Learning from the best

Family Enterprise of the Year Award finalists share insights for long-term success of their business family

Leading family businesses Barkman Concrete, Columbia Bottle Enterprises, Lammle’s Western Wear, Regional Group (winner), Camp Arowhon and Van Bree Enterprises were national finalists for the 2019 FEX Family Enterprise of the Year Award.

Barkman Concrete
About three years ago, the family behind Barkman Concrete in Steinbach, Man., formed a family council to govern the relationship between the family and the business throughout various generations. As part of this process, the family went through the exercise of redefining the family council’s mission, vision and set of values.

“This was a unique bonding experience for us, and it really set a solid direction that we all contributed to,” says Scott Barkman, director of marketing and corporate communications and future co-owner of Barkman Concrete. “The process itself was so important. It’s one thing to agree on some eloquent or profound-sounding vision, but it is another to really get
buy-in from everyone, especially through a long and challenging process.”

The family is now looking ahead to the fourth generation. Mr. Barkman says the family council has been helpful in setting expectations and conditions for those who want to join the business in the future.

“Our mission, at the heart of the council, is ‘casting succession,’ which is about raising responsible owners and also preparing family members for potential opportunities outside of the business,” says Mr. Barkman. “We believe that understanding how the business works is valuable whether you want to join the company or just be part of it by association.”

Camp Arowhon
When Joanne Kates’ s children first voiced their desire to work at Camp Arowhon – the Ontario wilderness camp that her grandmother started in 1934 – Ms. Kates and her husband, Leon Muszynski, sat down and created a document that set out conditions the kids had to meet before joining the family business.

“They had to be able to demonstrate that they were right for the job and that they had experienced some success at employment outside of the family business,” says Ms. Kates, director and third-generation owner at Camp Arowhon. “They also had to show that they had the ability to work somewhere else if it didn’t work out for them in the family business.”

Ms. Kates and Mr. Muszynski, who are in the process of passing on ownership of the camp to their two children, Mara and Max, continue to run the business while they execute their succession plan. Ms. Kates says getting the kids ready to take over the business has meant doling out a lot of tough love. She adds that having a family constitution based on open communication and accountability has helped keep the business – and the family – running smoothly.

Columbia Bottle Enterprises
At Kelowna, B.C.-based Columbia Bottle Enterprises, the business is the family and the family is the business. With one cofounder and three second-generation family members in the company, that’s not a surprising statement.

“When you think of our company, you think of the Casson family,” says Clare Casson, who started the business 43 years ago with his father, with the goal of helping to protect the environment through services focused on recycling and waste diversion. “That comes with responsibility and expectations of how we want to be seen in our community.”

As family members in the same business, they all had to find ways to balance home dynamics with their roles at work. In addition, the Casson kids were expected to perform at a higher level than other employees. This created conflict on occasion and, at one point, one son who was involved in the company’s management walked away from the business. Mr. Casson says working with a Family Enterprise Advisor (FEA) has helped his family through these rough spots.

“Sometimes you need that outside voice to bring some balance to everybody’s thoughts,” he says.

Lammle’s Western Wear and Tack
Barry Lammie can recall several instances in the past when he wanted to step in and weigh in on the business decisions of his son, Jeff, who leads omnichannel e-commerce for Calgary-based Lammle’s Western Wear and Tack, which Mr. Lammie co-founded in 1983.

“The hardest thing is to give someone else free rein in your business, but I knew that I needed to give Jeff room to grow as a leader, and that meant allowing him to make his own mistakes,” says Mr. Lammie, who started the business with his brother Doug and grew it into a network of 30 stores in three provinces.

While he won’t be retiring for quite some time, Mr. Lammie says he’s been actively working on a succession and exit plan. His FEX peer advisory group, which meets once a month, has been an invaluable source of advice, he says.

Regional Group
2019 Family Enterprise of the Year Award Recipient
Without exception, Steve Gordon and his family get together once a month for family council meetings that cover matters ranging from constitutional issues to business and operational items. This process has kept the family working together successfully for over 60 years.

“Everybody makes it to these meetings because they realize the importance of understanding what’s going on in the business and ultimately how that affects the family,” says Mr. Gordon, president and CEO of Regional Group, an Ottawa-based company that started as a realtor and grew into a vertically-integrated real estate investment and management company.

“We know of so many family businesses that have virtually fallen apart because they don’t have that open line of communication. When you are transitioning into your third generation of leadership, you learn how to lead, how to listen, how to reach consensus, and when to let go.”

Van Bree Enterprises
Paul Van Bree learned from his father that, as the boss’s son, he had to work harder and better than everyone else in the family business. When his own two sons started working at Van Bree Enterprises in Warwick Township, Ont., Mr. Van Bree held them to the same high standards.

“There was no nepotism or favouritism,” he recalls. “They started at the bottom rung, working jobs that were sometimes not very pleasant.”
Mr. Van Bree’s older son, who recently became part owner of the business, is poised to move into a senior leadership role, while the younger son continues to work in the field as a project co-ordinator. Mr. Van Bree says the family is now working with an adviser, whom they met through the Family Enterprise Xchange, to strengthen the business strategy and to build a succession plan.

At the same time, Mr. Van Bree continues to benefit from sharing experiences with his peer advisory group, and hopes his sons will join their own peer groups in the near future.

The Family Enterprise Xchange (FEX) is a national, member-based community of business families and family enterprise advisors (FEAs) that provides each member with an opportunity to learn, grow, share and connect in a safe and secure space. Through participation in peer groups, workshops, conferences and other learning opportunities, FEX provides a forum for the community to share ideas, learn best practices and build their collective skills. Not only has FEX created a strong family business community in Canada, it is the voice of this community on the national stage.

For more information about FEX, visit family-enterprise-xchange.com.

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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