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Articles - Women Entrepreneurs

Preparing spouse to manage business can ease succession later

Thursday, March 25, 2004



By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Jay was 28 when he founded his sign business. He and his wife Teddie were thrilled when they opened their storefront. As a young couple, they had a lot of energy and worked long hours getting the office and shop ready, buying supplies, developing a business plan, joining the local chamber and greeting their first customers.

Jay took over full management of the operation while Teddie kept her full time job as an account executive for a women's fashion company. But Teddie was there through all of the growing pains of the business too. She helped with billing and emptied the trash. She took messages for Jay at home in the evening when he was working late. The goal was to build the business to a level where she would quit her job and come to work with Jay. In the meantime her job provided a steady paycheck and other benefits such as insurance.

As the business grew, so did Jay and Teddie's family and responsibilities. By the time their second daughter was born, the sign business was doing well enough to support the young family without Teddie's income. It would be tight, but the couple decided to take the plunge. Teddie quit her job to have the flexibility to care for her children and help out at the business.

For years Jay and Teddie ran the business this way. Although they shared equally in the ownership of the business and both worked long hours, Jay was really the manager and Teddie the home manager. Teddie would leave early to pick the kids up from school and get them to soccer practice. On some mornings she would come in late to the office because there was a dental appointment or a school field trip. At the office, however, she was fully in charge of her department . . . everything that Jay didn't do, such as the bookkeeping, billing, purchasing and replanting the flowerbeds by the front door. Jay did the management, hiring and firing, marketing, customer service and the technical work. Amid all of this the children got more involved with the business, at first just watching dad build a sign, and later learning complex computer work.

If you are typical of most family business owners, you could probably plug your names into this scenario and change only a few details to make it your own story. Likewise, if you are typical of most small business owners, you do not have a succession plan. You have been so busy establishing and growing your business that you haven't looked that far ahead. You may not even have the confidence yet that your business will be around that long. Or you may decide to sell the business and build several other empires before you retire or die. When you were getting your business underway, it never occurred to you that you were building a legacy; you were just going after your dream.

If you are among the rare few who have considered succession planning, more than likely you and your spouse have discussed which child is best suited to be president or if management responsibilities should be shared by siblings. If you are in partnership with your brother, mother, sister-in-law, or some other family member, you probably have a legal and financial plan for how the partnership will transition should one or the other of you die or wish to be bought out. However, if the family business is a sole proprietorship such as Jay and Teddie have, and the husband is the founder and president, it's highly unlikely that you have considered your wife as a successor to the business leadership. Yet it is the wife who is most likely to be thrown into that position with the death of the founder where no succession plan has been established.

In 1984 McKinley conducted an interesting study in which she found that a widow was more than willing to take over management of the business upon her husband's death, especially if she had been working with her husband. But even among those widows not working in the business side-by-side with their husbands, there was a strong desire to take over the management. These widows reported that the business was very meaningful to them that it was a part of their identity, that they had psychologically helped build the business. They did not want the business to pass out of their hands, even if they didn't know how to run it.

Furthermore, most of the widows studied did not know how to manage their husband's business, because they had not been trained. Their function had been auxiliary. They provided support such as Teddie has done for Jay. Therefore, these widows, untrained in the ins and outs of managing the family business, had to turn to their attorneys, CPAs and other advisors to educate themselves about the business. This is not sufficient training for the complexity of running a small business, as any business owner knows. But these particular women were determined and they learned as their husbands had done . . .by the seat of their pants.

This seat-of-the-pants training may have been sufficient for the founder, but it seems a waste to have the successor not benefit by her predecessor's lessons. Unless the business is a professional practice requiring college and certification that your wife could not readily get upon your death, preparing your wife to take over the business is a logical and practical step for most business owners. A side benefit is that once she is trained, the founder can turn his interests elsewhere, such as expansion or developing a second business entity. Growth of an empire is possible only when you have the flexibility and freedom to explore uncharted territory. If you are busy manning the helm, your growth will be limited to raising prices on product or adding a new line.

Preparing a wife for the presidency is no easy feat, however. It means acknowledging that the founder may die or wish to move onto something else. It means putting things into writing, such as compensation plans for your wife. It means letting go of control and allowing your wife to know all of the company secrets. It means that the marriage itself will be challenged. As the protégé grows in ability and leadership, the mentor may find himself eased out of power before he is ready. Can your marriage stand the strain of your wife being the boss, for example?

Making your wife your equal partner at work (provided she wants the job) and teaching her everything you know, will provide a solid succession plan. She will most likely be a devoted fan of yours and the business, and therefore a loyal and responsible guardian for the business. She will be a much better prepared widow than McKinley found in her study and less likely to lose the business. However, this also means redesigning the business today to accommodate two owners, two managers, two leaders. The consensus model of marriage that most Americans accept as the standard today will be brought into the business setting. Not only will husband and wife have to adjust to this change, but so will employees, customers and others used to a more hierarchical model.

Be prepared to change the structure of management when your wife becomes your management partner. No longer can the founder fly by the seat of his pants. Although you may feel that your style is cramped when there are two of you to answer to, remember that having a well trained successor (and one who loves you) means that the business has a much more bright and stable future.

Women business owners are not always taken seriously

Thursday, January 31, 2002




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Women in business, one of the fastest growing segments of the self-employed, and yet we know very little about them. Half of America's workers are women. More and more women are entering the workplace and more and more women are entering at the business and professional level than ever before.

Women are not always taken seriously when it comes to running a business. I don't think that people are discriminating because of gender necessarily. It's probably more because they don't know how to relate to women business owners. Women have different values and these values are showing up in how women design their businesses.

