Running a successful family business with non-family employees


Approximately 80% of all businesses in Canada are family-owned and operated. It’s a popular form of small business, but of course, not all of those businesses are solely staffed by family. In fact, family businesses often experience a high turnover rate of employees outside of the family.

How can your family business maintain its welcoming and inclusive dynamic and extend it to non-family employees as well? How can you avoid an “us vs them” environment? Here are some tips:

  • Make every employee – family or not – feel welcomed, appreciated, and part of the team. Happy employees who love what they do are more likely to band together.
  • All employees should pull their weight, but family employees might be watched a little more closely than others. Make sure that everyone is responsible, respectful, and does good work.
  • Avoid hiring family members who are unsuited to their role. This prevent you wasting time and money, and it’ll demonstrate that you don’t play favourites.
  • Don’t have different rules or expectations for family and non-family employees. Showing favouritism to family members or keeping them more in the loop than non-family employees will only breed resentment and damage morale.
  • Squash tensions before they arise. Make sure all employees know they can come to you with any issues, even if it’s a question about your cousin’s use of the best parking spots. Treat all issues with respect and sensitivity.

Visit GoForth Institute’s Entrepreneur Library for more tips on managing your family business!

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Does your family business have a succession plan?

family-business-successionNote: This post was originally published on May 9, 2015. We’ve updated it with more recent statistics from the PWC Family Business Survey.

According to the PWC 2016 Family Business Survey, 43% of Canada’s family-run businesses don’t have a succession plan in place, and only 12% of family businesses survive to the third generation. We think: yikes!

Why is a succession plan necessary?

We get it – if you plan on working in the business for the rest of your life, it’s hard to have the “after I’m gone” conversation with your family members. It makes people uncomfortable and it’s hard to talk about. However, it’s critically important to have a strong plan for who will take over the family business once your time is up. Otherwise, the business you’ve worked so hard to build could face major disruptions to customers and suppliers – and harm the business overall. It’s not enough to assume your eldest child or favourite niece will take over and run things the way you’d envisioned. A well thought-out plan, laid out on paper, will make things clear for everyone, all to the benefit of your family business.

How to create a succession plan for a family business

  • Start early. Most experts in the field of succession planning say that five to 10 years before your planned exit is not too early to get things started. The longer you can spend planning the succession, the smoother the transition will be. This long lead time gives the successor a chance to get knowledge and experience of the whole business, try their hand at leadership, develop their own relationships within and outside the business, and gain the trust of others who might be less than enthusiastic with the impending change of leadership.
  • Write down your vision for the business. Where is your business headed? What do you want it to achieve? What steps are necessary to get there? Remember that your business is a business first, and decisions must be made to ensure its success.
  • Come up with a shortlist of successors. Related to the first point, who has the skills and passion to lead the family business in the right direction? Is it your daughter with the list of ideas for e-commerce and social media marketing, or your nephew who wants to uphold tradition and keep the business the way it is? Analyze each candidate honestly to arrive at your decision. Try to keep your emotions out of it during this process (we know it can be hard!).
  • Keep an open mind. You may find that the best person to pass the torch to isn’t a family member at all – it happens! Remember, the goal is the success of the business. Family members may feel slighted over this, but keep the channels of communication open and remind them that they still have to all work together to keep things moving forward successfully.
  • Have a chat. Don’t work in a vacuum – involve your family in this process early. Get to know what people think of the whole situation, and what their own goals are. Making your intentions known about how and when you wish to exit the business gives family business members information on which to base their own career decisions.
  • Seek outside help. Formalize the succession plan by getting professionals such as lawyers and accountants involved. There may be legal or financial implications for you to consider when creating a succession plan for your family business. Poor succession planning is likely to be more costly than involving professional help.
  • Write it down. Make sure your succession plan is written out and detailed. Present this plan to the whole family so that everyone knows what’s supposed to happen and when. Having a well thought-out and communicated family business succession plan will help make the transition as smooth as possible.

For more on succession planning and exit strategies, read a previous blog post: What’s your out? Why an exit strategy is important.

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Take entrepreneurial inspiration from these two family businesses

entrepreneurial-inspiration-family-businessIn our last post, we shared the story of Ganong, a Canadian family business that’s been around since 1873. Want more family business inspiration? Read on to learn more about Zildjian and GV Showshoes.


One of the longest running family firms in North America is Zildjian. It was founded in 1623 (that’s right – 1623) in Istanbul, Turkey by an alchemist named Avedis I, who discovered an extremely musical metal alloy. He used this alloy to create powerful, durable cymbals. Sultan Osman II named him “Zildjian,” Armenian for “cymbal smith.”

In 1929, company ownership is transfered to Avedis III, already living in the US. He began establishing ties with hot, rising jazz drummers. His son Armand (1921–2002) created the company’s modern factory.

His other son Robert, amidst conflict with his brother, split from the company and started his own cymbal business, “Sabian.”

Today, Armand’s daughters Craigie (CEO) and Debbie (VP Human Resources) are Zildjian’s first female leaders in its long history.

GV Snowshoes

GV Snowshoes, established in 1959 and whose factory and head office are located in the Huron Wendat Reserve in Quebec, is the only manufacturer in the world which uses new snowshoe technologies along with the various wooden models, in the ancestral traditional spirit.

GV Snowshoes is one of the most important manufacturers of snowshoes in North America and the only designer-manufacturer to produce all types of snowshoes available in the market today.

For over 50 years GV Snowshoes has maintained a tradition of excellence in the production and servicing of snowshoe products.

GV operates three manufacturing plants totalling 60,000 square feet, and exports its products around the world. It is a proud supplier of snowshoes to the Canadian military.

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Entrepreneurial Inspiration – Ganong, a Canadian family business with a long history

Note: This article was originally published on January 11, 2014. We’ve re-published it with updated information. Enjoy!

ganong-family-businessAs we love reminding entrepreneurs, approximately 80% of Canada’s businesses are family businesses. And they’re not all small business, either. Take, for instance, the Ganong family, founders of Canada’s oldest candy company.

Ganong was started in 1873 by brothers James and Gilbert Ganong in St. Stephen, NB. Together, they opened a grocery business which grew to include a bakery and confectionery. They even tried selling oysters, and manufacturing their own brand of soap. But it was their chocolate that became the most sought-after aspect of their business, and Ganong as we know it was born.

One reason Ganong is still around, in our opinion, is their long history of innovation. Some of the newfangled inventions pioneered by the company include:

  • Wrapped chocolate bars (initially invented to bring along on fishing trips)
  • The first Canadian lollipop
  • North America’s first chocolate nut bar
  • Heart-shaped chocolate boxes (first introduced at Christmastime)
  • Pureed fruit as a candy ingredient

Giving the market new and innovative solutions to their needs is just one aspect of the company’s success. They have also maintained the family tradition through the generations. Members of the Ganong family are still involved in the highest levels of the family business – in roles such as President and CEO, VP Sales and Development, and Executive Vice Chair.

By the way, the business is still headquartered in St. Stephen – at the appropriate address of One Chocolate Drive!

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