." She decided to pursue a Ph.D. in industrial/organization psychology, and then went to work at DDI. She began as a master trainer for the company's leadership training services, and later took on roles of increasing responsibility and leadership.

"I continued to move purposely through the organization, and learned to not only stand up for myself, but to also step up and ask for what I wanted and deserved," says Tacy. "Each position involved building trust, pulling the group together as a team, breaking existing paradigms and communicating effectively with various groups. These experiences were invaluable."

As Tacy tells it, she "drank the Kool-Aid" that DDI offered, and it has served her well. DDI is known for its rigorous and thorough leadership assessment and development process, one used to develop DDI's staff as well. Like other high-potential employees, Tacy participated in DDI's assessment center, which focused on her behavior in a variety of challenging situations. The experience tested her ability to make large and small decisions, to negotiate, to coach others and to give the kind of presentations likely to be required of a future executive. The process was not easy, but Tacy valued the feedback, learned from her mistakes and considers the experience an important part of her preparation for the role of CEO.

The company also needed to prepare for her leadership. A full two years before she became CEO, Tacy's dad and his business partner announced that Tacy and other new senior leaders would be taking over the firm. For the most part, the transition has been smooth, though Tacy remains surprised when employees she has known for years claim that they "don't really know" her. Tacy knows she has not changed, but she realizes that her transition to CEO will require some readjustment in her relationships with her employees.

Providing training and encouragement

Karen, Kristy and Tacy are successful executives, leading enterprises that evolved from the creative ideas of their entrepreneurial fathers. They are smart, determined and capable women, committed to their businesses and to their communities, but neither they nor their fathers expected them to take over their businesses. Families who want to set the stage for their next-generation women to become leaders can learn a lot from these CEOs' stories.

First, daughters may need to be encouraged to lead, perhaps more than sons; giving them opportunities to work in the business and offering both critical feedback and praise can boost their confidence. Second, a daughter can take over a business while raising her children—an idea that still meets resistance in many settings. As Karen's experience shows, parenting skills can transfer to the workplace quite well. Third, intensive preparation is vital. Not every daughter has the opportunity for development that Tacy had, but fathers can provide assignments that challenge their daughters. Formal assessment of young women's skills and leadership styles can also be helpful.

It is an exciting time for women in family businesses. As they sustain and develop their family's legacy, assuming significant leadership roles, they have the potential to transform their businesses, their communities and the role of women as an economic force in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Amy J. Katz, Ph.D. is president of Daughters in Charge, a consulting firm that helps women find personal and professional fulfillment and financial success as leaders in their family businesses (

Copyright 2016 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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May/June 2012 Toolbox

Father-Daughter Succession in Family Business: A Cross-Cultural Perspective
Edited by Daphne Halkias, Paul W. Thurman, Celina Smith and Robert S. Nason
Gower Publishing, 2011
311 pp., $119.95
Also available as an e-book

Back in 2004, Family Business published an article on cross-gender succession by family business advisers Dennis Jaffe and Fredda Herz Brown. Daughters who succeed their fathers as head of the family firm, Jaffe and Brown wrote, “understand that there are issues, emotions and complex roles to negotiate, so their instinct is to slowly develop trust with their father and other employees.”

In a new book, lead editor Daphne Halkias, aided by a team of three co-editors and about 60 contributing authors, addresses father-to-daughter succession around the globe from an academic perspective. In the book’s epilogue, Halkias notes that the emotional connection between father and daughter appears to play a role in generational transitions worldwide: “No matter which cultural prism we gazed through to tell the daughter’s story,” she writes, “the understanding of emotional ties between father and daughter were paramount to studying the succession process.”

In her acknowledgments, Halkias—a psychologist and business consultant who is affiliated with the University of Bergamo in Italy, Cornell University, the University of California, San Diego and Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital—explains that the book grew out of her experience as a visiting professor at the American College of Greece, where she surveyed female students from family business backgrounds on their intentions to succeed their fathers.

Father-Daughter Succession in Family Business includes 28 research articles, organized geographically. Most feature a case study based on interviews with a female family business member. (One article includes two case studies.) Some of the companies and principals are named; others are pseudonymous or anonymous.

In most cases, the primary interviewee is already serving as CEO or expects to be named to succeed her father as leader of the business. There are exceptions, however. An article focusing on Nigeria does not include a case study; instead, it offers a section on “Why fathers do not hand over businesses to daughters.” Although the article from India features a case study, the authors note they had difficulty finding a daughter-successor to profile. Women they approached insisted “they were only managing the business and that they were not the successor in the family business,” the researchers report.

In a case from the United Arab Emirates, the daughter who is profiled serves as the company’s chief operating officer; her brother is the CEO. And the woman featured in the profile from Egypt founded her own business, crediting the values and work ethic she absorbed from her father’s example.

The case studies cover six continents: Asia (China, India, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines and United Arab Emirates), Africa (Egypt and Nigeria), Europe (France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Russia, Spain, Scotland, Sweden and Switzerland), North America (Canada and U.S. cases from South Carolina, Washington state and West Virginia), South America (two cases from Brazil, Columbia and Peru) and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand).

There are drawbacks to this approach. As many of the articles point out in a section headed “Limitations,” one cannot draw conclusions about a nation’s family business owners based on one case study. Two of the U.S. articles, for example, profile women who lead very small businesses, both with all-female work forces, and the third features a business in Appalachia; one can hardly make generalizations about father-daughter succession in the U.S. based on these cases.

Another caveat: In many of the case studies, the daughter was the only family member interviewed, so the reader lacks other relatives’ perspective. What’s more, some articles paraphrase the interviewee in lieu of reporting substantive direct quotations. The Italian case is the only one in which the authors note the use of secondary sources such as company documents and family information to verify interview data.

In a few of the profiles, the chief issues faced by the interviewee are more related to dysfunctional family relationships than to cross-gender succession (particularly one of the Brazil cases, which involves an 87-year-old patriarch who won’t step down, two daughters vying for succession and a mother who, although she does not work for the business, barges in on important meetings).

Some articles in this compilation evidently date from a few years ago. The case study from West Virginia was co-authored by Cindy Iannarelli, who died in 2010, and the case from Egypt (which profiles a Coptic Christian family) doesn’t mention the Arab Spring.

These caveats notwithstanding, there is much to recommend about this book. Female successors, especially, will be heartened to discover that around the world, daughters who follow their fathers as business leaders face the same types of challenges. In a profile of a French company, the authors write, “It would take [the daughter] 30 years of patience, presence, skill and tenacity to be seen as the natural and obvious successor”—a situation that will likely ring true to many women.

A successor from Germany says her father “made a big mistake in not informing the employees what I would be doing.” The informality of her entry into the business undermined her credibility, she reflects: “I believe that in my first two years no one took me seriously. But then I decided not to be content with that situation … I started to call for changes, especially in terms of structure and development.” Like many successors, she was the one who took the initiative to institute formal governance structures.

Many case study subjects describe their efforts to find a suitable work/life balance. “There are times when I am tired,” says a Spanish successor with three children under the age of six, “but I cannot be surprised because it was my choice.”

While some women say they were discouraged from entering the family business, others say they felt pressure to join the firm. A daughter from the Philippines resisted working in the family enterprise. “In the end,” the authors write, “she realized she was the only one her father relied on to carry his dream…. Perhaps if Edna was a male, then the refusal to work in the family business and eventually take over may have prevailed.”

In many (but not all) of these cases, the daughters who took over from their fathers did not have a brother. The lack of a male heir likely smoothed their way to the top. As Colette Dumas, a pioneering researcher in the area of father-daughter succession, writes in an introduction to the book, “When a son doesn’t succeed his father in the family enterprise, and when a daughter does, this is still a newsworthy event in the local and national press.”

Readers of this compilation will be impressed by the skills and talents of these women from diverse backgrounds, many of whom have overcome considerable odds. Those who are extensively quoted demonstrate candor and perceptiveness.

“Of course, I am operating in a men’s world,” a business leader from Switzerland tells her interviewers. “But for me, this is actually quite comfortable: I get appointments a lot quicker than most people…. Obviously, it’s not enough to just be blond … you have to know what you are talking about, and you have to be able to deliver on your promises. As a woman, you are often scrutinized more than a man would be.”







Copyright 2012 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permssion from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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When succession crosses genders

Hugh Hefner revolutionized the magazine industry in the '50s, making Playboy a production with himself as the star. In many ways, the magazine was a chronicle of his own lifestyle and ideas. Yet this self-appointed role model for new-age males lacked a male heir. His daughter Christie grew up with her divorced mother under a different name. Father and daughter got to know each other only cautiously and with infrequent visits.

In one such visit, impressed by Christie's thoughtfulness and intelligence, Hugh made her an incredible offer: Why not join the business?

“Hef started saying in interviews, ‘Oh yeah, Christie's going to take over the company,'” she later recalled. “And I thought, that's an interesting idea.” She accepted, and over more than 20 years has ascended to become CEO and leader of a quintessentially male-oriented company. Hef has since remarried and sired more children. While he still gathers attention and embodies the magazine, their relationship has evolved so that Christie is clearly in charge. Hef occupies his special “emeritus” role (a role that, among other things, enables him to spend most days lolling about in pajamas at his mansion). Their roles are very different, and highly complementary. “He has turf and I have turf,” Christie says. “We respect each other's abilities and don't try to do the same thing.”

Most families are run by a highly effective cross-gender team—the parents. Equally effective is a cross-gender team that spans two generations—father and daughter, or mother and son. Such pairings can create a special bond that serves as the basis for a powerful leadership configuration.

“Gender sameness” often produces a rivalry that complicates father/son and mother/daughter relationships. But gender difference allows an opposite-sex parent to appreciate a child's talent without feeling threatened or superseded. And because sons and daughters feel protective toward their opposite-sex parent, they can serve comfortably as stewards and cheerleaders—especially when they enjoy the requisite authority to take action when needed.

You don't hear much about the blessings of cross-generational succession because it's a relatively new phenomenon. When business was a male preserve, a daughter who expressed interest in the family firm was roundly discouraged. Katharine Meyer Graham, who stunned the business world in 1963 by taking over her family's Washington Post, enjoyed an opportunity that a generation earlier was considered unthinkable for another equally bright and capable newspaper heiress: Iphigene Ochs, the only child of New York Times patriarch Adolph Ochs.

Two generations after Katharine Graham's accession, cross-gender/cross-generation partnerships elicit not curiosity so much as envy. In our own experiences as business psychologists, we've worked with perhaps two dozen of these relationships, and we can't help being struck by their business advantages. Many cross-gender business successions seem characterized by a patience and willingness to allow the older generation to linger without the heir feeling diminished, frustrated or stifled. In these partnerships the son or daughter feels fully empowered and fulfilled without having to push a parent aside. But don't take our word for it. High-profile examples of this phenomenon abound almost anywhere you turn.

Surely only a daughter could respect and appreciate Hugh Hefner's idiosyncratic role at Playboy Enterprises. Though they are rarely shown together, Christie steadfastly defends Hef's various bizarre “perks”—an outsize salary, residence in the company-owned Playboy mansion—and has respected his creative decisions about maintaining their flagship magazine's traditional format.