Women business owners are more likely than men to accommodate their work schedules around family needs. Since they are in tune with the challenges involved with juggling work and family they are often willing to provide on site day care and flexi-time for their employees. A lot of women business owners working from their homes as telecommuters especially now that we have tools like the Internet.

My daughters have watched their mother develop her business from home. When they were babies, they slept in the bassinet next to my desk. Occasionally I would even take one of them to business meetings, rocking her in her baby carrier, as I took notes.

When my daughter Bianca was about 5, I heard her call out to me as she passed me in the kitchen, "Bye, Bye Mommy; I'm going to a meeting." She was dressed in an apron and high heels (my castoffs), pushing her doll carriage with one hand and carrying a briefcase in the other. (Actually the briefcase was a blue plastic crayola marker case but she has quite an imagination.)

This blending of family and work roles is commonly seen in couple-owned and family-owned enterprises. Yet women who attempt to blend both roles must fight invisibility. For example, I lost a contract to provide certain psychological services because my office is at home. I was told that home offices are not professional enough. However, I always thought I was clever to find a way to be with my family and still develop my career interests. Obviously this is not a value shared by the contractor.

Sometimes women reinforce this invisibility themselves. In an effort to maintain her role as wife and her role as business owner a woman may feel she has to take a "backseat" to her husband. For example, I asked a co-entrepreneurial couple to tell me their official business titles. Although the wife had started the business five years before her husband joined her, she told me she was a "sales associate," while her husband said he was "vice president."

Other copreneurial wives tell me that they share ownership of the business equally with their husbands, yet they rarely list their title as "owner" or "president." Usually they are listed as "secretary" or "treasurer." Their husbands on the other hand, frequently list themselves as "co-owner." So it appears that the need to hold back is coming from the wives, not the husbands.

I often get a call from a copreneurial wife asking for help with her marriage. She and her husband are struggling with balancing their personal relationship and their business partnership. Whether or not the wife was the business founder, she is usually the one with the most trouble accepting the power struggle with her husband. Men seem more comfortable with power negotiations and are at a loss as to why their wives are distressed.

Simply the wife has to learn to be assertive with her husband. She must draw boundaries around her turf. This is something that men do all of the time, but women may feel that they are being too "bossy." Women need to realize that most of the time their husbands are not offended by clear, assertive, decisive actions. In fact the chief complaint I hear from copreneurial husbands is that their wives don't speak up! So he doesn't know what she wants, nor how to help her get it.

If women business owners are to be more visible, they need to be bold and speak up. They need to educate lenders and others about the values of blending family and work life. They need to teach their daughters how to be true to her feminine spirit and yet develop her creative side through career, professional and business.

To bust the myth of invisible working women, business owners and others, girls need to see women at work. They need to be educated about how to successfully balance the demands of family life and work life. Women business owners are in a wonderful position to do just that.

Are you 'Daddy's little girl' in the family business?

Friday, August 04, 2000




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


My mother was fond of telling me this little aphorism when I was a girl. Perhaps it was because she had two daughters and no sons. Or perhaps it is because she was the only daughter in a family of sons. Whether she was trying to teach me the lesson, or to merely advise me of a fact, I have noticed the truth in this saying more often than not.

The value of relationships does seem to be more important for women than for men. Not that men do not enjoy loving relationships, but that women tend to define themselves more in terms of their relationships. Women and girls are more willing than men and boys to put their needs aside to maintain a relationship. Within a family firm for example, it is often the wife who does not take a formal salary. She is equally likely to forgo a formal title in the corporation, although she is just as hardworking an asset to the business as her husband.

Likewise with daughters. Daughters in family firms often see their roles as supportive of the family. They are not as driven to be leaders as are their brothers. This does not mean they do not want recognition. Rather their first priority is to ensure the success of the loving relationships. After all, these relationships came before the business. They are the driving force behind the business; the reason it came into being.

The research indicates that family owned firms were started by their founders primarily as a way to support the family. The women in family firms still recognize this intent long after the men have turned their attention to developing a thriving enterprise.

But this concern for family first often gets in the way of founders considering their daughters as successors. Although their daughters may be hardworking, college educated, committed to the family enterprise, and have many other talents, founders most often groom their sons to succeed them in the leadership of the business. The research shows that even founders who have no sons overlook the possibility of a daughter taking over the business.

Considering the importance women place on nurturing the family, and considering that a successful family firm requires a cohesive and committed family, daughters may be the most likely choice to succeed the founder of a family firm. In her study of 8 family firms, Collette Dumas identified the roles that daughters typically plan in family firms. Dumas chose only those family firms where the daughters held management positions. She also identified the qualities that make for a successful transition of leadership from fathers to daughters in family firms.

The majority of fathers and daughters that Dumas interviewed expressed great difficulty in managing the ambiguity in defining the daughter's roles in the family and in the family business. The roles assigned by both fathers and daughter ranged from "Daddy's little girl", which emphasizes a fragile, defenseless, dependent position, to that of a tough and independent manager in the business.

While the daughters studied were capable and assumed several roles in the family business, their primary role with their fathers (and which was learned at an early age) was that of defenseless dependent. As one daughter put it, "Even though I've been working here a long time, I still have to kiss him every morning. Otherwise he'll be hurt. I don't think he's made the transition to seeing me as an adult. I'm still his little girl."

