Women at the wheel

By April Hall

Perseverance is the key to success for women whose family businesses operate in male-dominated industries.


Barbara Moran-Goodrich was told she would never run her family’s automotive business because she was a woman. Her father told her this several times, in fact.

Today she is the CEO and sole owner of the Moran Family of Brands, based in Midlothian, Ill., which oversees the franchising of automotive aftermarket repair shops. From 2015 to 2017 alone, the company saw an 18% increase in system-wide revenues.

While Moran-Goodrich’s father discouraged her from entering their business, Dick Yuengling asked all four of his daughters to enter the family’s brewery, D.G. Yuengling & Son in Pottsville, Pa. The women have succeeded at Yueng­ling even though there are few women in their industry.

When Katie Poehling entered her family’s plumbing supply business, First Supply in Milwaukee, she was often the only woman in the room when business was discussed. She found she needed more mentoring and, since receiving that support, has been promoted to COO.

Some women who join family businesses in male-dominated industries find it difficult to rise through the ranks. Even when women are welcomed into these companies, they face challenges. They say they’ve had to work a little harder than their male counterparts for professional respect and recognition. They cite three keys to their success: getting buy-in for their role, educating themselves on business strategies and networking with other women in their industries.

Though gender parity in the top echelons of the business world remains a long way away, women have slowly been making progress, particularly in family firms. Many companies that aspire to be government contractors have recognized the advantages of being a certified women-owned business (see sidebar). As more women view the family business as a viable career option and acquire the skills and experience to work there, parents are beginning to see their daughters as potential successors.

Convincing Dad
Moran-Goodrich says when she entered the family business in the 1980s, “it was a different world for women in business.” Her brothers were involved in the company, and her father, Dennis Moran, told her she’d never be more than the office manager. She went back to school and got a college degree.

“My father came back and said, ‘I now see you can go a little further in the business,’” says Moran-Goodrich, now 51. (Her husband, Paul Goodrich, is no relation to the BF Goodrich tire company.)

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The company grew. After the Morans acquired Mr. Transmission, a Nashville-based transmission repair franchise, in 1990, Dennis Moran asked his daughter to fly to Nashville and move the Mr. Transmission headquarters to Chicago. There was a complication: She was very pregnant.

“I was [nine months] pregnant and it was as if he didn’t realize [it],” Moran-Goodrich says. “I said, ‘I can’t go.’ He fired me.

“He says to this day it was because he wanted me to stay home to raise my children,” she continues. “Well, that should have been told to my husband and me at the time, because we had just bought a house.”

Two months after having her daughter, Moran-Goodrich went to work as a legislative aide for Illinois State Rep. Jane Barnes. Once her father realized she wasn’t going to be a housewife, he invited her back to the family business.

When Dennis Moran got “indigestion” that turned out to be a heart attack, the family went into high gear to find a successor.

Moran’s sons had left the business by this time and were not interested in taking over. He called on his daughter, who had worked her way up from receptionist to franchisee and franchise developer — not to be the successor, but to meet with a management consultant, Bob Gappa, to find a new CEO.

“After three days, the consultant said, ‘I know who needs to be running your company.’ He left the room for two hours!” Moran-Goodrich recalls with her infectious laugh. “After two hours he comes back and says, ‘It’s you.’

“I was laughing and said, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ The consultant said, ‘Well, I just got off the phone with your father, and he’s in agreement.’”

Moran-Goodrich had been a franchisee for seven years at that point. Gappa told her she was the logical choice based on her experience on both sides of the business. He said she also knew how to make tough decisions.

“Before Barb left to find the next leader of our company, she asked that I consider her for the position,” writes Dennis Moran in an email to Family Business. Dennis adds that once Gappa weighed in with his opinion on his daughter’s potential, “it confirmed for me what I felt.”

Barbara Moran-Goodrich accepted the CEO position and took on the task of convincing franchisees that the business was safe in her hands. Here, also, she had to deal with men who didn’t believe she could do the job.

“I went to visit a franchisee and I had a VP — a man — with me,” Moran-Goodrich says. The franchisee didn’t answer her questions directly. “He would turn to the VP and answer him.”

In the car after that meeting, Moran-Goodrich predicted that a scheduled town hall gathering of franchisees would be poorly attended. “The VP didn’t even realize what had just happened,” she recalls. “I was right — no one came.”

In addition to Mr. Transmission, the Moran Family of Brands now encompasses Multistate Transmissions, Alta Mere — The Automotive Outfitters and Milex Complete Auto Care.

