Henderson & Daughter as seen in American Way - 1983
"Like Father, Like Daughter" by: Joel Schwartz

Not so many years ago, one of the surest ways for an ambitious young man to get ahead in the business world was to marry the bossís daughter. When the "old man" was ready to retire but still wanted to keep the business in the family, there was the eager son-in-law waiting in the wings, ready to take over.

But today, as women continue to expand their role in the business world and to show that they are as capable as men, more and more daughters are being groomed to succeed their fathers in family businesses.

About 500 women currently are running family businesses in the United States, according to Donald Jonovic, vice-president of the Center for Family Business in Cleveland. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, more are holding down key executive positions inside family companies in preparation for the day they will assume the top spot. Jonovic expects the number of women directing family businesses to mushroom by 1990 because of the growing acceptance of women in the business world. He explains:

"There has been a psychological block that has made it difficult for men to think of their daughters seriously or as potential successors. The old assumption was that Sons will inherit a business while daughters have babies. That has changed as women have gone out to establish careers of their own. During the 1970s a family business wasnít that popular with family heirs, but economic conditions today are making it look more attractive."

Jonovic says he first became aware of the trend two years ago, "All of a sudden the world changed. Attendance at our training programs in taking over a family business used to be 99 percent male, but in the last two years it has averaged 35 percent female. The growing acceptance of women in business has spilled over into family businesses. Times are tough, and women are looking at their dadís business and coming back. In many cases they tend to do a better job than their brothers because they are better trained and have more outside experience."

Women today are not just running the antique stores, dress shops, and interior-decorating shops that traditionally they have operated. The current list of companies women are involved in is diverse and includes a contract-painting company in Connecticut, a California sportswear manufacturer, a Pennsylvania maker of industrial safety equipment, a Texas engineering company, and a Colorado automobile dealership. Others are involved in publishing, real estate, winemaking, dentistry, moving and storage, ice cream, and industrial-equipment sales. Many of these women grew up in family businesses, and some of them partially based their decisions to join on filial responsibility to nurture ventures launched by their fathers or, in a few cases, their grandfathers or great-grandfathers.

"We drank the business every night," remembers Carolyn Wente, who handles public relations and marketing for Wente Brothers, a Livermore, California vintner. "The winery was always a part of our lives and conversation. My parents didnít push my brothers and me to work in the wine business. But we all pretty early on recognized we were interested in being fanners and wine makers. There was no Ďyou have to do this,í and father was always open to what I wanted to do."

Betsey Henley-Cohn assumed the presidency of Joseph Cohn & Son, Incorporated, a Hamden, Connecticut contract-painting corporation, under more challenging circumstances. She grew up with a general familiarity with the business, but the company was destined to be passed along to an older brother. When her brother decided he didnít want to be involved, she became the heir apparent. Three weeks after she joined the business in 1978, her father died. She recalls, "The business wasnít at its pinnacle then because my father had been sick. But I said, ĎIíll be damned if I let this die without a try.í Iím a fighter and I didnít want the business to close down with a whimper. I adored my father and I wanted to restore the business for him even if he never knew about it."

Henley-Cohn now reports that the business is healthy and growing and that it has maintained its position as Connecticutís largest paint contractor.

Michelle Mueller also grew up in a family where the business, Mueller Engineering of Corpus Christi, Texas, was a focal point. She says, "Fatherís work always was a part of our family vocabulary, and business was discussed over the dinner table. Almost as soon as my four brothers and sisters and I could write, we started taking reports over the phone at home for him."

Mueller joined the familyís petroleum consulting and engineering company more than a year ago after earning an economics degree and working for a Washington, D.C., law firm. As an administrative assistant to her father, she handles the companyís legal paper work. She compares her job to an internship.

When Valli Benesch, a former corporate lawyer, joined Fritzi of California, a San Francisco womenís sportswear manufacturer, four years ago, the first thing her father did was roll a desk into his office so she could learn at his elbow. Beneschís on-the-job training also included two years of working with the head of each department in the company.

"I didnít come into the business with a lot of preconceived biases," says Benesch, who today is vice-president and assistant to the president. "I learned a lot and gradually implemented changes because my father listened to me."

Ernest Benesch is impressed by his daughterís grasp of the business, saying, "She knows a lot of phases of the business better than I do. Sheís more sales oriented, and Iíve been getting nothing but compliments about her."

All women donít have it so easy, however.

Suzanne Caplan, who has been president of the Pittsburgh Glove Manufacturing Company for the past decade, dreamed about taking over the company some day but never broached the subject with her father because she was afraid that he would laugh. "I liked and enjoyed the business, but he didnít take me seriously," she says. "I was playing second string in a one-man band."