While sons may also stay boys in their father's eyes, at least sons come into the family business with the expectation that someday they will take over. Daughters rarely have this illusion. Therefore, they may remain Daddy's little girl indefinitely. This position leads many daughters in family firms to struggle with a sense of identity. Many daughters in family firms, as well as their mothers, work wide by side with their brothers, yet their names are not on the organizational chart.

All of the fathers Dumas interviewed reported that they had never considered their daughters as potential successors in the business before their daughters came to work for them. And all the fathers reported that long periods of time went by after their daughters came to work for them before they considered the idea. Dumas refers to this phenomenon as the "invisible successor." Only when a crisis emerge where the daughter was needed to help out Dad, did either party consider her potential as a successor. Unlike sons, who come to work for the family business to further their career and eventual ownership, daughters come into the family business out of dedication to Dad and the family.

As a result of struggling with these issues (role ambiguity, invisibility and identity), daughters in family firms develop one of three styles according to Dumas: "Caring for the Father," "Taker of the Gold," or "Caretaker of the King's Gold."

In the first style, "Caring for the Father," the daughter may feel a lack of purpose and direction. She has not developed a clear and strong identity. Such people often attach themselves to strong leaders or father figures and become dependent on them in an attempt to fell "alive." In the family firm these daughter are largely oriented toward pleasing the father and caring for his comfort and wishes. His needs come before the daughters.

While there is nothing unhealthy about caring for another person, to do so exclusively not only robs the daughter of her identity, but may harm the firm. If the daughter's behaviors are oriented toward caring for her father to the exclusion of actions that would be beneficial to the organization's effectiveness and survival, she will not be prepared to take over the CEO's role when she succeeds him.

In the second style, "Taker of the Gold," the daughter has taken the opposite extreme by developing a rigid identity or sense of self. She works hard to achieve, even overachieve, but she thinks only of herself. In the case of daughters trying to become independent of fathers, the takers-of-the-gold become more interested in taking charge of the business assets than in responding empathetically to the father or recognizing this accomplishments.

While these daughters are strong and quite capable, they operate independently and thus do not take advantage of the resources available to them to make informed decisions. These daughters have behaviors that are rebellious and disrespectful of the business's norms. In the long run this style produces a great deal of conflict between father and daughter and potential distress for the business.

The third style, "Caretakers of the King's Gold," represents a midpoint between the first two styles where the structure of the identity is harmonious and stable and at the same time less rigid and dramatic. This daughter suffers less from a sense of inner emptiness and is less inclined to continuously prove her existence to others. In other words, this healthy sense of identity allows the daughter in a family firm to simultaneously take charge and take care of the "king's gold" (the business), "the king" (the father), and herself.

This style may seem to cast the daughter back into the dependent role of "Daddy's Little Girl." However, daughters who represent the style of "caretaker of the King's Gold," have found their identity through interdependence with their fathers. While sons cannot feel like men until they break away from Dad, daughters mature through affiliation and interconnectedness. Fathers with this type of daughter find that they can gradually phase out of the business. Their daughter is capable of running the business with out them, but she also values working with her father for as long as he is capable.

Murray Bowen, a family systems psychiatrist has suggested that interdependence is one sign of a healthy family. Certainly this is no less true for a family firm. Fathers and daughters who are able to be respectful of each other, nurture each others developmental needs and both creatively pursue the business are in a better position to make a healthy transition from father to daughter when the time comes for the succession of leadership.

It takes three things to be a successful business woman leader

Friday, April 07, 2000




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


What does it take for a woman to be a successful business leader in Clark County? I have been pondering that question for some time. It's not that I don't know what it takes to be a leader. It's just that the qualities of leadership are not defined by gender.

What we psychologists know about women leaders is that they don't test out any differently than men leaders on various personality characteristics. As entrepreneurs or business leaders both women and men are achievers, driven, tenacious, and independent. They are both unafraid of hard work. They strive for excellence in whatever they undertake. They can be impatient with the insecurities of others because these insecurities slow down the process. On the other hand these leaders are very good at encouraging excellence in others because they have a powerful belief in their cause. Leaders also believe in their abilities to accomplish whatever they put their minds too. This is probably the defining characteristic of leaders. Strong belief creates charisma and charisma creates followers.

So if female leadership and male leadership are not really different what does it take for a woman to be a successful business leader in Clark County? What I realized as I sifted through the characteristics of leaders is that the difference between male and female leaders may be in how those characteristics were acquired. In other words, women business leaders probably developed their leadership from quite different life experiences than their male counterparts. And these life experiences do distinguish leadership styles if not the basic leadership qualities.

Before exploring those typical female experiences that encourage leadership it is important to understand that a leader is born with something special. Just as one child seems particularly athletic and another child more musical, even as toddlers, parents are aware of leadership abilities in their child at a relatively young age. When I was six my parents attended the open house held at my school. They toured my classroom and admired the work of all of the children, but of course were particularly proud of little Kathy's accomplishments. But what impressed them most and is a family story to this day, is when the class of six-year-olds assembled ourselves into an orchestra with our rhythm instruments and performed for our parents. Little Kathy wasn't playing the maracas, or the triangle, or even the drums. No little Kathy was the conductor!

People either have leadership ability or they don't, and you can see the quality almost from birth. But that doesn't mean all people born with this quality become leaders. The quality needs to be nurtured for it to grow and flourish. Just as soccer camp and piano lessons nurture the young athlete and young musician, so must parents help their young leader find experiences to help her hone this skill. For girls and women this is not always easy since our cultural model for leadership is male.

