Over 60% of small to medium enterprises fell into the ‘family business’ category in 2008 (Government survey 2010), and that’s a number which has been steadily rising. Traditionally these businesses would have been passed down from fathers to sons, but women are occupying more leadership and boardroom positions as a growing trend sees more and more fathers going into business with their daughters. With female CEOs shockingly under-represented at the FTSE 100 level, women joining their family’s business are boosting their sex’s representation in the business world.
This trend hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the government have set up a Women in Enterprise campaign which aims to support and encourage women to set up and grow their own businesses. Many encouraging stories have come to light and women have talked about how they came into the family business, how they made a difference, and the challenges they have faced along the way.
Fathers in business can be a source of inspiration for their daughters. Alison Lyons, Director of Creative and Commercial at Sesame Access was one such daughter, as her father’s invention of bespoke wheelchair lifts made her decide to join the company. A true family run business, her brother works alongside her as Managing Director.
Another woman inspired by her dad is Cassandra Stavrou, the Co-Founder of Propercorn who make gluten-free popcorn. Cassandra’s dad sadly passed away after buying her a vintage popcorn maker. Ten years later, at the age of only twenty-five, she quite her job and, inspired by his present to her when she was a teenager, she founded her popcorn brand. Cassandra’s hard work and the support of her mother have enabled her to build a company with 21 employees and a turnover of £6 million.
Some women work in other jobs and in other sectors before joining the family business. Smruti Sriram is the CEO of Supreme Creations the worlds’ largest ethical manufacturer of reusable bags and eco-friendly packaging. The company was started by her father, and she worked at PwC and Deutsche Bank before joining the company and helping it to grow and expand into an international success story, but she credits her father with giving her the power to do so. “My father has mentored me with unadulterated advice about the complex mechanics of the business world. We maintain a strong relationship built on respect, professionalism and trust, and this has been vital for my growth as a young businesswoman,” says Smruti.
Working with family really does depend on good relationships, and, like many working environments, the people who you work with are as important as the company you work for. Westons Cider is a family-run cider business which has been operating for over 130 years. Helen Thomas is the Managing Director and works alongside her son and two of her brothers, all of whom are passionate about the business. It is their shared dedication which enables them to run such a successful company. Helen wanted to nurture this passion and so she set up Westons Academy which allows staff to learn more about a different aspect of the business, such as marketing, logistics, or farming.
Like Helen, Alice Solomons also brought new ideas to her father’s tiny publishing business Free Association Books. She has revolutionised the company’s marketing strategy on social media and commissioned new books which keep them at the forefront of books for the therapeutic professions. It is this combination of new ideas with all the benefits of experience which can make joining the family business an attractive prospect for all women, who are often well-qualified, enthusiastic, and fully able to ceiling to become leading lights in the business world.