At the same time, Christie has engineered the company's successful entrée into new fields like cable TV and licensing. She is credited with boosting Playboy's profits and stock price to all-time highs—no mean feat in the fickle world of publishing. It's difficult to imagine anyone else, especially a son, achieving that balance. While it has been a roller coaster ride for the company, Christie is generally considered a good strategic and operational leader.

The Lauders

Estée Lauder grew up in Queens, N.Y., and began to sell lotions and beauty products out of her home in the 1940s. She was one of a handful of women business founders in her generation. The company grew, so when her oldest son, Leonard, completed a stint in the Navy and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School with a business degree, it seemed natural for him to work there. He joined the company in 1958. His partnership with his mother thrived as Leonard oversaw incredible growth by professionalizing the company's management structure, creating its research and development labs and spearheading its international expansion into a global giant with more than $5 billion sales today. Although the Estée Lauder company went public in 1995, it remains firmly under family control, with the family owning almost all of the voting shares and occupying key positions. Leonard's wife remains a senior VP; also on board are their son William (who is set to become CEO on July 1), and Leonard's brother's two children.

Interestingly, each of these well-known successors has a long-term partnership with an opposite-sex parent that's remarkable for its harmony, its synergy and the special regard each has for their opposite number. These heirs are not simply waiting to ascend the corporate throne. They seem to be engaging in a special continuing relationship that's a reward in itself.

Fathers to daughters

One quality seems to characterize the style of daughters moving into their father's business—patience. In each case, they understand that there are issues, emotions and complex roles to negotiate, so their instinct is to slowly develop trust with their father and other employees.

Another quality: Daughters generally don't enter their father's business with a sense of entitlement. They realize that they need to prove themselves first—to their father and the company—to succeed. In a number of situations we have seen, the need to prove themselves seems to include building credibility outside the family enterprise first.

And unlike many sons who can't wait to push a stubborn dad out the door and streamline the company, daughters seem tolerant and even fond of their fathers' foibles. Serving their father and the family—the same qualities often attributed to women in families—seems a greater motivating factor than control and power.

Alan Bressler's father launched Agar Supply Co. by selling pork to restaurants in Boston's Chinatown and subsequently expanded into meat distribution and processing. By the time Alan inherited leadership in the 1970s, Agar Supply was a large independent food service and supply company serving restaurants and groceries throughout the Greater Boston area. In the early '90s Bressler faced a classic succession dilemma: Food service was an unglamorous and very male business, but Bressler had no sons—just three daughters born within three years of each other. At the same time, competition and changing markets left him with difficult strategic choices that demanded focus on renewing the business.

Bressler's eldest daughter, Karen, had an MBA in international business and was quite successful in a company that imported and sold toys. But she was also raising a small child of her own. To her surprise, Bressler asked her to try out the family business.

“I didn't need it," she recalls. “I could get a lot of jobs. But because he was my father, and he asked, I decided it was worth a try.”

She quickly discovered that Agar Supply was “a very ‘guy' place,” as she calls it, full of long-term employees uncomfortable with change. That didn't deter her, she says, because she had no particular interest in running the place. “My strategy was to keep to my area, do my job and get results,” she recalls. “I let trust and familiarity build slowly, and I waited for them to warm up to me.”

Karen worked with her father on some major strategic changes. The business needed more space: It was a time to think about moving out of Boston, and offering a wider range of products and services.

The process was anything but smooth. At first, Karen recalls, “There wasn't anything for me to do. Then, as jobs came open, I had to ‘swim' with each assignment.” As she took on each job, “there were things for me and Dad to talk about, and he got a sense of me and my work.” While father and daughter discussed an appropriate role to match her growing authority, the company's president resigned, so “I took the initiative,” Karen says, and assumed the president's responsibilities.

Within a few years, Agar Supply moved to a suburb of Boston, expanded its products, and revamped almost the whole management team. Working together throughout the '90s, the father-daughter team had virtually transformed the company. By the time Alan was ready to retire in 2000, it seemed natural for Karen to take his place.

It works in India, too

Like Karen Bressler, Charu Modi Bhartia was asked to join her family's business after earning an MBA and working for a U.S. company. Like most Indian businesses, the family's companies were traditionally male preserves, so she had many reservations. She was asked by her father to return to India and, in an unusual gesture, to join the family's multi-faceted business empire. As her role, she has worked with her father to launch two entrepreneurial ventures in health care and education. In developing her relationship with her father, she has created firm boundaries and has had realistic expectations.

Slowly, she gained her father's trust. “I don't confront him or speak out in business meetings when others are there,” she says. “I confront him in private, where I can ask him to explain his position and talk an issue through.” The relationship is cemented through a daily father-daughter lunch at home. “I feel like a real partner now,” she says. “My business is about a year from being profitable, and I am starting another venture for our family.”

The Schneiders: From emotion to trust

Most fathers and daughters share a natural closeness. But translating that emotional bond into a trusting business partnership takes some doing. On the one hand, the father instinctively presumes that his daughter will always be his little girl whom he must protect (and who in turn protects him, albeit emotionally). On the other hand, the father needs a business colleague with authority, capability and the aptitude to win and lose her own battles. Frank Schneider, a Denver family business and turnaround consultant who has developed and sold several professional services businesses, looked ahead at age 65 to a comfortable, active practice with a small one-person consulting firm that could support a flexible lifestyle. To his surprise, his daughter—Kim Schneider Malek, an MBA who had been working with a large company—asked if she could join him.

He was reticent at first. He had worked for a year with his son, Brad, who opened an affiliate office in Chicago in 1995. After two years, Brad left to assume leadership in one of his wife's family's businesses. Kim, as a middle daughter, played a role in the family that was conciliatory and diplomatic, “making her supportive of me in ways that her brother was not,” Frank says. “Brad was more like me, and, had we been working together in the same office, we probably would have had some clashes.” After working with Kim on several engagements, Frank says, he saw the benefits of their collaboration.

“We are polar opposites,” he says, “but we respect each other and value our differences, which have become one of our competitive advantages.”

Kim experienced a particular work-family conflict that often seems to be present when a daughter collaborates with her father. “My father wants me to devote myself to the business and our clients like he does, which is very time-intensive,” she says. “But he also wants me to bear and raise his grandchildren, which is fighting for the same time. He has genuine conflicting commitments for me between advancing my career in his business and perpetuating future generations in his family.” To be sure, Kim says, she feels this conflict inside herself as well.

The presence of brothers in the business can lead to an intense rivalry if the daughter is chosen as the successor. This was the case in a public company that one of us advised, where the father was the founder and icon of the product. The mother was a strong personality, active in her own ventures and community affairs. First, their eldest daughter entered, then their son several years later. The daughter was serious, dedicated and patient, learning her role and taking on many jobs. In contrast, the son focused exclusively in his area of interest: marketing and promotion. He presumed that he and his sister would share leadership, but their father felt that she was the natural leader, and let it be known that she was his designated heir. This led to a deep rift and feeling of betrayal on her brother's part.

In another client family with a similar configuration, the brother who was passed over left the business and created his own consultancy, developing over time a positive working relationship with his father and a respectful acceptance of his sister's leadership role.

Mothers to sons

Mother-son working partnerships are more complex, partly because they're less common. Much depends on how the mother originally reached the top. A mother like Katharine Graham, who became CEO through the death of her husband, may be more tentative or conflicted about her abilities. A visionary founder-mother like Estée Lauder, on the other hand, was confident, clear and assertive about who she was, what she was doing and what she wanted. The mother thus either exults in playing the father role, or suffers the burden of trying to succeed him.

In each path, the son has a different image of the mother. Leonard Lauder had to perform and accept that he would remain in his mother's high-profile shadow into her 90s. Donald Graham, by contrast, may have felt a calling to protect and support his mother in her role.

Or consider Kathy Gardarian, who founded Qualis International in Orange County, Calif., in 1988 to sell and distribute packaging products to retailers like Home Depot. Her only son, Leo, came on board two years later at age 23, fresh out of college. The company was growing fast, and she needed help to build the distribution system for their products. The special relationship between the son and his mother, who was divorced when he was nine, enabled Kathy to let go and trust Leo in ways that, as a controlling entrepreneur, she might not have experienced with another.

“We have always been best friends,” Kathy says of her son. “He knows me well, and we have a remarkable ability to diffuse the stress levels for each other. Having a male counterpart in this male-dominated business is a real asset. There are still some clients who are more comfortable doing business with a man.”

At first Kathy functioned as Leo's mentor. “At the start he was afraid he couldn't contribute anything,” she recalls. “He needed help to get his confidence up. He was very concerned that he not disappoint me, and hurt our relationship. He felt he had to prove himself to me. It was never verbalized, but I know it was a struggle for him.”

Over the past 13 years, Leo has grown with the company as Qualis International expanded to four distribution centers nationwide and nearly $20 million in annual revenues. While Kathy remains the sole owner, Leo was promoted to president four years ago and is on track to inherit his mother's ownership. Although Kathy is still active, she spends a lot of time serving on boards and pursuing her personal interests, leaving more and more authority to Leo. Although Leo doesn't do everything her way, she says, “I am so lucky to have had this opportunity; his presence has freed me up.”

Not every mother-son partnership is so lucky. Florence Kaslow, a family business consultant and psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., worked with several cases involving single, self-made CEO mothers. Unlike their married counterparts, these women acted as both head of household and company president. As a businesswoman, the mother was successful, but as a parent, her frequent absences and limited involvement caused resentment for her sons. In these and other similar situations, the mother wants her son to succeed but isn't always up to the task. Unlike daughters, many business sons feel a sense of entitlement, exacerbated by the feeling that their mother's devotion to her business had deprived the son of a full-fledged family childhood. The mothers, feeling guilty about their lack of familial participation, felt they “owed” the business to their sons but were increasingly disappointed in their performance. (See for example, “Like mother, like son,” by Florence Kaslow, FB, Spring 2002.) Such partnerships often lead to the sale or decline of the business.

Mother-mentors often expend much of their energy curbing their sons' overconfidence and eagerness to take over before they're ready. In other cases, the son develops such a close relationship with his mother that he's hard put to feel as close and responsible to anyone else—his wife, for example. While daughters feel responsible to their fathers and to their families simultaneously, sons feel responsible and dutiful to their mothers both personally and professionally.

Successful cross-gender, cross-generation partnerships share one common theme: the great respect and trust that opposite-sex parents and offspring feel for each other. This leads to great tolerance and to the ability to be attuned to each other's needs. If this basic building block is in place, the benefits and special features of this tricky relationship should outweigh the liabilities.

Dennis T. Jaffe ( is a founding member of the Aspen Family Business Group and a professor at Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco. He is author of Working with the Ones You Love. Fredda Herz Brown ( is a founder and senior consultant of The Metropolitan Group in Bergen County, N.J. She is the author of Reweaving the Family Tapestry.

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Anything you can do ...