To be female and to be a leader usually means heartache for girls before they come to accept how unusual they are and consider it an advantage. I would wager that most of the women business leaders in Clark County can relate to this. How many of you felt like an odd ball growing up? Over the years how many of you have been told you were too aggressive or unfeminine? How many of you outperformed your male colleagues only to watch the men be promoted at your expense?

I laugh now at the angry epithet thrown at me by my ex-husband shortly before our divorce. He said, "Do you know what's wrong with you? Do you really want to know what's wrong with you?"

I thought, "Well why not?" so I yelled back, "What . . . what do you think is wrong with me?"

He snarled with confidence, "What's wrong with you is that you think like a man!"

Being only 22 at the time, I didn't really understand what he meant, although I knew he didn't like me for some reason. But I was confused about what was wrong with my thinking. And I wondered if I did indeed think like a man, was that really so bad? And maybe what he meant is that I think for myself, or think I should be able to whenever I want to. Is that thinking like a man, or like an independent person?

Since then whenever I have told this story to a group I have noticed that the women leaders laugh because they have similar stories to tell. Women leaders who have overcome their fear of thinking like a man, ore behaving like a man, know they are women. Furthermore they know that each woman leader is a unique human being who brings her own particular personality to the organization she is leading. Like male leaders, female leaders are more definable by their leadership qualities than their gender.

For girls to grow up to be successful women business leaders they must conquer the fear of being unfeminine. The same qualities of leadership that are demonstrated by the boys in class are considered inappropriate for girls. So unlike boys who are leaders and encouraged to be leaders, girls who are leaders must pursue leadership by breaking the rules. If you don't like breaking the rules, you can't be a leader if you are female.

In a recent psychology study, participants were asked to describe the qualities of a male leader. They listed such qualities as strong, decisive, charismatic, aggressive, goal oriented, tall and so forth. When a separate group was shown this list of characteristics and told that this described a woman, the participants considered her unfeminine, unlikable, angry and manipulative.

I have had more than one job where I outperformed my co-workers. When I was just 19 I was a salesclerk for a department store. I worked in any department that needed an extra hand and one day they assigned me to Men's Wear. I remember having fun helping customers find just the right suit with shirt and tie to match. I had never worked in this department before so it was a challenge. By the end of the day I was surprised to learn that I had sold more merchandise than any other salesperson. Thinking that this would make the supervisor happy you can imagine my dismay when I was told that I could no longer work in that department because I was considered too pushy.

Again how many of you have similar stories to tell from childhood or youth? The problem isn't having these experiences. The problem is what to do with them. If girls are to grow into leaders and if women who are hiding their leadership abilities are to come out of the closet, then they need to be willing to rise above these negative female stereotypes. And they need to break some rules. In the case of the department store that couldn't see the advantage of my sales skills, I didn't give up. I just recognized that I was underemployed. By the time I was 30 I had had so many of these experiences that I decided to start my own business.

In a nutshell the answer to this question is that to be a Woman Leader in Clark County, and anywhere else for that matter, requires that you "think like a man," that you are "pushy," and that you "break the rules." At least that is how many women leaders are seen. However, I prefer to put a feminist spin on this definition and to relieve future women leaders of some old sexist baggage. For the twenty-first century to be a Woman Leader in Clark County requires (1) pride in independent thinking, (2) fearless determination to accomplish your goals, and (3) a willingness to create opportunities where others see limitations.

Mentoring women and women mentoring

Friday, September 03, 1999




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Mentoring for men is paying attention to strategy, politicking and developing the skills necessary to succeed in their chosen professions. Up until a few years ago, mentoring for women meant something entirely different.

It meant shopping, styling hair, preparing meals, keeping a good home, finding a successful husband, raising healthy children . . . these are the skills that mothers have taught their daughters for centuries. True, young men do receive coaching on how to dress for success, and even how to choose a wife suitable to their station in life, but these are just "business success" strategies.

Now, business mentoring is coming of age for women. Older women are learning to mentor younger women, and younger women are recognizing the value of receiving mentoring from successful women.

There is a wide range of female mentoring models to choose from. Women are not only working in all fields, but they have moved up the ladder in those fields. Now more women than men are in colleges and universities around the country. More women than men are graduating from law school for example. This is strong evidence that mentoring and role modeling by women has lead to more young women and girls believing in possibilities that their great-great-grandmothers only dreamed about.

But despite the similarities, mentoring for women is a different process than it is for men.

Although mentoring for women has a hierarchical quality women tend to highly value their relationships, at all levels of the hierarchy. Women mentors encourage younger, less skilled women to speak up and contribute to the whole. They tend to recognize abilities even if a young woman has not been with the company very long.

As whole-brained thinkers women can see both the value in the process of arriving at the goal as well as the actual achievement of the goal. The process teaches a woman about herself and her relationship with her co-workers, subordinates, boss or mentor.

My research has found that, for women, getting to know oneself in relationship to others is the foundation of life. Mentoring for them is about developing relationships and about learning as much from the protege as from the mentor. It's a collaboration, a dialogue, an evolving and developing process leading both women into a deeper relationship as well as a more advanced stage of life.

True, there are concrete skills to learn too. Women, just as men need to be wise to the politics of corporate life. They need to have professional credentials and skills if they want a good salary or to achieve that promotion. It's just that women take things personally so those personal needs must be addressed.

If there is no woman to mentor her, no mentor to relate to her personally, a young woman may hold herself back from accomplishment because of lack of confidence or lack of a mirror to show her she's on the right track. That's why being a mentor, or finding one, can be the key to success.