Caplan took over the 82-year-old business after her father died in 1972. Her running of the company is more business-like, better organized, and less of a one-man show.

Marilyn Kelly quit an executive sales job in the film industry to return to Chicago in 1978. She wanted to join the family business, the Kelly Flour Company, but was rebuffed by her father who said she "wouldnít like it." Six months later he offered her a job, and she took another six months before accepting. Now a vice-president, Kelly says she learned the business "by osmosis and on my own."

Women entering a family business often have to deal with the same problems that generations of men have faced: employee resentment and unwillingness on the part of their fathers to let them implement change.

When Denise Bryce went to work 18 months ago at Info Search, an Albany, New York, paralegal service company, her father made her a management trainee. Six months later she asked to be demoted to a customer representative. She explains: "I didnít think that was the place to start and I felt resentment from people around me. They viewed me as the bossís daughter who was using the job as a stepping stone. I didnít want to come in and move ahead only by reason of my heritage. I wanted to earn respect and pay my dues."

Women also often feel resistance from their fathers when they see the need for changes in long-established ways of running a business. That was the case with Doris Mattus when she joined her parentsí small New York ice-cream manufacturing company in the mid-1970s. "I felt if there was a void in the business it was in retail sales," she says. "My fatherís primary concern was that an expansion would have been a dilution of my efforts and the companyís product. He didnít know much about retailing, and I had no experience."

It took Mattus nearly a year to convince her father to allow her to open the first Haagen-Dazs ice- cream shop in 1976 in Brooklyn. From that tentative start, Mattus today directs Haagen-Dazs Franchising Company, which has 200 retail shops across the country.

"I was surprised at the success of the franchising," explains her admiring father, Rueben Mattus. "In my wildest dreams I only thought of running a nice, small business. Now I have to work harder than I ever had to."

While working for their fathers has been a frequent source of personal friction for many men, most women view the experience as one that benefits the father-daughter relationship.

"We are closer," says Doris Mattus. "We obviously have something in common, and I have a better understanding of the problems he has had to deal with all his life."

"Working for my father gave me a key to understanding him," says Lisa Schomp, assistant to her father, owner of Ralph Schomp Oldsmobile in Denver. Ďit was the best thing that ever happened for our relationship. it made me a friend of his, not just a guy I work for, and I can talk with him more easily than any of my four sisters."

The growing trend of women assuming responsible roles in family businesses also has led to a new way in which some companies are named.

In the Pacific Northwest, a storm-window manufacturer unhesitatingly advertises itself on Seattle and Portland television as Hendersons & Daughter, Incorporated. The daughter in this case is Debby Del Toro, the vice-president of sales for the company directed by her father, Jack Henderson.

In the crowded publishing field, name identification is one of the things that makes Thomas Horton and Daughters stick out from the crowd. The 10-year-old Sun Lakes, Arizona, economics-textbook publisher had its name suggested by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. Hortonís three daughters, LeeAnn, Marcia, and Karen, have all worked in the business ó selling at conventions and trade shows, proofreading, and doing office work. None of them is currently active, but Karen, a senior at the University of Arizona, hopes to return. She says, "I plan to go into publishing, but Iíve been with my parents for 10 years, and Iíd like a different perspective with a larger company. But I do have a dream of going back with my folks and having one of my sisters as a partner."

Women also see little conflict between running a business and pursuing traditional roles as wives and mothers.

"For flexibility, working in your own business canít be beat," says Henley-Cohn, the mother of two small children, who scheduled meetings at home last year after the birth of her daughter. "Iím a good mother, and I think Iím a better mother because I expend a lot of energies on work. Iím convinced you can have a career and a family. Men have had both for a long time."

Benesch, who is single, adds, "I donít see marriage as a problem. The business did not consume my father to the point where he had no personal life. He and my mother taught me the blessing of leading a well-balanced life."

Women in family businesses are very much like their fathers in at least one respect. They would like to pass along the business to sons, as a legacy. This attitude is ANCISCO summed up by Jane Weiss Schwarz, general manager of the Los Angeles office of Liberty Tags of California, which prints forms for the laundry and dry-cleaning industry. She says, "I would like my daughters to come in the business, but I wouldnít push them into it. If they want it, itís here. I have an attachment to the business and it belongs in the family. A stranger should never run it."

Free Consultation

Contact us to receive a no-obligation in-home consultation and estimate.

Call Today
  In Oregon:         503-284-4467
  In Washington:   360-573-7402

Or, complete our Free Estimate form.

Milgard Financing