Picture the scene. It's 1994, shortly after Susan B. Lewis succeeded her father as president of Beam Construction Company, a $30 million contractor in Cherryville, N.C. In the girls' bathroom at a local high school, 33-year-old Lewis huddles with three grizzled male subcontractors over specs for connecting the school's new second floor to the existing building. Armed only with her MBA and her father's genes, Lewis chews out the mechanical contractor for his failure to adhere to the construction schedule.

“They're all trying to blow me off,” remembers Lewis, now 39, “but I am giving the guy a hard time. All of a sudden it occurs to me to step back and take a look at this picture. There I am, in the middle of the girls' bathroom, telling these guys, each of whom is three times my age, what to do. If anybody had walked in, I'm not sure they would have known what to think.”

These days, an interloper might still be puzzled. In an age when 37% of U.S. businesses are headed by women (according to the National Association of Women Business Owners), family business may now claim the unpleasant distinction of being one of “the last bastions of gender discrimination,” says James W. Lea, a professor at the University of North Carolina and a syndicated family business columnist. How so? “Perhaps it's because business practices are so often influenced, even dominated, by family relationships, quirks and traditions.”

One of those traditions, of course, is the unwritten law of the son as successor. While 25% of the more than 3,000 family firms interviewed in the 1997 Mass Mutual and Arthur Andersen national survey said that a woman may be the next chief executive, only 5% reported that a woman was already in charge.

“More likely than not, if a father has both a son and a daughter, he will want his son to come into the business and ultimately take over,” says Beatrice Wolper, a Columbus, Ohio, lawyer who specializes in family- and female-owned business issues. Even if there is no son, and even if the daughter is amply qualified to take over, Wolper notes, “There's still a presumption that, ‘Gee, I wish I had a son.'”

When a daughter does succeed her father, she often finds her authority challenged from inside as well as outside her organization. “It's a double-edged sword,” says Marcy Syms, president of Syms Corp., a 41-store New Jersey discount clothing chain founded by her father. “Both as a daughter and a manager, you have to fight stereotypes without letting them take over your life.”

But as the case of Susan Lewis suggests, succeeding Dad in the family business is still one of the best ways for a woman to break into leadership in traditionally male-dominated fields. “You can do it young and fast,” notes Patricia Frishkoff, director of the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University.

Lewis—who was chosen over her older brother for the presidency—always knew that she wanted to work in her family's municipal construction business. Her father, Tom Browne, purchased Beam Construction from the Beam family (her neighbors from across the street) in the mid-'50s. As she grew up, she and her five siblings worked as “laborers” on the firm's home renovation projects. “We would rip out tile and knock down walls,” Lewis remembers. “There was no discrimination in our house. The boys would clean, and the girls would do yard work. I'd prefer doing the outside to the inside, and I still do.”

She visited job sites with her dad on family vacations and spent college breaks working in the office. But her dad had a strict anti-nepotism rule: After college, his kids weren't permitted back in the business until they'd worked somewhere else for at least two years.

After graduating from North Carolina State University in 1983 with an engineering degree, Lewis moved to Raleigh to work for Carolina Power and Light. In February 1985, Lewis mentioned to her dad that she was thinking about returning to Cherryville to get a job in construction. About a month later, he called to tell her that he was having problems with a recent hire. “As long as I have to train somebody,” he told her, “I want somebody who I'm sure can learn the job.”

Lewis was that somebody. She joined Beam Construction that month as an estimator. Over the next hectic nine years, she earned an MBA at night, gave birth to three sons and worked her way up through management. Her father officially retired at age 66 in 1990, cleaning out his office after 35 years and choosing a long-term employee to succeed him, but keeping the CEO title for himself. When the new president found life at the top not to his liking, Tom Browne found himself forced to choose a new president. The choice boiled down to Susan Lewis and her brother Robert—who, although older than Susan, had joined the company a year and a half after she did.

Lewis won't elaborate on the power struggle with her brother. As she tells it, the two of them put their heads together with their father and their predecessor and developed a solution: Lewis became president and her brother executive vice president. “While we operate primarily as a team,” she says, “we are not equal. Mine is the deciding vote.”

Surprisingly, most of Lewis's transition problems came from people her own age: architects and suppliers between the ages of 25 and 40, who saw her as a threat. By contrast, Lewis says colleagues from her father's generation were “accepting” from Day One, perhaps because they were secure enough to treat her as an equal. “They also probably had daughters or even granddaughters in similar positions,” she surmises.

But the best thing Lewis had going for her as a new woman president was her father's quiet, humble operating style. “He was always there for advice, but he would never tell me what to do,” she says. “He let me make my own mistakes without rubbing my nose in it.” Her feelings were further reinforced recently when Beam Construction took on a project for another family business. Her client, Lewis says, “humiliates his sons and questions their every move. If my dad was like that, I wouldn't still be here.”

Curiously, with the passage of time Lewis and her father have both reversed their feelings about the company's anti-nepotism rule. “He has come to believe that we spent needless time away from the business when we could have been gaining experience,” Lewis says. “But I disagree. It was very good for me to prove myself elsewhere. I gained self-confidence, and I knew I was qualified for the job, not just because I was the boss's daughter.”

Lewis has the right idea, says Matilde Salganicoff, retired director of The Family Business Consultancy in Philadelphia. “Women who think they might want a career in the family business would do well to take jobs in other firms first,” Salganicoff says. That way, if they choose to join the family firm, “they know its advantages for them over a career elsewhere, and they know that they can be effective and successful.” Salganicoff also notes that Lewis was fortunate to have been exposed to the business at an early age in the same manner as her brothers.

The climb to the top of giant ($325 million sales) Lundy Packing Company of Clinton, N.C., took a little longer for Annabelle Fetterman. As soon as she graduated from high school in the late 1930s, Fetterman went to work for the meat-packing concern founded by her father, Burrows T. Lundy, in 1931. Over the years, Fetterman served as controller, vice president and executive vice president while the CEO title was passed from her father to her brother and then (after her brother's death) to her husband, Lewis Fetterman. Then one morning over breakfast in 1987, Lewis Fetterman told Annabelle that he wanted to try something different; he suggested that she run the company with their two children.

“To be honest, I didn't see it coming,” she says. “But in retrospect, I think he wanted to be his own person.” Apparently so: Lewis Fetterman remained in the industry, developing products from hog waste for another company.

Although women meat-packing executives are about as rare as happy voters in Palm Beach, Annabelle Fetterman says she encountered no discrimination as CEO because “I had been here so long it was easy when I took over from within,” she says.

The success of both Susan Lewis and Annabelle Fetterman, says consultant Ellen Frankenberg, who heads Frankenberg Consulting in Cincinnati, demonstrates the value of positive messages women receive—especially from their fathers—while they're growing up. Fetterman's confidence enabled her to successfully handle one final crisis during her tenure: the hard-nosed decision to sell the company to the larger Premium Standard Farms last August following a cash crunch in the industry.

The terms of the sale include three-year consulting contracts for Fetterman, now 79, and her son and daughter; after that the kids are on their own. “I think they are disappointed to some degree,” Fetterman acknowledges. “But I think my dad would have approved. The world is changing so fast, we need to be a bigger size to do the job efficiently, and we don't have all the resources of a larger company.”

A woman's success as CEO in a man's world often depends on how power was transferred to her in the first place. Consider the case of the female president of one of Europe's tile companies. During summer vacations as a young girl, her father used to drag her out of bed to accompany him to the factory. One of the first jobs he gave her was to clean the men's toilets. When she handled that task without complaint, she earned the respect of the factory's male workers.

“One test of a leader is her capacity not to shy away from demanding assignments,” says family business consultant Ivan Lansberg, senior partner in Lansberg Gersick & Associates, New Haven, Conn. “Another is her ability to deliver the goods.”

Fathers who want their daughters to succeed as CEOs must resist their natural instinct to protect them, says Paul Karofsky, director of Northeastern University's Center for Family Business: “A woman's sense of achievement and self-esteem are at risk when a father is overly protective.” He might have added: So is the future of the company. William Millard, the autocratic retailer who founded the ComputerLand chain, infuriated his franchisees in 1984 by installing as president his 26-year-old daughter, Barbara, whose limitations included having had just three months of college. Within a year the franchisees had forced Millard and his daughter to give up day-to-day control and to reinstate the previous president. Millard, in a huff, subsequently removed himself and his family to the Mariana Islands in the Pacific and sold his majority stake in ComputerLand.

A father's adversity, on the other hand, helped toughen up Mary McMahon for the oil business. McMahon was in her 30s when she began substituting for vacationing employees at Petroleum International Inc., her father's Tulsa, Okla., oil and gas holding company. Eventually she assumed more responsibility in a full-time job there. She also developed a real affinity for the oil and gas industry. But she assumed she had no future in the family business.

“My dad was a pretty old-fashioned guy,” she says. “He kept looking at me like, ‘When are you going to get married?'” Besides, her younger brother was being groomed as the heir apparent. “This is Oklahoma,” McMahon jokes. “The boys get the business, the girls get married.”

So McMahon followed her musician fiancé to California, where they married and had a child in 1988. But a year later her younger brother died of a heart attack at the age of 38. Her father, stricken with cancer, called and asked his daughter for her help—“the first time he ever acknowledged me,” she says. Swallowing her pride, she moved back to Tulsa and took over “by process of elimination,” says McMahon, who's now in her 50s.

Whatever resentments McMahon felt were washed away by the urgency of the crisis. She worked with her father for a few months before he died in 1989. Her family and employees rallied around her, giving her the confidence to dismantle her father's monolithic power structure and invite her siblings to work for the company, which they still do. Out of the tragedies came a closer family and a more effective company. “None of this would have happened with my dad,” McMahon notes.

Like Mary McMahon, 50-year-old Andrea Knoller grew up in her family's business, Bodow Recycling, a $2 million paper and metal recycling company in Syracuse, N.Y. But she had no intention of following in her father's and grandfather's footsteps. “I always assumed that one of my two brothers would take over,” she says. Surprise: One brother became a lawyer, the other a doctor.

Knoller followed the traditional marriage-and-children route, but after her divorce in the early 1980s she ended up back home and working part-time in the company office. She was just in time to rescue the family business: Her father, Charles Bodow, had undergone open-heart surgery, and her lawyer brother was struggling to sustain both the company and his law practice simultaneously.

“It was a disaster,” Knoller recalls. “The business went down the tubes, and my father had to work twice as hard to get it back to where it had been.” By the time Knoller's father had put the pieces of his business back together, she was well established as his right hand. By the mid-1980s, her parents began spending the winters in Florida, leaving Knoller in charge—more or less. Her father called her every day to tell her what to do. “He didn't trust me,” she admits. “Not even a little. He would call and ask me how much cash was in the drawer and when I was going to the bank. To be fair, he was running scared, especially after my brother screwed up.”

Gradually, however, Charles Bodow eased up. Before he died in 1993, he was boasting about her accomplishments to his friends. For her part, Knoller says she's thankful that he lived long enough to witness her success.