So just what does a mentor teach? Mentoring can cover the gamut of female behavior from dressing for success to litigation tactics to canning vegetables to dating etiquette. If you are considering mentoring, teach what you know and don't limit it to the traditional male arena. Your young protégé needs to learn how to be a woman, not just an attorney, or an artist.

You don't even have to know that much about her interests to be a good mentor. What you need to know is how to encourage her to be the best she can be, how to believe in herself. However, young women are still in great need of learning about all of the career possibilities there are in the world, so if you have a unique specialty, tout it. Let young women know that there are new and exciting career realms to explore.

It's an exciting new century that we are entering and women are blazing the way. More women than ever will own businesses by the year 2000, a demonstration that women's power is exploding. Those of you who have laid the foundation for this growth owe it to the younger generations to teach them what you know. The creativity must keep flowing. Women mentoring and mentoring women will undoubtedly insure a strong female leadership in the 21st century.

Women entrepreneurs: Are they different from men?

Thursday, February 04, 1999




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


All entrepreneurs face barriers to achievement; in fact, this is probably a major defining characteristic of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs by their very nature thrive on a challenging, even inhospitable environment. Still the challenges faced by entrepreneurial women are different from those faced by men, and further shape their destinies.

For example, a male entrepreneur often has not only the emotional support of his wife but her unpaid help in the business as well. A female entrepreneur on the other hand, does not have the benefit of her husband's unpaid help.

Typically, the husband is emotionally supportive, but it is up to the wife to manage her business as well as her child-care and household duties, while he works outside the business. Debbie Fields of "Mrs. Field's Cookies" fame had such a marriage. Although her husband was remarkably supportive of his wife's enterprise for many years, he acknowledged that he would withdraw his support if she failed to meet her obligations as a wife and mother.

In spite of this barrier, women entrepreneurs are starting businesses at ever-increasing rates --- and are succeeding, too. But they are using unconventional methods of business management.

For example, women entrepreneurs rarely have formal operational policies, formal planning processes, or formal job descriptions. These relaxed standards may be a result of their lack of formal business management education; however, they are not interfering with their success. Women entrepreneurs are obviously making an impact on the American economy.

The relaxed style of management can also be seen in how women entrepreneurs treat their employees, suppliers, and customers. They seem to prefer a more people-oriented style.

According to a 1993 study of entrepreneurial women in Oregon, women entrepreneurs blend their personal and their business identities. They base their management of the business on relationships rather than on the development of business plans. Employees are considered friends. Family and spouse supports are elements without which the woman would not consider an entrepreneurial venture.

Rather than network within the traditional business organizations, entrepreneurial women rely on strong personal relationships with their customers and vendors. These findings led behavioralists to describe the business orientation of entrepreneurial women as a "web of interconnected relationships." This web philosophy shows up in the problems common to women entrepreneurs, such as how to deal with the differences between themselves and their husbands, and to how to balance home life and work life.

For example, Sarah came up to me after a presentation I had made on entrepreneurial couples, and she complained that her marriage and business had been suffering since her husband, Buck, quit his job and came to work for her. Sarah started her business in her home as a way to supplement the family income. She made gourmet popcorn. As demand for her popcorn increased, she branched out and started selling other gourmet treats (gift baskets of nuts, popcorn, and chocolates, cookie bouquets, and so on).

Soon the business required her efforts full-time. She hired staff and rented a professional kitchen, warehouse, and office space.

Although Sarah did not ask her husband to join her, he quit his job in order to do so. She gladly accepted his offer at first, but all too soon the trouble started. Buck continued to think of Sarah's business as a part-time endeavor. He worked short hours, leaving most afternoons to go fishing with his friends. In spite of his lack of commitment, he would make major decisions for the business without consulting Sarah.

It was clear that Buck had been unhappy in his career in agricultural sales and saw Sarah's business as a way out. He wasn't really committed to the business, although he supported his wife emotionally. Instead, he saw the business as a way to support his own early semi-retirement. When Sarah realized that Buck was not really an entrepreneur, she needed to make a decision about how to take the business back and still save her marriage.

Sarah represents only one style of entrepreneurship for women and only one way that women entrepreneurs are affecting the ones they love. As women gain in confidence, as they encounter career barriers such as the glass ceiling in corporate life, and as their husbands adopt a more egalitarian attitude and approach in marriage, we are seeing more and more women embarking on entrepreneurial careers either as solo entrepreneurs, as dual entrepreneurs, or as copreneurs.

Regardless of entrepreneurial style, these women are reporting that they are highly satisfied with their lives and wouldn't arrange them any other way. In other words, working from a web of interconnected relationships, entrepreneurial women want personal achievement just as entrepreneurial men do.

Mom and Grandma: The making of an Entrepreneurial Woman

Friday, May 08, 1998




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


For florists, Mother’s Day is the biggest sale day of the year, bigger even than Valentine’s Day. This is a powerful statement of the value of Mom and her love in our lives. For an entrepreneurial woman, Mother (or Grandmother even) may have provided more than nurturing and support during those difficult growing up years. She may also have served as a role model for female entrepreneurship, even if she operated behind the scenes. This kind of role modeling is often overlooked when entrepreneurs describe their early years and yet it may explain why some girls later become entrepreneurs.

If you are an entrepreneurial woman chances are you have always felt different somehow from your contemporaries. Even as a child you knew that you didn’t quite fit in. Oh yes, you may have had friends and performed well in school, but your thoughts, ideas and behaviors gave you away. You secretly admired the privileges granted the boys. You were a curious, independent-minded, assertive girl. You couldn’t help yourself, even though at times you wished you were more like the others so that you didn’t feel so lonesome and odd.

