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.