When an entrepreneurial father transmits both his genes and his company to a daughter, the transition can be rocky. Irving Rosenthal was the founder and driving force of Rosenthal-Chadwick, Inc., a $3 million commercial heating and air conditioning contractor and sheet metal fabricator in Syracuse, N.Y. His daughter Holly was 25 and a graduate student in land development at Texas A&M University in 1985 when her father asked for her help with a large project at a military base near Syracuse. “At the time, we were a relatively small company, and our people resources were pretty much tapped out,” she explains. “Plus, I think he thought it would be challenging for me.” She seized the opportunity and was running the business within three years, when her father officially became a consultant. In practice, though, he didn't let go for another ten years.

The largest issue, according to Rosenthal, was what she terms her father's “chronic” need to express his opinions in front of whomever she was dealing with. “If I was discussing a policy issue with an employee, he might wander into the room and express his opinion,” she relates. “I'd often tell him, ‘If you have an opinion, express it off line.'”

Her father also encouraged employees to go over her head to him. “Instead of saying, ‘Let Holly handle it,' he would feel compelled to ease their pain,” she reasons.

But their differences were substantive as well. Rosenthal wanted to expand the business to a level that made her father uncomfortable. She pushed successfully, over her father's resistance, to move the company into a new, larger facility. One day when they were looking at plans for the new building, she recalls, “He told me he couldn't find his name on an office.

“I told him we thought he was staying here at the old office,” she says with a laugh. “Then I told him that nobody would their name on an office, not even me.”

Eventually father and daughter reached an accommodation of sorts. Irving Rosenthal began spending more time on the road. Holly, for her part, says stopped trying to out-tough her father and “gradually let the natural challenge of being female play a role in my management style. I've become more compassionate, more connected and more accommodating, all of which are critical skills in managing people.”

Not long ago, Rosenthal-Chadwick moved into its new facility—where, incidentally, Irving Rosenthal does indeed have his own office. “It's right near the door, so he can come and go as he pleases,” his daughter says, laughing.


Kathryn Levy Feldman is a free-lance writer who lives in Bryn Mawr, Pa.


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Raising Your Daughter, the Next CEO

FAMILY COMPANIES may be the best possible laboratories for developing a new generation of female CEOs. Families in business together have to work harder at teamwork, especially in the sibling and cousin generations, and your daughter may, by temperament and genes, be best suited to lead the company in the new, collaborative workplace. Having invested at least $50,000 per daughter in college educations, why not reap some of the dividends in your own shop by grooming female successors?

A 1995 survey of over 1,000 family business owners by the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. indicated that men still carry more clout than women in family firms. Nevertheless, the survey also showed that women hold proportionately more positions in the top management of family companies than they do in nonfamily businesses. Moreover, women who currently lead family firms are twice as likely as men to envision that their daughters will one day assume control (14 percent vs. 7 percent).

To take charge of your company, your daughter will need more than a good education. She will need a supportive family, good mentors, and a motivating dream. I don't believe there is any right way to develop leadership potential in the next generation, because industries, business requirements, and personalities vary so widely. But I do believe that it will happen only when parents learn to identify and nurture the strengths and talents of daughters from an early age.

A growing body of research literature suggests some of the ways this can be done. In their 1992 study, Women in Power: The Secrets of Leadership (Houghton Mifflin), Dorothy Cantor and Toni Bernay examined family influences during the childhoods of 25 women who were later elected to high political office in the United States during the 1980s. The women interviewed were the first females in either party to assume roles as senators, governors, or members of Congress in their states or districts. The two psychologists cited five powerful messages that these successful female political leaders received in their formative years that may have accounted for their success:


  1. You are loved and special.


  2. You can do anything you want.


  3. It is okay to take risks.


  4. You can use and enjoy your creative aggression.


  5. You are entitled to dream of greatness.

These women had crashed through the glass ceiling. When asked how they had overcame all the obstacles that women face in the rough game of politics, a common response was, "What obstacles?" They saw formidable obstacles as an ordinary part of getting the job done. In selecting a successor for your family company, why not give the job to someone who doesn't focus on obstacles but on "getting the job done?"

The messages that little girls hear have a profound impact on the success they will attain as women. Daniel Levinson, the late Yale psychologist, traced the psychological development of career women in a new book, The Seasons of a Woman's Life (Alfred A. Knopf). Published posthumously, the book followed an earlier work on males, The Seasons of a Man's Life. The new work finds remarkable similarities in the agelinked maturation process of men and women. As both sexes age, they go through psychological transitions in which the "structures" they have developed to give meaning to their adult lives — typically, based on work and family — are reassessed and may be significantly modified.

These structures of adult life are often shaped by childhood dreams, which become a powerful driver of career aspirations. Women's dreams are more vulnerable than men's in a culture that has until recently done little to sustain those dreams. A young girl's deepest aspirations to lead can die if someone isn't there to listen to her dream, encourage it, sharpen its focus, and give her the space she needs to build vital structures for her work life as well as her family life.

Though society has much to do with defining the differences between men and women, women doubtless enter the marketplace with different biological wiring. Carol Gilligan, the Harvard psychologist, argued in A Different Voice (Harvard University Press) that when faced with life-altering decisions, women typically think first of the impact on the significant persons in their lives, and second of the impact on themselves. Males in our culture are socialized to develop independent, autonomous identities and to make decisions according to their own goals and preferences.

These observations have enormous implications for family structure, leadership, and succession planning in family businesses. Gilligan's work suggests that males may be more independent decision-makers, while women maybe more collaborative, inclusive, and process-oriented leaders. Most likely, however, a combination of both sets of qualities are essential in the corporation of the future. The crucial question is: How can both be nurtured in your daughter, the next CEO, through positive parenting? I would recommend the following based on the research literature and my own experience advising families in business:


1. Support development of all her talents


"You can do anything," the successful women political leaders were told. That message is not about foolhardy attempts to fly a plane across the country at age 7, but about testing your daughter's wings in age-appropriate skill-matched challenges, from soccer to surfing the Internet.

"You can take horseback riding lessons when you're as old as your brother was when he started — six years old."


2. Offer specific compliments to reinforce real accomplishments


In some cultures, notably the German, one is expected to do the job right the first time. An adult will comment only when a child makes mistakes, so it is better not to depend upon compliments. Some families I have known in the Midwestern United States are perhaps still influenced by the kindergarten movement which originated in Germany and stresses discipline and self-reliance in early classroom activities. But while false flattery is useless, children need clear, positive reinforcement for their efforts. We need to catch them being good more than than being bad.

"I like the way you picked up your toys, without my telling you..."


3. Allow her to take risks appropriate to her age and skills


The breadth of risk-taking is defined within a family. One family I know in the logging business did not consider it risky for an 11-year-old to climb to the top of a 100-foot hemlock tree and "ride it down" while his father cut through the final wedge in the trunk. In other families, girls and boys aren't allowed to talk with children of other faiths or races because of fear of differences. Parents who know their children well can calibrate the risks they let them take according to their age, skill, and maturity. They encourage their daughters as well as their sons to accept a challenge and "take the next step."

"If your instructor says you're ready, why don't you ski Black Diamond slope in the afternoon when it's sunny?"


4. Help her define realistic goals


No matter how great a swimmer she is, she will probably never be able to join the Navy Seals,, because there are real differences between men and women in large muscle power and stamina. Women are built for fine muscle movements, useful in fields from needlepoint to brain surgery to computer-aided design. Though large-muscle power may be necessary in the Navy Seals, however, it isn't particularly necessary in managing a family business. A young woman of intelligence and confidence can set realistic goals for herself that probably her grandmother — the one from Eastern Europe who couldn't write English but who nevertheless founded a successful dry cleaning chain — never would have fathomed.

"If you want to go to MIT, your mother and I will pay half your tuition and your room and board. If we do that, we expect your grades to be above a 3.00."


5. Give daughters "equal time" at the dinner table


Studies of teachers' behavior in classrooms repeatedly indicate that boys are called on more frequently than girls, which means the boys elicit more attention and, it seems, grow in confidence and leadership abilities, Parents can make the same mistake. Try a little experiment in your household: Keep track for a few nights of how much each of your children talks during dinner. If your daughters participate about as much as your sons- and are listened to without interruption you are raising potential leaders of both sexes. If they don't, find ways to encourage the girls to offer their opinions.

"Jennifer, who would you vote for if the Presidential election were held tomorrow?"


6. Ask her about her dreams of greatness


Little girls used to be limited to four dreams: They could be teachers, nurses, or secretaries, and after they worked at one or the other of those for a time, they could be homemakers and mommies. Now, even after three soccer practices a week, violin lessons, and Advanced Placement Chemistry, girls still need time to dream. As Carol Gilligan tells us, girls, dreams often change. Multitalentcd young women will hide brains with charm and defer to the boys around them for the sake of maintaining relationships. At age 8, Jennifer organized the play of all the kids on the block. Will she continue to follow her natural talent for leadership if she keeps getting the message it is a turnoff to those around her? Will her dreams then die?

The recent practice of participating in the annual "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" is an example of one way to help bright young women focus on the promise of the adult world beyond her teenage clique. Taking your daughter to Spain on your next business trip will stimulate her dreams even more. Or you can simply ask her to share her dreams with you (preferably when there's no TV, phone, or other distractions around). Just as important, perhaps you'll be able to share with your daughter some of your dreams for her.

"Where would you like to be in the year 2005? Where don't you want to be?"


7. Let her know that her capacity for empathy and consensus building are valued assets


The 1995 MassMutual survey affirmed that family businesses tend to reach decisions by consensus. It's no wonder: Whatever their disagreements at the office, the family still wants to celebrate Thanksgiving together. Women seem to have innate antennae for relationships and have been socialized for centuries in collaborative and consensus-building skills. The organizational ability needed to get the kids off to the school bus just in time can be mobilized to get orders delivered to customers "just in time." The feminine capacity for empathy can also be an enormous asset in sales and employee relations, especially if it is wedded to some healthy, creative aggression. The challenge for top management is to figure out how these complementary strengths of daughters can be most effectively utilized in the family business.

"Let Jennifer make the arrangements for our vacation trip because she knows what everyone wants and what to tell the travel agent."

THE AVERAGE LIFESPAN of women has doubled since the turn of the century, from 42 to 80 something. That remarkable development suggests, as Gloria Steinem has said, that women have become virtually a "new species." Whoever first said that women's primary role was to bear and raise children probably had it right. But once her adolescent children no longer want to hang out with Mom, what will she do with the other 35 to 40 years of her adult life?

Surely, that's time enough to become CEO of a major corporation. With all their hard-earned experience as moms, in managing human resources, in time and budget-monitoring, and in team-building, many women will be able to make the jump from tot lot to boardroom. That kind of leap is still as scary as bungee-jumping unless daughters have been brought up to accept risks, unless they have learned they are capable of doing almost anything, unless their parents have devoted considerable time and effort to mentoring them with great expectations.