Nevertheless as an adult you are still different, hopefully with more confidence and pride in those differences. And as you explore entrepreneurship, you finally realize that you have found your niche. For the woman who does not follow the traditional, culturally acceptable path for a female, the going is rough. But the path of entrepreneurship is so rewarding that the hardships are worth it. In fact, entrepreneurship levels out the playing field in some ways for women. If there is a glass ceiling in the corporate world, many women find that the sky’s the limit in self employment. That may be why women-owned business is the fastest growing segment of the self-employed.

Women entrepreneurs do not have the same modeling and clearly defined path to follow that men entrepreneurs have. Women have to look elsewhere for their mentors and guides. Although the research shows that women entrepreneurs are just as motivated as men by achievement needs, desire for independence and the lure of money, they design and run their businesses differently.

With personal relationships as the center of their lives, because it is the way that women define themselves, their businesses reflect this value as well. A woman-owned business is first and foremost an interconnected web of meaningful relationships.

If you are a self employed woman ask yourself where you got your training for entrepreneurship. You may not have entrepreneurship in the family or perhaps only male models. But if you look deeply enough you may find the roots of your entrepreneurial spirit lie closer than you think, perhaps in those meaningful relationships you have had with your mother, your grandmother, an aunt or female close friend of the family. So close to Mother’s Day, perhaps it’s time to honor those women who have helped lay the foundation for your success as a woman entrepreneur.

My Grandmother was one of those important female role models in my life. I loved my Grandma. She made me flannel nighties on her treadle sewing machine. She taught me how to make a quilt by hand. On my birthday she let me help in the kitchen as we created my birthday cake from scratch. She smelled like lavender and wore corsets to trim her waist and support her ample bosom. She was a great hugger. She bought me my first pair of white gloves and taught me the value of being a lady. It was great fun to put on our white gloves, call a taxi and head into town to attend a "show." I was incredibly proud of my Grandma when I watched her entertain at various social and fund raising functions. She had a one woman show where she sang, whistled, played the piano, and told those humorous Garrison Keilor type of stories in a funny Norwegian accent.

As I think about my entrepreneurial roots, I realize that Grandma had a major role in my growing awareness of myself as a girl, a woman, a scholar and as a self-employed professional.

Not only did Grandma delight me when I was a child, but I realize as an adult that she was a true pioneer. Born at the end of the 19th century, she claimed to be the "first white child" born in Nelson British Columbia. Her life was hard in those early years and to save her family the expense of raising her, she married at age 13. The marriage lasted only a few years and produced two children who died in infancy. Broken hearted Grandma set off for San Francisco to seek her fortune. She worked in a coffee shop, attended business school, and paid her way single-handedly by playing the piano at night in the silent movie houses. But always, she kept her virtue in tact. Being a lady was high on Grandma’s list.

Among the women entrepreneurs that I have had the privilege to know, the values that my Grandma taught me are apparent in them as well. Somehow these women know the importance of balancing their feminine spirit with the confidence and tenacity of making their mark in the world. These women value the qualities of loving relationships that so characterize the female spirit. Yet rugged individualism is not left behind. Rather through relationships with family and friends, women entrepreneurs discover strength to face the challenges, hardships and rewards of the entrepreneurial life.

Thank you to all of those wonderful mothers and grandmothers who paved the way for their girls to grow into entrepreneurial women.

What do women want in a family firm?

Thursday, November 30, 1995




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


"How do I get my wife to do what I ask her to do at work?" This question was asked by a beleaguered husband/entrepreneur at a recent meeting of Portland CEOs. I have heard this question often and in many formulations. Another version is, "What do women want?"

Today, much is being written about the psychological differences between men and women. While there are differences, some of them profound, there are also many similarities. And when it comes to answering the question of "What do women want?" the answer is simple. They pretty much want what men want.

In a family firm, especially one where husband and wife are co-owners, there are bound to be power struggles. Women as well as men want to feel in charge of their lives. They want to feel valuable, appreciated. We call this concept "Power." Even children need a sense of personal power, of having some say in the direction of their lives.

A husband who asks, "How do I get my wife to do what I ask her to do at work?" is probably engaged in a power struggle with his wife. Both are worried that if they don't get their way, they will lose something (perhaps power over their own destinies.)

The solution is simple. Put your fears and your ego away. Ask yourself, how am I interfering in her sense of power? How can I include her in the decision-making process? How can I feel powerful and still give my spouse room to feel the same? In other words, look for a win-win solution.

Couples who work together need to develop a structure for communicating and decision-making that works for them. If you have a consensus model at home, it is difficult to implement a hierarchical model at work. If a husband and wife are used to making decisions together for the family, this is likely to be the best style at work as well. It is confusing and leads to power struggles when a wife is an equal partner at home, but must answer to her boss/husband at work.

Some copreneurs (couple who own, manage and share responsibility for an enterprise) have resolved these problems in creative ways. For example, one solution to power struggles at work is to have separate domains for husband and wife to work in. This way, neither husband nor wife has to answer to the other for the daily operations of their departments.

Another possible solution is to have differing levels of decision-making. Some levels of decision-making in the business require consensus by husband and wife. Other levels of decision-making can be handled by one spouse or the other. And still other levels are strictly the responsibility of the spouses managing that department.

In order to implement a successful plan for decision-making and prevent power struggles, a husband and wife need to attend to their personal relationship first. Relationships based on fear don't work. There must be respect, love and support to maintain a healthy relationship. There must be room for individual differences. There must be an honest assessment of each other's strengths so that duties at work can be assigned to produce the most efficient and successful outcome.

