Henderson & Daughter - from Seattle Woman Magazine
"Father & Daughter, Inc." by: Suzanne Cushing

Trying to get a handle on exact numbers is no easy matter, however. There are some 10-12 million privately held businesses in this country. According to Donald Jonovic, vice president of the Center for Family Business in Cleveland, only about 500 women currently are running family businesses. But that number does not reflect the apparent buildup of future female heirs. Jonovic estimates several thousand women hold key positions in companies owned by their fathers - positions that likely will lead to the top. The number of female offspring attending the family business center's management and succession seminars has grown by 30 percent in the past two years. Says Jonovic, "All of a sudden the world changed. Attendance at our training programs for 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."

Local business directories fail to pinpoint the number of father/daughter businesses in the Puget Sound area, but there is one that's hard to miss. Henderson's & Daughter, Inc., a storm window company, unabashedly spells out the relationship between its key executives. A family business started in 1977 by Portlander Jack Henderson, his wife, Dorothy and daughter, Debby Del Toro, it also typifies the career rewards in store for a woman when dad and daughter call the company shots.

Daughters commonly must push hard to get a crack at proving themselves in the family business, but this wasn't a problem for Debby Del Toro. She was recruited by her stepfather, who decided to start his own business marketing storm windows after retiring from the industry. Del Toro recalls she had a "very slight understanding" of the business, based on several months' experience with another Northwest window firm. If breaking into the business was easy, her 13-hour days were not. At first, she and her father sold windows manufactured in a rented mini storage unit behind a Portland bowling alley. As the company flourished, growing to its present 10 branches in Washington and Oregon, so did Debby. "I took to it, and I've never been happier," she says. At 30, she was recently named company president.

While her father, affectionately dubbed "Pop," was a kind mentor who taught her the sales skills she now teaches others, Debby admits, "It's impossible to agree 100 percent in any business. We can both be a little hard-headed when it comes to an idea." When the two couldn't agree on the design for a window screen, Debby's idea finally won out once she convinced her father it would make the screen easier for customers to remove and clean. Laughs Debby, "Sometimes my dad will tease me and say, 'How'd you get so smart?' But it's because he's already been there and is trying to prevent me from making mistakes."

Originally the firm was to be named Jack Henderson Storm Window Company. Del Toro recalls ribbing her father about it, telling him a son who worked as hard as she was doing would get equal billing. Henderson responded after about three months, surprising her with the now well-known business cards that advertise their affiliation as well as their product. "It was his way of saying, 'You're right,' " she says.

Del Toro speculates one reason things may have gone so smoothly is because she and her father have worked at times in different territories. In 1979 she and her husband, Jerry, moved to Seattle for two years to develop this market. In addition, she says, "Pop and I think alike and feel alike. We're both workaholics. "Today, Jack Henderson remains the guiding hand, although Debby and her husband pretty much run things on a day-to-day basis. "I was taught everything I know by Pop," she says, "and now he can feel comfortable leaving us to handle most of the business."

Women who, like Debby Del Toro, actively participate in a successful family business, may face more than the routine nitty gritty of running it. Along with the chance to enjoy great career opportunities and deep personal satisfaction often go the problems and challenges fostered by a tangle of powerful family relationships.

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