The daughters who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s expected equal opportunity in sports as well as in competing for scholarships and stock options. They have emerged from the Saturday morning mud, as well as from the Harvard Law School, with a perception of themselves that is quite different from that of women in previous generations. The family business is ideally suited to making the best use of their substantial talents and remarkable dreams. The factory and the executive suite will probablybe a much different place when your daughter takes charge. The payoff for you is the thrill of watching her dream unfold, and seeing the family business grow more profitable under her steady,confident hand.


Ellen Frankenberg is a psychologist who advises families in business. She is president of Frankenberg Associates in Cincinnati, OH.


The Mommy CEO Track

During the 21st century, the ranks of women-owned businesses will expand exponentially. Consider:


  • The number of women-owned businesses has grown 43 percent since 1990, according to research by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that at least one-third of businesses in the country are owned by women.
  • The Bureau of the Census reports that women-owned businesses generated a total of $1.6 trillion in sales in 1992 (last figures available).

Most businesses created by women are still younger and smaller companies, but women have also been assuming control of older and larger organizations and managing them effectively for many years.

Ellen Gordon, president and COO of Tootsie Roll industries, joined her husband in managing her father's business after her children were grown. A dollar invested in her company in 1989 had doubled in value by 1994, surpassing the industry average.

Martha Ingram now heads the largest woman-owned business, Ingram Industries in Nashville, Tennessee. Ingram was public relations director of the $11 billion company, which she inherited after her husband's death last year.

Loida Lewis is now in charge of the largest black-owned business, TLC Beatrice International Holdings. She has brought a steady hand to the helm of the $2.1 billion conglomerate, which she took over after her husband's premature cleath.

For all their accomplishments in business and public life, however, most of the women I know are still the primary caregivers in their households. So long as it is women who bear children, biology will be destiny to a great extent. The "mommy track" may be a reality in some parts of corporate America, but perhaps the family business can develop some creative alternatives, so that daughters as well as sons can be enriched by careers as well as families.

The family business can support practical — and not just rhetorical — family values by providing flexible, part-time work schedules for daughters (or sons) who want to focus on raising the next generation. It may be the best investment of all in the future of the family business.

— ;E.F.

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How Marsha Sees It

Marsha Marson Moller, 35, is a vice-president of Newcan. In an interview, she offers her own view of the succession process at Newcan and the difficulty of preparing to follow in the footsteps of her father and uncle. Some comments reflect the fact that the interview took place before her marriage.

INTERVIEWER: As a child, did you imagine yourself working in the family company?

MARSHA: No, absolutely not. It had never entered my mind. When I was 13 1 had dreams about being a surgeon, but never, never anything about the family business. I really thought I was going to be married and have kids and be around the home.

Where did that vision of your future come from?

I think it was part of my generation. I think that no matter how ambitious and successful women my age are, it is something that we grapple with all the time. We were raised to be as our mother was, although my mother was certainly involved philanthropically and was a leader in all the organizations in which she participated. Still, my expectation was that I would maintain more of a traditional role as a homemaker than either my sister or I ended up doing.

What part of your experience was determined by the fact that you are a woman?

This is something that goes back to my childhood. This is sort of a joke between my father and me that, although I consider myself to be a feminine woman, I am the son he never had. And, you know, I was always told my name would have been Michael had I been a boy. I went to a college that had only been coed four years prior to my arriving there, so I was used to being in a very male-dominated environment.

Then I went into public accounting, which was very male-dominated. I had already been in so many situations where I was the only woman in a room of, you know, 50 men, so I wasn't nervous about that.

I could see when difficult situations would be coming. There were certainly issues in the factory, but I think it had more to do with the socioeconomic group that I was dealing with than the male-female issue, although that was certainly there, too.

There were confrontations with some of the blue-collar workers, and some initial resistance from some of the supervisors to my being here. I was very fortunate to have had a terrific mentor in the factory. He took me under his wing without hesitation. This is a fellow who had worked here for 25 years, and he knew my grandfather. He was the plant superintendent, so he paved the way for me and very willingly taught me everything that he had learned over his 20-plus years with the company. He also made sure that nobody bullied me. At times you need somebody to throw that punch for you because you can't always do it in the beginning.

Did it make a difference that you are in such a male-dominated industry?

Yeah, I think it did, but I have never been in anything else. I knew I was being tested by everybody when I went to visit customers. It probably took a couple of visits to customers over maybe a year and a half and then I think things were okay after that.

I am not sure that anybody was terribly overt. My father was very well-respected in the industry, so I think people treated me better than they would have somebody else. My father paved the way. Letters had gone out to all the customers that I was coming on board, that I had graduated with honors and was a CPA, and that established a little bit of credibility as well.

Also, I initially visited some of the key accounts with my father, so there were appropriate introductions; I wasn't just thrown to the wolves.

How did you deal with the discrimination and chauvinistic treatment?

I remember one supplier used some kind of phrasing, maybe four years ago, about how he just wanted to stroke me and to get in bed with us, or something like that. He didn't mean me in particular, but I almost hung up the phone on him. I wouldn't return his calls or buy from him, because I just don't choose to do business with somebody that backward and who also happens to be pretty close to a contemporary of mine.

What will be the impact of running a family business on the other aspects of your life?

Well, I am currently engaged, so maybe if you call me in five years, I can answer that question. As far as a specific family life, I can only conjecture what it will be like with children and a home and a husband and running a business at the same time. In some respects I see that I would be afforded more flexibility, and in other respects I see it as being a very stressful situation when I'd have to travel and have to go into the plant for an emergency. I think it is a very difficult balancing act, but on the other hand it helps that I am my own boss. I set my own hours. In the future I could set my own salary, so I wouldn't be strapped if I had to hire lots of help to bring me places, to bring my kids places, to clean my house.

So it appears that you want it all — business, marriage, children, social life, and community activities.

I know my view differs from a man's point of view, in that my family would always come first and the business would come second. I think my father would.... I don't know how he would draw that line. I think it would be the other way.

Will that have any negative implications for the business?

No, absolutely not. If you have the right people in place in the organization, if you have distributed responsibility, you can function as an executive in absentia, away from the place for a period of time if you have to be. Maybe you will miss out on a couple of opportunities, but I certainly don't think it would be anything devastating. I think that the trade-offs are worse the other way around.

Can you summarize the ways you think your experience would have been different if you had been a man?

The proving time for me to be accepted as the successor in the business would, I think, have been shorter had I been a man. I think it would have been clearly stated up front by my father and my uncle that I was being groomed to take over the business.

My father and my uncle, I think — just because of the way they had been raised and the traditional roles that women have had — almost couldn't believe that I wanted to do what I am still doing. It just didn't fit into their image. To them I am still the daughter and the niece.

I am not saying that if I were a man I would have been told that after a year I would be the successor. But it would have been more clearly delineated that I was being groomed to be that; at a future date I would have been told that I was definitely it; and also at a future date I would have gotten stock and those kinds of things. Those things I had to fight a little bit more for, I think, than if I had been a male.

I think the estate planning would have been much faster also. We started first with the revamping of the estate plan before we really started to talk about succession and building a management team for the future, so I think if I had been a male the whole process would have been quickened considerably.

Do you have any advice for other daughters who are considering entering the family business?

The biggest piece of advice I would give them is to work on the outside before they come into the family business. If they don't have an open relationship with their father so that they can communicate about most subjects, they should really seriously consider whether the business is the place for them. If they can't discuss things as adults regarding money, finances, deaths, births, love, marriage, divorce — all those topics that get wound up in family business — then there could be some serious bottlenecks.

That's what I am really saying: If you think it's worth the struggle, then go ahead and go for it.

I think I have an advantage over most other women because every subject with my father has always been very open. I think my father was the one who told me about sex — the birds and the bees — so we have always had a very special relationship.

Sometimes we fall back into the father-daughter routine, and other times it's just like adults talking. All those advantages of a family business — developing an even closer relationship with the parent, carrying on the family name and the tradition, the power that is associated with the family business, the financial rewards, a tremendous amount of responsibility and gratification — those things are terrific and outweigh all the family mishmash that can get in the way, at least they do for me.

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My Daughter, My Successor

Our business was started in 1900 by my grandfather. He was succeeded by my father, who actively ran the company until the mid-1950s.

My brother, Richard, and I are our parents' only children; I am 65, the elder by seven years. We each entered the business after graduating from college. Because the stock in the corporation has not been widely distributed, we have had the opportunity to maintain continuity in family values and philosophy through three generations, and now into the fourth. Our company, Newcan, in Holbrook, Massachusetts, manufactures perforated metal tubes and components for the filter industry.

I don't think that either my brother or I had given much thought to whether our children would enter the business. Both my daughters, Deborah and Marsha, worked for us during summer breaks from college. My brother's two older children worked for us either during college breaks or for relatively extended periods of time thereafter.

My wife and I helped our daughters establish their goals and urged them to attain them, but we rarely interfered. I recall that Deborah, my oldest, once contemplated taking a year off from college to "find herself." I told her I did not approve but would voice no further opposition. However, I let her know if she didn't "find herself" back at college the following week, she had better "find herself" some money during her sabbatical in order to complete college when she decided to return! My wife and I have little tolerance for such self-indulgence, and Deborah and Marsha knew it.

My wife has been a good role model. When the children were young she was president of a number of philanthropic organizations. Later she had a business career; she ran a steel-purchasing firm and then became a purchasing agent for a weight-loss organization, for which she worked for over 20 years. Our daughters heard the details of her work and learned of her strict work ethic not by lecture but by observation. I have always maintained a positive attitude about the business, and have made it part of my conversation at home. There was a lot of dining-room training. Both of my daughters would be up early on weekday mornings and would join me at the kitchen table, there to be regaled with the challenges of the day at the company. Marsha, who now is 35, would take business trips with me whenever she could find the time.

I really never thought about Marsha's coming in the business until the day we were discussing her course election at college, and I suggested that she take a few engineering courses. After all, I said to her, it would be very helpful if for some reason she had to make judgments regarding the company.

But Marsha didn't think that engineering was such a good idea and went on to major in accounting and finance. After college she went to work for a Big Six accounting firm. After she had earned her CPA certificate she received offers to become controller at one or two of her client companies.

It was at that point that I, or perhaps she, suggested the company as a career alternative. I have to concede that it was a very attractive concept for me. I didn't want to pressure her, but I did want to nurture the idea. So in February of 1981 I wrote her a five-page letter discussing the family business, the sacrifices it required, and the potential rewards it might yield.

How wonderful it would be, I remember thinking, to have continuity of management, to know after a century the company would still be producing benefits and employment for the family. Being a major stockholder in a successful family business conveys a sense of security and well-being. There will be another generation to take care of you. It is a role reversal in a certain sense, as the responsibility transfers from the father to the child. There is an implicit rite of passage. But in our case it was complicated by the uncertainty of a female succeeding in a heavy industry that has traditionally been a male bastion.