Too often copreneurs rely on traditional gender roles to define their duties at work and at home. While this may work for some couples, it can produce power struggles for other couples. If you are not a traditional couple at what makes you that that style is appropriate for work? Or perhaps the traditional model worked for you when you were younger and raising your children, but now the kids are grown, you need a more egalitarian style. As you establish your decision-making structure, consider your optimal marital style, keeping in mind your current values about family, marriage and work.

Jewish families have a tradition that helps them keep their perspective about family and work. On the right side of the entry door of a Jewish home, you will notice a small decorative box. This box holds a Mezuzah, a message from the Bible. The message is a reminder to family members that each day as they return home from work, the center of their lives is the family. In other words, all of one's accomplishments in the world of work have little meaning if they can't be shared with one's family.

Successful family firms and copreneurial venture seem to share this value also. There is a recognition that men and women, husband and wives really want the same thing. To be sure, they want success at work. They want to know that they are in charge of their destinies. But most important, they want to know that their accomplishments are appreciated by the ones they love and who they love.

So the next time you are engaged in a power struggle with your spouse, take a look at how you have been addressing your priorities. If you business decisions are coming at the expense of your intimate relationships, your spouse may be fighting for the survival of the family. Reorient yourself to family first and your business decisions will have the full support of your loved ones.

The Incredible Invisible Woman

Friday, August 04, 1995




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Women in business, one of the fastest growing segments of the self-employed, and yet we know very little about them. Half of America's workers are women. More and more women are entering the workplace and more and more women are entering at the business and professional level than ever before.

Yet when Juanita Ohanian applied for a business loan at the First Women's National Bank in Rockville Maryland, she was denied the loan unless she had her husband's signature. Ohanian had operated her commercial offset printing and photocopying business for 12 years. The business was financially secure and she was earning twice her husband's salary!

In spite of their numbers in the work place, women such as Ohanian are not always taken seriously when it comes to running a business. I don't think that lenders are discriminating because of gender necessarily. It's probably more because they don't know how to relate to women business onwers. Women have different values and these values are showing up in how women design their businesses.

Women business owners, for example, often work with their husbands. They are more likely than men to accommodate their work schedules around family needs. For example, Hannah Anderson a clothing retailer in Portland, has on site day care and flexi-time for it's workers. There are also many women business owners working from their homes as telecommuters.

My daughters have watched their mother develop her business from home. When they were babies, they slept in the bassinet next to my desk. Occasionally I would even take one them to business meetings, rocking her in her baby carrier, as I took notes.

When my daughter Bianca was about 5, I heard her call out to me as she passed me in the kitchen, "Bye, Bye Mommy; I'm going to a meeting." She was dressed in an apron and high heels (my castoffs), pushing her doll carriage with one hand and carrying a briefcase in the other. (Actually the briefcase was a blue plastic crayola marker case but she has quite an imagination.)

This blending of family and work roles is commonly seen in couple-owned and family-owned enterprises. Yet women who attempt to blend both roles must fight invisibility. For example, I lost a contract to provide certain psychological services because my office is at home. I was told that home offices are not professional enough. However, I always thought I was clever to find a way to be with my family and still develop my career interests. Obviously this is not a value shared by the contractor.

Sometimes women reinforce this invisibility themselves. In an effort to maintain her role as wife and her role as business owner a woman may feel she has to take a "backseat" to her husband. For example, I asked a co-entrepreneurial couple to tell me their official business titles. Although the wife had started the business five years before her husband joined her, she told me she was a "sales associate," while her husband said he was "vice president."

Other copreneurial wives tell me that they share ownership of the business equally with their husbands, yet they rarely list their title as "owner" or "president." Usually they are listed as "secretary" or "treasurer." Their husbands on the other hand, frequently list themselves as "co-owner." So it appears that the need to hold back is coming from the wives, not the husbands.

Every so often I get a call from a copreneurial wife asking for help with her marriage. She and her husband are struggling with balancing their personal relationship and their business partnership. Whether or not the wife was the business founder, she is usually the one with the most trouble accepting the power struggle with her husband. Men seem more comfortable with power negotiations and are at a loss as to why their wives are distressed.

Simply the wife has to learn to be assertive with her husband. She must draw boundaries around her turf. This is something that men do all of the time, but women may feel that they are being too "bossy." Women need to realize that most of the time their husbands are not offended by clear, assertive, decisive actions. In fact the chief complaint I hear from copreneurial husbands is that their wive's don't speak up! So he doesn't know what she wants, nor how to help her get it.

If women business owners are to be more visible, they need to be bold and speak up. They need to educate lenders and others about the values of blending family and work life. They need to teach their daughters how to be true to her feminine spirit and yet develop her creative side through career, professional and business.

Last year there was a great deal of controversy about the first national "Take Your Daughter to Work Day." Some said that sons should have equal time. While it is valid that a son should have the opportunity to learn about his mother's and father's careers, daughters need an extra helping hand right now.

To bust the myth of invisible working women, business owners and others, girls need to see women at work. They need to be educated about how to successfully balance the demands of family life and work life. Women business owners are in a wonderful position to do just that.

Daughters as heirs or caretakers of the king

Thursday, February 02, 1995




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


"A son is a son 'Till he takes him a wife; But a daughter's a daughter The rest of her life."