Moran-Goodrich says proving herself “didn’t happen overnight.” She says she has had to demonstrate her business know-how and her passion for cars.

“I think I handled it well,” Moran-Goodrich says. “Instead of getting angry and telling [franchisees], ‘You have to listen to me,’ I had to show them I was worthy of the position.”

Learning the ropes
For 188 years, D.G. Yuengling & Son was just that —  a brewery run by generations of fathers and sons.

But in the sixth generation, that will change. Fifth-generation owner Richard “Dick” Yuengling has no sons. He does, however, have four daughters. They all work in the business and could someday own it.

In the mid-1990s, Dick was at a tipping point. He had bought the brewery from his father in 1985, and the brand had grown extensively. He needed to make a substantial investment in the company to expand.

“My dad was really at a crossroads with an influx of growth and struggling with demand,” recalls Jennifer Yuengling, 46. “He wanted reassurance that our generation was interested in coming into the business.”

Three of his four daughters went into the business as they completed their higher education; one joined after working elsewhere. Jennifer, the eldest, jumped into brewing with both feet.

Sage Advice

Family business women who have risen through the ranks in male-dominated industries suggest the following success strategies:

Be committed. Succession in a family business is a long-term endeavor, especially if the company is planning major investments or an expansion.

Let your experience speak for itself. Don’t tell people why you’re qualified — show them. Immerse yourself in the industry, and be prepared to answer questions and make tough decisions.

Find mentors. Reach out to more experienced colleagues in your field. When possible, find another woman who has worked her way up and can educate you on the nuances of industry culture. But don’t rule out a male mentor — in family businesses fathers may not naturally step in, but will help when asked.
Be confident. Even if there is pushback on female succession, inside or outside the company, stand strong. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will, either.

“I found my niche as I finished up my undergrad [degree in business administration] and grad school [studying counseling psychology],” she says. “We didn’t have a map or a direction to where my role would be, so I worked through it. With my interest and skill set, I gravitated toward the operations.”

She says she learned as much as she could by working in the brewery; she also took a 10-week course in brewing 10 years ago. Out of 25 to 30 people in the class, there were two women.

Jennifer says employees are supportive of the all-woman generation who will take the helm. In an industry marked by consolidation, family continuity is a plus, Jennifer says.

“I don’t think there are any reservations anywhere in our organization,” she says. “I’d like to think they’re very proud of the company we are, not giving in to being bought by outsiders. They feel that stability.”

Over the last 20 years, she’s learned a lot about not only the business operations, but also the history and growth of the company. She recommends the same for any NextGen entering the family firm.

“Learn as much as you can,” Jennifer says. “Attach yourself to that older generation and pick their brains. I understand what they’ve been through and appreciate that — that my great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather went through wars and Prohibition.

“We went through some very lean years. And the more I’m here, the more I appreciate what was done in the past.”
She’s also excited about the present. When she attended the Master Brewers Association annual conference in Atlanta in October, Jennifer took note of the gender diversity in the audience.

“I was pleasantly surprised how women there were compared to seven or eight years ago,” she says. “I do see some inroads being made.”

Today, Jennifer is the brewery’s vice president of operations; Debbie Yuengling, 42, is the pricing and sales administration manager; Wendy Yuengling, 41, is the chief administrative officer; and Sheryl Yuengling, 38, is in order services, working directly with distributors. However, the four sisters see themselves as utility players, Wendy says. “We’re not a company that really has titles that are significant,” she says.

Wendy, who has a degree in marketing, was the last to join the business in 2004. She worked as a project manager for a market research company and in advertising before setting her sights on the brewery.

“I wanted the opportunity to work for someone else first,” she says. “I wanted to have experience in case I did go back to the brewery so I would have something to offer. To me, that was important to make myself a well-rounded individual.”

She felt she had a foundation of knowledge in the family business, having worked in Yuengling’s gift shop and given brewery tours in her teens. She treasures early memories of roller skating in the warehouse and hanging out while her dad drove a forklift around the distribution center.

The daughters work side by side with their dad. Succession plans have not been formalized, Wendy says, so they feel they have time to continue to learn about the beer business.

“A lot of learning is watching what he does, understanding why he does things,” Wendy says. “As you get more involved, you learn the challenges and nuances of the business.”

Seeking support
Katie Poehling, 35, joined her family business — First Supply LLC, a 120-year-old wholesale distributor of plumbing supplies — about five years ago. She started in sales and is now COO of the company’s kitchen and bath design stores.