It was in the summer that Marsha decided, quite on her own and to my delight, to discuss joining the company. She sat in my office and told Richard and me that we would have to be competitive for her to maintain her interest. I think that Richard felt she was pushing us, but she had received offers to become a controller and did not want to start to work for less than they offered. I couldn't have been more pleased; I was then 54, and Richard was 47. Although we had plenty of vigor and drive we both knew that we would have to start building a different organization during the next decade. To build it around a family member, one who would share our interest and dedication, provided a marvelous nucleus for a future organization. At the time the decision to hire Marsha was being made, my older daughter, Deborah, had become a lawyer; my brother's two older children were on different career paths of their own, and his third child was still in high school. That left us with only one of the fourth generation who was a candidate to participate in the business. Richard and I agreed that we would meet the competition.

Accounting was to be only an ancillary part of Marsha's routine. She was being groomed to run the business, and numbers were very important, but she had to be a manufacturing generalist.

The transition from public accounting to manufacturing was not difficult, but there was a culture change that amazed Marsha even though I had, in my preliminary letter, detailed the type of people she would come in contact with in the factory. She encountered uneducated people with openly expressed prejudices, the lack of a work ethic, inconsistent performances even from highly compensated foremen, and in some instances employees whose personal hygiene was obviously poor. Deliberately introducing one's daughter into such an environment is not terribly comforting.

It didn't help my morale when I observed some uncomplimentary writing about her on the men's room wall. Rather than become angry I concluded the person who wrote it was stupid, but for a father the incident was disquieting. I assumed that there were jokes about her not only because she was the "boss's daughter" but because she was a woman. They would not have been spread around had it been a son working for us rather than a daughter.

Some of the details of just how we started are somewhat blurred. I seem to recall, however, that we gave Marsha long hours of exposure on the factory floor, provided her with all the technical literature we had at our disposal, and had the key foremen and engineers spend much time with her explaining how equipment worked. My brother worked tirelessly with her, teaching her with the same intensity and commitment he would have shown had Marsha been his own daughter.

The preparation and training was more intensive than it would have been for a son, for, rightly or wrongly, we felt that she had less knowledge about mechanics and manufacturing. We wanted to prepare her to be more than credible in our male-dominated industry, where we felt the initial presumptions would be that she would know less than a man.

After a while she took charge of our cutting department, where she issued the orders for cutting material and coordinating that production with the needs of our manufacturing departments. As an extension of those responsibilities, she learned how to purchase special material that averaged down our costs. We ultimately turned over the production-control planning of the entire plant to her, and she now chairs the production-control meetings.

I taught her my estimating techniques, which involved pricing and the proper utilization of the most economical manufacturing techniques. This portion of her apprenticeship also involved travel and selling, first in conjunction with me and soon, at her insistence, on her own. When Marsha and I first traveled together I would give her cues so she could participate. Soon that was not necessary, and she needed no prompting to join in the conversation and establish herself as an expert in her field.

On her initial solo trips she was frequently tested by engineers and technically oriented people who were trying to assess her level of knowledge. They seemed to be trying to deliberately confuse her by using jargon. Furthermore, she was asked questions about our proprietary manufacturing techniques, which in the past customers had tried unsuccessfully to explore with me and Richard. Marsha was equal to the task of responding to technical questions and was never tricked into revealing more than the customer was entitled to know.

Marsha also became the company representative on our labor negotiating team. She worked well with our attorney and with the union business agents. She was decisive and tough when it was necessary. People knew that she would not put up with nonsense. I think that she was more sensitive to the needs of employees, and we had debates on how much more "touchy-feely" she was than I or my brother. Her feminine assets enhanced her role.

In the financial end of the business she shared with us detailed monthly statements on all facets of our operation, reviewed the weekly aging of the receivables, and watched the cash flow. She was included and fully participated in every major decision.

We accelerated Marsha's moving into a full executive role by utilizing intensive training. She had the interest, intellect, and stamina to absorb huge amounts of information and contribute innovative ideas. Early on, we gave her check-signing power and had her sign the foremen's checks in case they doubted our resolve to groom this woman executive. We eventually made her a vice-president and a stockholder in the company.

With the foremen and office personnel there were a few times that I had to clarity her importance, the necessity of her training for the success of our plans, and the impact of her entry on the future continuity of the company management. I am known for my candor and I was able to get my point across. Marsha never encountered any direct resistance from the foremen, but she did sense a resistance to cooperate and observed that they tended to forget to provide her with the information she requested or to procrastinate before responding to her requests.

I don't think there was any appreciable trauma for the employees. Marsha has essentially adopted our management style and I believe the employees are comfortable with her. Many of our mature male customers act paternalistically toward her and she is made very welcome on her business visits. She can even overlook their sometimes chauvinistic terms of endearment because she feels that they do respect her abilities. She handles some of our largest accounts almost exclusively.

But should a supplier use the term "honey" or "dear" Marsha is likely to become very upset. She claims she can spot a male chauvinist a mile away. One supplier inadvertently took himself off the approved list when he used the phrase "get in bed with you" as a metaphor for a long-term business relationship. I think she overreacted, but he was a terrible supplier anyway and the incident gave her the opportunity to respond to insensitivity in doing business with a woman. Were the situation duplicated today, I think that she would be just as angry but would outwardly deal with the situation more diplomatically.

The major changes took place at the level of the family's interests in the business. Before, we were essentially a two-person company. The stock was owned by me and my brother and our mother. Richard and I had a stock-purchase agreement in which, when one of us died, the company would repurchase the stock of the deceased with the proceeds of some life insurance policies. Through this medium and with some insurance in other vehicles we had established ample estates. It made both of us feel good to know that we had taken these steps to protect our families.

But how does one give a member of the next generation stock if there are restrictions on such gifts in the stock-purchase agreement? If there is only a child from one side of the family working in the business, it might be inappropriate for the grandmother to make gifts of such stock. How does one deal with this issue in a family that has had rules of equality for three generations?

The matter of equity in the business became the focus of much energy and expense. The fact that it was inevitably intertwined with estate planning and the security and well-being of the family made it very complex.

I think it took three years and innumerable meetings with accountants, lawyers, and laymen to come up with the solution. Even the solution we reached is incomplete, because it does not deal with a transfer of voting stock or leave the fourth-generation management ultimately with more than 50 percent ownership. It is, however, a start and answers a very rational target of Marsha's, which was to either become a stockholder in 10 years or leave. It was separate from anything I had done for her mother, and, frankly, it was substantially more than I had done for her sister, because Marsha's situation was unique. The equality rules were bent to accommodate this situation. Considering the personal sacrifices her commitment entails, I believe that was a reasonable position.

We made many mistakes struggling for the solution. We sacrificed countless hours and spent a lot of money, but the final product is very good. I don't think there was an easier way, though I wish there had been. It is very difficult to balance diverse interests and concerns and solve them in one simple document.

The prospect of Marsha becoming disenchanted with the business or simply running out of energy adds pressure to our daily lives. Marsha, as one would suspect, would not be an advocate for a sale. I have mixed emotions, for although I would like more time to do the things I enjoy I also want to provide a career for my daughter, and I am convinced that my future is more secure owning a viable business than being an investor.

The logical solution is to begin to build a support group around Marsha, one that will be in place, trained, experienced, and ready to perform long before time takes its inevitable toll on Richard and me.

If all goes according to plan, a few years hence we will hire a general manager to help Marsha oversee the entire operation. We hope to establish an orderly transition of total responsibility for the company from one generation to the next. Although our departure may not be as quick as some might like, having such an organization in place makes good sense as a defense against the unknown.

However, I am concerned that, very subtly, pressure is being put on Marsha. If the additional staff is going to work out, if her career is going to continue in this enterprise, she will have to provide much of the energy. It is a tall order in a tough business environment, and I worry that the demands on her time and stamina could have a negative impact on her personal life. Can a woman be both feminine and a competent executive at the same time?

Once the managerial team is in place, other problems must be addressed. We are rapidly approaching the time when the kitchen-table board of directors will become a liability. As a complement to Marsha's managerial role, a carefully selected board could be invaluable.

It would probably be a different experience and quite uncomfortable for Marsha to have to hold action in abeyance until a board of directors approves. There could be appreciable costs associated with lost opportunities. On the other hand, for those members of the family who do not participate daily in business decisions, serving on the board would give them an element of control over one of their important assets, which would be desirable and reassuring.

As I reflect on this experience, I realize that perhaps I didn't know what I was offering to Marsha, and she didn't know what she was accepting.

How would I suggest that fathers deal with daughters in similar situations? Prepare the orientation and training very carefully and be certain to enlist the aid of your entire staff. Your daughter will expect to enter a professional environment, and proper preparation will demonstrate the seriousness of your purpose and make her feel that her job is meaningful to the organization and to the family.

Try to remain open-minded; she will bring feminine assets that may be missing in your organization. These should not be construed as weakness, for they may include sensitivity to human relations that should indeed be demonstrated by management. You will be astounded at her ability to provide back-up and fresh perspective. Don't stifle it.

Remember that the business provides diametrically opposite forces. It will pull the two of you together, but, simultaneously, it will induce much more tension than the customary father-daughter relationship. You may get angry but probably not as much as you might with a son, especially since it is quite impossible to ignore the fact that she is a woman. Anyway, a little restraint is good for the soul.

We use a technique that helps separate business life from family life. While we are at the office or calling on customers, she always addresses me as David; it is businesslike and provides her with equality. When we leave the business, I am once again "Daddy," and that appellation tends to submerge any tensions we may have experienced. It worked for me and my father, and it works for me and Marsha.

If there is more than one child either in or out of the business, you may feel comfortable giving them equal treatment in all conceivable economic situations. It makes for easy decisions. Remember, however, that the concept of equality often obscures the issue of fairness. Your daughter will expect you to appropriately recognize her special effort and treat her fairly.

It's distressing to contemplate your age, the end of your career, retirement and its concomitant loss of power, your demise. The closely held firm and the family passively demand that your attention focus in this direction, for management succession is vital for the health of the business and the welfare of the family and employees. Richard endorsed the concept of family succession, and together we dealt with the issues.

Would the transition have been easier if Marsha had been a man? Frankly, yes. There would have been fewer barriers to break down, fewer precedents to establish. It would have been easier for me, and I would not have had as many concerns about the present and the future. I suppose I feel that I could commit a son to long hours, hard work, and the uncertainty of the future without the same worries as with a daughter. Those concerns were based not on doubts about her ability, but on emotional elements between fathers and daughters.

Would a son have been more readily accepted by the employees, particularly the rank and file? Unquestionably, yes. The paternal attitude they displayed to Richard and me when we entered the business could hardly be replicated with Marsha. After 10 years I am not certain that the emotional gap has been bridged, but the working relationship is effective. In forging the areas of understanding it has produced a very tough Marsha, one who can stand on her own and brooks no nonsense.

In the long run the fact that Marsha is a woman will have no adverse effect on the business. She will, of course, make some decisions based on her feminine point of view, but that in no way discredits those conclusions. Essentially she is a very competent, talented, highly motivated executive, and a business person with excellent judgment and a good sense of timing.

I wonder what I might have done differently. At times when the going has been really tough I have questioned whether or not I did Marsha a disservice in encouraging her to join the family firm. It troubles me when I think about the future and Marsha holding down the fort by herself, not only because she is a woman, but also because she could be doing it alone. That is why we are building — and must build — a quality management team while both Richard and I are active.