My mother was fond of telling me this little aphorism when I was a girl. Perhaps it was because she had two daughters and no sons. Or perhaps it is because she was the only daughter in a family of sons. Whether she was trying to teach me the lesson, or to merely advise me of a fact, I have noticed the truth in this saying more often than not. The value of relationships does seem to be more important for women than for men. Not that men do not enjoy loving relationships, but that women tend to define themselves more in terms of their relationships. Women and girls are more willing than men and boys to put their needs aside to maintain a relationship. Within a family firm for example, it is often the wife who does not take a formal salary. She is equally likely to forgo a formal title in the corporation, although she is just as hardworking an asset to the business as her husband. Likewise with daughters. Daughters in family firms often see their roles as supportive of the family. They are not as driven to be leaders as are their brothers. This does not mean they do not want recognition. Rather their first priority is to ensure the success of the loving relationships. After all, these relationships came before the business. They are the driving force behind the business; the reason it came into being. The research indicates that family owned firms were started by their founders primarily as a way to support the family. The women in family firms still recognize this intent long after the men have turned their attention to developing a thriving enterprise.But this concern for family first often gets in the way of founders considering their daughters as successors. Although their daughters may be hardworking, college educated, committed to the family enterprise and have many other talents, founders most often groom their sons to succeed them in the leadership of the business. The research shows that even founders who have no sons overlook the possibility of a daughter taking over the business. Considering the importance women place on nurturing the family, and considering that a successful family firm requires a cohesive and committed family, daughters may be the most likely choice to succeed the founder of a family firm. In her study of 18 family firms, Collette Dumas identified the roles that daughters typically play in family firms. Dumas chose only those family firms where the daughters held management positions.She also identified the qualities that make for a successful transition of leadership from fathers to daughters in family firms.

The majority of fathers and daughters that Dumas interviewed expressed great difficulty in managing the ambiguity in defining the daughter's roles in the family and in the family business.The roles assigned by both fathers and daughters ranged from "Daddy's little girl," which emphasizes a fragile, defenseless, dependent position, to that of a tough and independent manager in the business. While the daughters studied were capable and assumed several roles in the family business, their primary role with their fathers (and which was learned at an early age) was that of defenseless dependent. As one daughter put it, "Even though I've been working here a long time, I still have to kiss him every morning. Otherwise he'll be hurt. I don't think he's made the transition to seeing me as an adult. I'm still his little girl." While sons may also stay boys in their fathers eyes, at least sons come into the family business with the expectation that someday they will take over. Daughters rarely have this illusion. Therefore, they may remain Daddy's little girl indefinitely. This position leads many daughters in family firms to struggle with a sense of identity. Many daughters in family firms, as well as their mothers, work side by side with their brothers, yet their names are not on the organizational chart. All of the fathers Dumas interviewed reported that they had never considered their daughters as potential successors in the business before their daughters came to work for them. And all the fathers reported that long periods of time went by after their daughters came to work for them before they considered the idea. Dumas refers to this phenomenon as the "invisible successor." Only when a crisis emerged where the daughter was needed to help out Dad, did either party consider her potential as a successor. Unlike sons, who come to work for the family business to further their career and eventual ownership, daughters come into the family business out of dedication to Dad and the family. As a result of struggling with these issues (role ambiguity, invisibility and identity), daughters in family firms develop one of three styles according to Dumas: "Caring for the Father," "Taker of the Gold," or "Caretaker of the King's Gold."In the first style, "Caring for the Father," the daughter may feel a lack of purpose and direction. She has not developed a clear and strong identity. Such people often attach themselves to strong leaders or father figures and become dependent on them in an attempt to feel "alive." In the family firm these daughters are largely oriented toward pleasing the father and caring for his comfort and wishes. His needs come before the daughter's. While there is nothing unhealthy about caring for another person, to do so exclusively not only robs the daughter of her identity, but may harm the firm.

If the daughter's behaviors are oriented toward caring for her father to the exclusion of actions that would be beneficial to the organization's effectiveness and survival, she will not be prepared to take over the CEO's role when she succeeds him. In the second style, "Taker of the Gold," the daughter has taken the opposite extreme by developing a rigid identity or sense of self. She works hard to achieve and even overachieve, but she thinks only of herself. In the case of daughters trying to become independent of fathers, the takers-of-the-gold become more interested in taking charge of the business assets than in responding empathetically to the father or recognizing his accomplishments. While these daughters are strong and quite capable, they operate independently and thus do not take advantage of the resources available to them to make informed decisions. These daughters have behaviors that are rebellious and disrespectful of the business's norms. In the long run this style produces a great deal of conflict between father and daughter and potential distress for the business. The third style, "Caretaker of the King's Gold," represents a mid-point between the first two styles where the structure of the identity is harmonious and stable and at the same time less rigid and dramatic. This daughter suffers less from a sense of inner emptiness and is less inclined to continuously prove her existence to others. In other words, this healthy sense of identity allows the daughter in a family firm to simultaneously take charge and take care of the "king's gold" (the business), "the king" (the father), and herself. This style may seem to cast the daughter back into the dependent role of "Daddy's Little Girl." However, daughters who represent the style of "Caretaker of the King's Gold," have found their identity through interdependence with their fathers. While sons cannot feel like men until they break away from Dad, daughters mature through affiliation and interconnectedness. Fathers with this type of daughter find that they can gradually phase out of the business. Their daughter is capable of running the business with out them, but she also values working with her father for as long as he is capable. Murray Bowen, a family systems psychiatrist has suggested that interdependence is one sign of a healthy family. Certainly this is no less true for a family firm. Fathers and daughters who are able to be respectful of each other, nurture each other's developmental needs and both creatively pursue the business are in a better position to make a healthy transition from father to daughter when the time comes for the succession of leadership.