Contrary to stereotypes, family businesses are not always passed on to the first-born son. And it's often easier for daughters to take the company over from fathers than for sons, says Joseph H. Astrachan, director of the Cox Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. "Daughters typically do not need to compete with their fathers to get approval. Rather, they can help without the fathers [feeling] pushed aside," explains Astrachan.
How common is it for a daughter to assume control? "Daughters are given real consideration in well over a third of the cases I see," says Astrachan. "I believe this will continue as more successful family businesses headed by women become known, making the option more culturally acceptable."
Jamee Enstrom Simons, 46, has been involved in the family business, Enstrom's Almond Toffee, since she was a child hand-dipping chocolates with her parents and grandparents after school. In 1979, when her parents began talking about selling the business, Simons asked for a chance to take over. Her brothers weren't interested, but Simons, then a registered nurse, moved back to Grand Junction, Colorado, and began working in the business. After Simons had managed the company for several years, she and her husband, Doug Simons, bought it in 1993. Since then, sales have increased each year, to $10 million in 2001.
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Convincing her parents she could run the business was tough-"not because I was female, but because I was their child. My brothers faced the same challenge." Before selling the business, her parents considered giving equal shares to each sibling, but decided that would lead to "too many cooks." Says Simons, "It's important to establish at the outset the role everyone in the family will have in the business, so there are no gray areas."
Taking over the family business will be natural for Victoria Ross, 25, who's being groomed to run Ross' Teal Lake Lodge and Teal Wing Golf Club, the Hayward, Wisconsin, resort her great-grandfather founded in 1921. "I was raised on the resort and was in a waitress uniform at age 6," recalls Ross. "I grew up in the business and have worked every position."
At 18, Ross took on management positions at the resort, solidifying her career choice. With a BA in business with a concentration in small business and a course on family business on her resume, Ross is now working on a masters in global tourism.
In between school and working at the family resort, Ross found time to work at another resort and a private club-experience she believes will be crucial. She's also been involved in trade associations.
Her three brothers and sister never expressed interest in the family business. "Running the resort takes many long, hard hours," says Ross. "You have to love the business and people to be happy doing it. This is not my siblings' cup of tea. Our parents always made it clear that we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted to do."
What challenges does Ross face as she gears up to take over? "A family business can seem restricting at times, because you become married to the business." In preparation, Ross has made it a point to travel and experience life while her parents are still running the resort. "As a result, I'm comfortable with the time and commitment the business demands and will demand in the future."