I summed up my worries in my 1981 letter to Marsha: "Now, let's deal with some of my concerns. Although I have absolute confidence in your abilities and am certain that you would become a very capable executive, I have never been able to disengage myself from the concept that female equals fragile, and I still feel somewhat cast in the role of not only your father but your protector. For, indeed, running a business is a tough life, both mentally and physically. The hours are long; the leadership role is difficult and, at times, enervating; travel is ultimately a bore, and it is characteristic of closely held corporations that successes cause great elation while failures swing the emotional pendulum in the other direction, eliciting great depression.

"To effectively manage a business calls for an inner toughness and tremendous staying power, as well as a keen awareness for recognizing opportunities. It demands expertise in your field, integrity, and just plain hard work."

If those two paragraphs touch on the parental anxiety and the toll running the family business can take, the following excerpt from my note welcoming her aboard sums up the potential joy of working with your daughter and, I am certain for my brother, with his niece:

"When Papa Julie died [Marsha's grandfather] I stated that I had lost much more than a father; I lost a partner and friend. I hope our relationship matures to that point! As sure that I am that it will, I also know that life sometimes takes funny turns. I want you to always feel free to come to me if you are unhappy or tired or discouraged. I am your father first and always, and you never need to be timid about broaching any subject concerning our relationship or your aspirations for a full and meaningful life."

The trouble and hard work are accepted. The camaraderie and mutual regard are virtually impossible to replicate in other family situations. Together, the three of us have experienced adversity and success and have responded to an environment much different from that of the rest of the family. The trust is unquestioned among the three of us; the questions will be resolved somehow. The experience is rewarding.

David M. Marson is president of Newcan, a manufacturer of metal tubes and components for the filter industry in Holbrook, Mass. This article and the interview that follows were adapted with permission from Family Business Review, Vol. III, No.2, pp.183-198. ©1990 by Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, Calif. 94104. For subscription information, phone 415-433-1767

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Debra Benditz's Pipe Dream?

After five years at her dad's company in Houston, which supplies pipe for drilling oil wells, Debra Benditz itched to have a larger say in how things were run, but her father tended to wave off her marketing suggestions. What's more, he had already indicated that one of Debra's younger brothers would succeed him as CEO of the Continental Casing Corp. Even today, Paul Benditz admits he is more concerned about helping establish his sons in the business than in doing the same for his daughter.

So when Debra turned 26, she decided to take a shot at starting her own business. The year was 1984, when falling oil prices had led to a virtual standstill in the drilling of new wells. Despite an industry-wide depression, Debra launched her own oil-field pipe supply house, L-Leighty Tubular Products, with $5,000 she had stashed away while selling pipe for her father.

Within two months, her new pipe company had turned a profit. By the end of her first year, sales had topped $1 million, and her client list looked like an oil industry Who's Who. Now six years old, L- Leighty (the name is a play on the company's specialty, a pipe labeled L-80) has never had a year in the red. Debra credits her success to gumption, perseverance, and youthful ignorance.

Debra's decision to leave the family business represents one choice that is open to daughters whose worst nightmare is eventually losing out to brothers: Learn the business in the family company; then, when you're ready, strike out on your own.

What is original about Debra's solution is that her company shares offices with Continental Casing, even though the family company is one of her biggest competitors and she and her dad covet the same customers. "I wouldn't use the word I 'steal,'" she says. "But, yes, sometimes he takes customers from me, and sometimes I take them from him." There have been times while visiting her parents, "when he's shaken his finger at me over the dinner table and said, 'Damn it, leave my customers alone."'

Some authorities on family businesses say that sons tend to join the firm to compete with their fathers, while daughters do it to be closer to their fathers. All generalizations oversimplify, but this one certainly doesn't cover Debra, who manages to be close to her father and compete with him, too.

The whole Benditz family is close, even though all four of Debra's brothers are either in business with their father or run companies that compete with hers. Daniel, 28, runs a linepipe supply house that complements his father's drilling pipe business; David, 31, has a trucking company that hauls the family's pipe to market; Dale, 26, is president of Continental Casing and heir-apparent; and Douglas, 24, recently was appointed yard manager in his father's pipe yard. All of them have offices at the edge of the grounds in the same ramshackle trailer building that has endured several slapped-on additions.

As president of one of the few female-owned pipe houses in the oil-field supply business, Debra is something of a rarity. A statuesque brunette, Debra favors tailored wool separates, bold jewelry, silk scarves, and leather pumps, which seem out of place as she tramps through the mud of the 40-acre pipe yard she shares with her father on the outskirts of Houston.

She started as a receptionist at her father's pipe supply house in 1979, soon working her way up to the sales office, learning the lingo of the oil patch and backslapping sales techniques by trial and error. Before long, she could "good-old-boy" her customers with the best of them and became one of her dad's top salespersons, accounting for some 23 percent of the company's profit.

"Learning how to sell was the biggest hurdle for me," she says. "There were days when I used to pray people wouldn't answer their phones, because my palms would sweat and I'd get sick to my stomach. But I bad to prove that I wasn't going to let anyone dictate my future."

Debra didn't go into the pipe business because she wanted to be a feminist pioneer; selling pipe was simply what she knew best. "I talked to one banker who said he would loan me the money if I wanted to open a flower shop or a bakery," she recalls. "But I wanted to do the pipe yard. So I got up and walked out."

Despite her bad timing in launching her business, she has done several things that have assured her success. During the apprenticeship at her father's company, she honed her sales pitch and pampered her customers. Thus, when she jumped ship, some of the company's biggest customers jumped with her. She also wisely chose to limit her product line at first to L-80, a high-grade alloy pipe that was much in demand by major oil companies but hard to find in the field.

She has since expanded her product line as customer demand and cash flow have picked up. Now she sells more than three dozen products, essentially everything that her father's and brothers' companies sell — at highly competitive prices. "There are some customers I know will call my father and me," she says, "and, having worked there, I have a pretty good idea what price they'll quote, so I have an advantage."

Debra has kept her young business in the black by maintaining a tight rein on expenditures; her staff consists of a salesman she hired in the business's second year. She also refuses to let big customers stretch out their payments. "Doing business with big corporations can be the death of a small company, because they never want to pay in less than 90 to 120 days," Debra says. "I have a mouth for everything else, so I decided I might as well use it to collect my bills."

Her company benefits from the fact that most major oil companies have policies requiring that some portion of their business be reserved for minority- or female-owned suppliers. Debra insists that she has positioned her company to compete on the basis of product, price, and service. "I'm not selling the fact that I'm a woman," she says, testily. "I'm selling pipe." In fact, Shell Oil Co., her first major account, may have sought her out because she qualified as a minority supplier. But because she delivered the goods, Shell has kept coming back.

Debra's success raises the question of why her father hasn't yet slapped down this young pup who keeps nipping at his heels. A big part of the answer is that Paul Benditz's company is easily 10 times larger than his daughter's. "I'm not so sure she's competition," he says. "But, realistically, there is some business out there that's available to her that's not to us, because she's a woman-owned business." May as well keep as much of the pie as possible in the family, he figures.

The rest of the answer is a father's pride in seeing his children succeed. "All their lives I've encouraged my children to be self-sufficient and self-employed," Paul says. "I've encouraged every one of them to have their own business and do their own thing.

"Debra is a dynamic, outgoing individual, who is certainly capable of making her company as big as mine some day if she wants to. And I hope she does, because we supply her with some products from time to time. That means more business for us."

Debra says she remains close to her father because she understands him so well. "We've been told we're very much alike — both strong, hard-headed, and tenacious. Because I'm a mirror of him and his abilities, he challenges me just enough to try to prove me wrong. But it's never done obnoxiously. It's done with love."

She is much more competitive with her younger brother Daniel, who runs Continental Tubular Corp. "I guess it goes back to when my brothers were all playing football," she recalls. "Since I couldn't play, I couldn't compete with them. Now, in business, I can compete with them on an equal footing."

One sore point between her and Daniel is a major customer whose business she had originally brought in while working for her father. When Debra left, she took the account with her. He remained her biggest customer until he hired a new buyer, who promptly switched the business back to her dad and brother. Debra is still hoping to get him back, however. "I keep telling my brother that if the original buyer ever comes back, he's history."

All the Benditz sibs still turn to their father for advice; it has saved Debra a bundle, especially in the early days of her company. She remembers racing into her father's office late one Friday to tell him, excitedly, about a large pipe order phoned in by an unknown out-of-state buyer who needed the shipment right away. Debra recalls: "I can still remember him telling me: 'If you are willing to sell to that person, are you also willing to swallow the hickey if his check bounces?' I hadn't thought of that possibility. But I didn't get burned, because I took Dad's advice and didn't sell to them."

Her father's support and counsel have been invaluable, Debra says. "I guess the best advice he ever gave me is that people don't have to like you to respect you. That and: 'It's not how much you make in life, it's what you keep that counts.'"


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Getting Off the Daughter Track

When Irving Perlman, owner of Louis Perlman & Sons, died in October 1988, a local newspaper in western Massachusetts ran a story entitled, "The demise of the Perlman firm: All the Perlman men are dead."

Jane Perlman, a Boston social worker, was furious when she read that sexist headline, but she realized the article's conclusion was probably correct. The scrap metal yard founded by her grandfather in 1912 was in danger of closing down for lack of a successor. Her uncle, Irving, was dead; her father, Irving's brother and partner, had died years before. Neither brother had had any sons. Jane returned to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to solicit bids for the yard. But a funny thing happened: She fell in love with the business and decided to run it herself. Since then, Jane has managed Louis Perlman & Sons (which she has no intention of renaming) with a steady hand.

One reason that so many family businesses fail to pass to a new generation may be that fathers have overlooked half of their potential successors—their daughters. In the past, daughters have taken over a family business only after the sudden death or illness of a key male family member, or when sons didn't want to run it, and are often thrust into the role with little or no preparation. "I liked to hang around the yard when I was growing up," Jane Perlman, now 39, recalls. "I was crazy about my father, but I never envisioned myself working here—they said it was no place for a girl."

Times may be changing. The modern-day business owner has a hard time denying his daughter a place when she comes home with a Harvard MBA in hand. In 1986, 20,849 MBAs were awarded to women in the United States—up 70 percent from 1980. More and more highly qualified women are knocking at the doors of their family businesses today. They cannot be turned away, but their rise may be blocked by lingering conflicts unique to the father-daughter relationship. In a recent survey of Family Business subscribers, the 24 percent of respondents who are female complained that they were significantly less satisfied than men with the way their relatives treat them, and with their lack of control over their compensation, company policy, and long-term planning (see FB, February 1990).

Colette Dumas, a professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal, recently studied 18 family businesses that have both a father and a daughter in them. One common problem Dumas saw was what she called the "Snow White Syndrome." A daughter who feels a need for more intimacy with her parents goes into the father's business. They spend long hours together at the office, share confidences, and constantly talk business. Their closeness incites feelings of rivalry and jealousy in the mother, similar to those dramatized by the wicked stepmother in the fairy tale. To avoid stirring up those feelings, dad may unconsciously impede his daughter's rise in the business.