Making It Official: Women-Owned Business Certification

Certification as a women-owned business is a wise move for family firms planning to transition ownership to daughters. Certification enables a company to participate in various corporate supplier diversity programs and federal procurement programs. These programs, which provide for a certain percentage of their contracts to be awarded to businesses owned by women, generally require certification to ensure their female-led contractors are bona fide.

To be eligible for certification as a women-owned small business by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), a firm must be “at least 51% directly and unconditionally owned and controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens.”

The federal government’s goal is to have 5% of its contracts awarded to women-owned businesses, according to the SBA.

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the largest third-party certifier of women-owned businesses for the private sector, says it has certified more than 14,000 women’s business enterprises in the U.S. Of those, WBENC certified 4,676 as women-owned small businesses.

WBENC president and CEO Pamela Prince-Eason says the council often works with family businesses. She says the process of certification can seem “document intensive,” but notes that doing business with corporations in general usually involves a comparable number of documents.

Family businesses that are owned in trust will have to submit trust documents to prove majority female ownership, as well as papers documenting the history of the company.

“When it comes to the company’s history, sometimes family lore takes over,” Prince-Eason says. “Someone will say it was established as a partnership, but was it 50/50 or 20/80?”

She suggests owners consult the WBENC website (www.wbenc.org) to learn more about applying for certification. Council staff walk businesswomen through each step and sometime serve as advisers in the process, she adds.

Corporations and government agencies need verification that they are doing business “with a women-owned, -operated and -controlled business,” Prince-Eason says. “They don’t want to find out later that it was just a shell company.”

Certified women-owned businesses can also take advantage of incentivized loan programs, training and networking opportunities. Some states also give tax incentives to contractors or subcontractors who use women- or minority-owned businesses for services.

Certification through a third party such as WBENC is not universally accepted. Companies seeking women-owned business designation should check with the particular government agency or company to verify what type of certification is necessary. — April Hall

Poehling’s father embraced her coming into the business, but he didn’t often step in to mentor her directly. On top of that, when she went to meetings, inside or outside of First Supply, she stood apart from the crowd. She was usually the only woman there.

When she reconnected with her friend Ashley Martin, who had joined her family’s business, the women realized they had a lot in common. Martin is now vice president of wholesale sales at NIBCO, her family company, which manufactures valves, fittings and flow control products and is based in Elkhart, Ind.

“We looked around and realized often as women, we’re islands,” Poehling says. “And there are others around the country who are the only woman in the room [at business meetings].”

To bring those women together, in 2014 Poehling and Martin formed Women in Industry, a subset of their trade association, the American Supply Association. The group, which now boasts nearly 300 members, provides networking opportunities, training and skills development.

“We have women who are fresh out of college and starting their first job, to women getting ready for retirement,” Poehling says. “It’s been a neat experience to get this group going. We had some skeptics, people who said, ‘Our industry doesn’t need that type of group.’” Poehling is grateful for the opportunity she’s had not only to connect with mentors herself, but also to connect others and perhaps serve as a mentor herself someday.

“We recognize that, gosh, this must have been even more poignant in years before — looking for mentors or examples,” she says. “Things have really changed, and I think people are now less surprised when women are engaged in industries that were formerly male-dominated.”

Support is also available in the beer world. Women now constitute 25% of the brewing industry.

While the Yuenglings support general industry organizations such as the Master Brewers Association, they, like Poehling, are also a part of a group targeting women in their industry. The Pink Boots Society, for women in brewing, celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017 and has 56 chapters around the world.

Wendy Yuengling says her company needs to support such groups because “We’re going to be female-owned someday.”

Moran-Goodrich says she encourages women to buy franchises in the Moran Family of Brands, whether it’s transmission repairs or auto accessory installation.

“Any time I can have a woman come into our system, I welcome that,” she says. Her company’s 2017 Franchisee of the Year was a woman who owns a Mr. Transmission in Florence, Ky. The winner is chosen by other franchisees.

What does Moran-Goodrich see as the secret to her success? “I think I had just had tenacity,” she says. “My father said I would never take no for an answer.” She suspects other family business daughters have the same personality trait. “That must be the common aspect to push through these barriers,” she says.

Poehling says she’s often asked by other women how to succeed in family business.

“I think I struggle with it myself,” Poehling says. Her advice: “Be an advocate for yourself. Be well informed and know exactly what you’re asking for in the business and why you’re asking for it. Know how the company will be better if you’re in a certain role.”    

Copyright 2018 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 bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.



Article categories: 
March/April 2018

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