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A Contemplation on Family Enterprises and Their Moms

In a family enterprise, even when mothers are not directly involved in the operation of the business, their leadership is powerful. Much has been written about the matriarch as CEO (Chief Emotional Officer). I have certainly felt as though, both consciously and inadvertently, this is the role I filled while building, with my husband, all the iterations of our businesses. I see this in many families we work with - the matriarch setting the emotional tone for the family enterprise, whether active in the business or not. The matriarch is often a mediating influence, and many of our engagements start with a matriarch recognizing that the family needs help to navigate some aspect of operating a family enterprise. For this reason, and others, enterprising families and their advisors would do well to pay a lot of attention to the role of the matriarch in every family.

Statistically, mom is going to outlive dad. This fact is contributing to a transfer of wealth over the next decade that is unprecedented. Various sources tell us that by 2030, several trillion dollars will transfer to Canadian women, and somewhere between 40% and 60% of all wealth will be in the hands of women. How prepared is the matriarch, the family, and the family enterprise for this transfer of money, and depending on the corporate or family structure, this transfer of power? Any planning, especially educational, needs to involve the matriarch, to ensure that she is properly-versed in the requirements of the business aspect of the family enterprise, and to ensure the family enterprise has considered the important role she is playing whether active in the business or not.

The good news is moms make great entrepreneurs. Studies by Kauggman Foundation (Overcoming the Gender Gap: Women Entrepreneurs as Economic Drivers, Mitchell, 2011) demonstrated that venture-backed companies led by women create 12 % more revenue and are proven to be more resilient to market crises. You don’t have to Google “Why moms make great entrepreneurs” and read dozens of articles to know why. We have all had moms. Like it or not, moms shoulder most of the family and household responsibilities. (Yes - sadly, this is still true today, despite the progress made.) Moms learn to prioritize, think practically, and delegate to get through every day. Moms know how to get a lot done quickly, and they learn when to pivot to make something work. Finally, moms are always working to inspire and motivate their team, whether that team is the gang in the mini-van, or around the boardroom table.

And what of the daughters, all of whom have the potential to become the future leaders in the enterprising family, regardless of their parental status? Are they being given the same opportunities as their male siblings? A 2017 survey of studies exploring gender issues related to choosing a successor showed that while families think the process is gender-blind, the reality is that far more sons than daughters take over the reins.* A 2010 survey stated it more strongly- finding that societal, cultural, and family attitudes mean the contributions of daughters are often invisible and rising to leadership mostly happens only when there is no male heir or in a crisis event.** When those daughters become mothers, this is often seen as a detriment, not an asset (because of those societal, cultural, and family attitudes).

As a ‘matriarch’ in a family business, with a daughter also working in the family business, those findings are concerning. Are my husband or I overlooking our daughter’s contributions? Have my contributions been overlooked? These are things I wonder about. At the end of the day, my husband and I, both in our late 50s have had a traditional relationship, where the bulk of parenting and family fell to me, and where the roles I fulfill in our businesses draw on those “mothering” skills: taking care of operations, Human Resources, financial management, and logistical arrangements for meetings and so on. I worry that I have not given my daughter the skills, tools, and opportunities to increase her visibility so she can’t be overlooked. I also wonder how our attitudes shaped the opportunities for women in our company, not just the opportunities of our daughter.

There are no clear answers to these questions and concerns, but I am encouraged by what I see in the family enterprises with whom we work. I see families willing to ask these questions and do the work to address them. Their journey inspires mine. I think our Canadian family enterprises (and all that money) are going to be in good hands, especially when those hands belong to our mothers and daughters.

*2017, Gender Issues Related to Choosing the Successor in the Family Business; European Journal of Family Business, Volume 7, Issues 1-2

**2010, Wang, Daughter Exclusion in Family Business Succession: A Review of the Literature; Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Volume 31 Issue 4

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