"Unless there's some resolution of this syndrome," says Dumas, "a daughter will remain invisible and without a voice. A daughter must learn to be more confident in what she has to offer the family business." But that doesn't necessarily mean she must run to a therapist's couch. Simple and practical ways to boost confidence include acquiring experience, new skills, and taking classes. The next step, though, is not so simple. Dumas notes "She must ultimately push forward and try to stand up to the father. In doing so, she may be earning his respect."

Researchers such as Dumas are just beginning to notice that father-daughter business relationships often depart from the well-documented father-son experiences. "It's dangerous to give managerial advice to daughters based on studies conducted on fathers and sons," she says. "Much of the literature focuses on the conflict that arises between fathers and sons around issues of control, power, and competition." Different conflicts haunt daughters, she says, "who wish, on the one hand, to take care of the father and, on the other hand, to take charge of the business."

Daughters are also likely to encounter more resistance from nonfamily managers, who may accept a son as a legitimate successor but view a daughter as what Dumas calls a "usurper." A daughter is usually socialized to be less aggressive than a son, especially with her father, Dumas says, but in the business "she may be forced to assert herself indirectly with another—the manager—rather than directly with the father." Half the businesses in her study had such a problem. In some cases, daughters attempted to protect their fathers and the business from the "bad" manager; in other cases, the managers tried to protect the boss and the business from the "bad" daughter.

Most of the daughters in Dumas's study complained about being treated like "daddy's little girl." For years they may be, in Dumas's phrase, "the invisible successor." Their fathers' image of them as fragile and defenseless makes it hard for them to assert themselves. One daughter reported that she still had to kiss her father every morning or she would hurt his feelings.

While other studies have shown that many fathers often don't treat their sons as fully responsible adults at the office, they seem to have even more difficulty seeing their daughters this way. Dumas says "the tensions resulting from role carryover are even stronger for daughters ... since sons have been socialized to join the business and are seen as eventual successors."

Daughters may enter the business for different reasons than do sons. Young men typically strive to separate themselves from their fathers and assert their independence in the business, while young women may find more satisfaction in the work because it strengthens their attachment to the father or another significant person in their lives.

In a 1982 survey, John Ward, professor of private enterprise at the School of Business of Loyola University in Chicago, asked 200 male and female successors to list the most important reasons they joined and stayed in their family business. The overwhelming majority of sons answered, "To someday be in charge of my own business." Most of the daughters, however, said, 'To provide opportunities to stay close to my family."

Given their different motivation, Ward thinks women in the business "frequently will emerge informally as the leader of the team," even if they are not given the formal title of CEO. "The daughter, if she's motivated by what the daughters in my study are, will say, 'My best contribution will be to build a good team.' In a good team, you don't even know who the leader is."

Barbara Hollander, a family business consultant in Pittsburgh, agrees that "daughters will work very hard to manage conflict." She adds, "Their cultural inclination to be the 'family glue' works for and against them. Sometimes they want so badly to avoid conflict that they put their own goals on the back burner."

Some daughters are not so willing to subordinate their aspirations for the good of the family team. Some go to the opposite extreme, putting their own interests above everyone else's. In a paper on how to prepare daughters to be successors, Dumas describes three common types of behavior in the firms she studied.

Daddy's little girl

Almost half the daughters studied were content to work in their father's shadow. Such a daughter, says Dumas, is "incapable of speaking up or of trusting in her own identity enough to act in her own best interests or those of the firm."

One daughter in her early 30's had worked several years outside the familyfirm. She joined the company, a manufacturer of consumer products, to help her father after her brother quit the business. She was very close to her father and would listen patiently to his business problems and bolster his morale. After five years she became the company's sales representative. But she worked in close collaboration with her father and followed his sales routine. Later, when her father suggested that she step up to marketing director, she refused. She knew she would have to act more independently in the new position, and would not be working as closely with her father. She was more comfortable letting him take the lead.

The need to manage a fragile sense of identity appears to have limited her perception of the roles she could play in the family firm," says Dumas. "The expression of emotions and caring are an asset in family businesses. However, if the daughter orients her behavior solely toward caring for her father, to the exclusion of actions which would be beneficial to the organization's effectiveness and survival, she will not be prepared to take over the CEO's role."

The wild ones

One daughter took advantage of her father's long absence to overhaul the company's distribution system, which she felt was outdated and inefficient. In an interview with Dumas, she explained that she had proposed the changes to her father, but he wouldn't listen— "After all, I'm only his daughter and I had to keep my mouth shut."

She recalls, "Finally, one time he was having some problems with his health so he went on vacation for three months. I was in charge, so I decided it was time for some changes. I hired a manager to work with me—my father had never wanted to spend the money—and together we revamped the distribution system. We even bought a computer. Then, instead of running out to make deliveries to customers whenever they called for the littlest thing, we scheduled a delivery day for each customer, with a new, efficient route.

"Well, some of the customers weren't happy at first, because my father had catered to their wishes. He knows every customer by name, and even knows their usual orders. My father? He wasn't happy with the new setup at all!"

This daughter was proud of her take-charge ability. But she had risked the company by embarking on a major change without consulting anyone in the business.

A few "wild ones" emerged in Dumas's group. Like "daddy's little girls," they suffer from injured self-esteem, in her view. Their behavior appears to be "rebellious, oriented toward sabotaging the business and changing its fundamental culture." They are impulsive risk-seekers who are constantly engaged in power struggles, all of which makes them sound uncomfortably like men. Dumas agrees that "those labels are considered normal for a son, but not for a daughter." She adds: "We need to reexamine what our expectations are for women's behavior ... [and] reexamine old models of male behavior—imagine what it's like for a son who doesn't exhibit these behaviors."

Caretaker of the king's gold

A balance was achieved, by almost half of the daughters in Dumas's study, between dependent and rebellious behavior, between supporting the father and running the business. These are women who still get much satisfaction from gaining the appreciation of their father, Dumas stresses, but who also have learned to assert themselves, fight for their views, and use conflict productively. They are likely to make good successors.

"We're very supportive of one another," one of these daughters said about her relationship with her father. "Now that he's getting older, I'm able to take over when he needs some vacation. He can relax knowing I'm in charge. He trusts me with the business." Another daughter said: "He knows that if there's an emergency, I'm going to hop to it and take care of it; whereas before [my arrival], he always had to be 100 percent, 24 hours a day, conscious of the business."

Dumas's sample was small and all based in Southern California. Her description of general types, however, is useful in understanding the pressures on daughters in the family business. It also highlights the different qualities women bring to a business, which are often not fully appreciated by their fathers.

The father in Snow White is almost completely absent from the story. He is a remote figure who does nothing to protect his daughter from the wicked stepmother's plots. In the family business, the father may overlook his daughter because of ingrained stereotypes of women as emotional and weak. As Dumas puts it, a daughter's "dependent or intimate behaviors can often be interpreted as undesirable or inappropriate in our society, where the demonstration of strong independence is valued. Therefore, if daughters are judged according to these 'masculine' values, they may be found wanting, and judged incapable of successfully managing the business."

Today many daughters no longer want to be treated like Snow White. They are speaking up, asserting their goals, and getting their fathers' attention. "Becoming a successor by default was the most common situation for daughters 10 years ago, where there were no sons to take over or because the sons couldn't get along with dad," says consultant Barbara Hollander. "But more and more daughters are winning by announcing their candidacy and giving it a shot."

Robin Bacci of R.A.B. Motors, a Mercedes-Benz, Bentley,and Rolls Royce dealer in San Rafael, California, is typical. As a student, Robin had worked summers and weekends filing repair orders at the dealership owned by her father, Roland Bacci. After college, she started out as a bookkeeper, then gained experience in other departments, including sales. Deciding that she wanted to run the company's overseas delivery program, she asked her father to give her a shot. He agreed—and she increased sales by 25 percent in her first year.

When the sales manager quit in 1983, Robin asked her father for that job. Once again, he agreed. And four years ago, when her father, the general manager, was involved in building a new office building for the company, she suggested that he let her run the day-to-day operations of the dealership, with the title of general manager.

Robin's father has granted her three wishes, but he admits to some reservations about her last promotion: "I was a little apprehensive about a woman being general manager over all the managers and workers—all men. But she is aggressive and has always proved herself."

Another tough question arises when a daughter assumes a major role in a family business. The father's resistance may be based on a concern about whether a daughter can juggle both business and children—that is, his business, with all the demands and stress he knows goes with it, and his grandchildren.

Even Robin Bacci, 34, may face an uphill battle on this front. Robin is single and sometimes works 70 hours a week. Asked whether he'd like his daughter to marry and have kids, Roland Bacci, now 63, says: "I think about that a lot. I think she could manage both kids and the business; she's real strong. But I don't know if I'd want her to do both. She already works so hard. I guess, if she thought she could do both, I'd let her." But Roland hopes that Robin will eventually share responsibility with her brother, David, 31, who is currently sales manager.

One solution is better management. If a daughter can convince her father that she does not have to devote all her time to the business, if she can manage more efficiently by bringing in good people, delegating, and planning properly, she may not have to choose between career and children. Donald Jonovic, president of Family Business Management Services in Shaker Heights, Ohio, believes it is possible to show dad that "the real reason the business seems so difficult to manage is because he hasn't managed it properly."

Women are gaining the experience and training they need to do the job. Jonovic estimates that among the daughters he advises in his consulting practice, 75 percent have outside experience before entering the family business, while only 40 percent of the sons do. "Outside experience is crucial in establishing credibility with senior people in the company, with customers and suppliers, as well as with your father," Jonovic says.

Occasionally, encouraging the kids to get outside experience can backfire, as Thomas Horton, a college business-textbook publisher in Sun Lakes, Arizona, discovered. At the suggestion of Milton Friedman, the Nobel economist and one of the firm's initial authors, Horton named his company Thomas Horton & Daughters, he says, "because my kids would have to work for me then." Horton's three daughters went off in search of outside experience—and never came back. What's a Father to do?

Father-daughter working relationships can be an emotionally charged minefield. Professor Colette Dumas of the University of Quebec at Montreal has a few suggestions for navigation.

  • Make everyone in the family and the business aware of the potential of daughters as successors.
  • Make your daughter more visible in day-to-day operations of the business by giving her greater status, power, and control. Include her on the firm's organization chart, give her a title, clearly define her responsibilities, and include her in decision making.
  • Find collaborative stratagies for resolving conflicts with daughters. Separating family roles and business roles may help smooth over conflicts between fathers and sons, but such an approach is less likely to work with daughters. Women, who tend to be more affiliative, are more likely to respond to solutions based on cooperation and interaction.
  • Be on the lookout for turf wars between your daughter and key nonfamily managers, who might be vying for power and acceptance by the father-CEO.
  • When attempting to empower your daughter with increased responsibility, make sure she is aware of her own needs and goals, and help work out a schedule for change and growth with which she is comfortable.


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