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Family Businesses: The Secrets of Successful Succession Part 1

Mandy Farmer, President of Accent Inns

Mandy Farmer, President of the family business

I personally love family businesses, and not just because I am in one!  I love how it can give people the opportunity to fast track themselves to their full potential.  I love how family businesses seem to have more values, ethics and personality rather  than the faceless “Big Boys”.  I love how family relationships can turn exponential when a father becomes a friend, a colleague, a business partner.

Of course, family businesses can go the other way. I can’t think of anything worse when family relationships turn sour because of the business. I’m a firm believer that the family has to come first.  As for myself; we are a 3rd generation family business and I confess, we’ve gotten darn good at succession issues.  I continually get asked how we did it, so here are my Secrets to Successful Succession, keeping not only the business in tact but more importantly our relationship.

In this blog post I’ll go over the early years and how my dad Terry set ME up for success (thanks Dad!).  Next week I’ll post on the actual takeover and transition between my father and I.  But first, what set the stage for success?

You know, I think we were basically lucky in that we had numerous other family business experiences to rely upon.  My dad, his brothers and a cousin worked with and eventually took over my grandfather’s construction company, Farmer Construction. Years later it was bought out by my 2nd cousins and an employee.  It was an extremely successful transition, setting the stage for when I took over from my father in 2008 (thanks Barry and Lyle!).  Aside from having some experience in succession, my Dad was brilliant in how he shaped me to become a good leader, while also providing some necessary escape routes if I didn’t turn out so great.

No Expectations. He always told me from the time that I was young that the family business would not be passed down, not ever.  I had no

Mandy Farmer & Joan making a bed at the Accent Inn Victoria Hotel

Mandy Farmer learned the business from the bottom up.

expectations of ever taking over the helm let alone getting a job with the company. Little did I know that this was not entirely true.  If you ask him today, he’ll say that he always had hoped one of his kids would be interested. The brilliance in this strategy is that neither my brother or I had any sense of entitlement to owning the company or working here, and the even bigger bonus was that there was no parental pressure for us to enter the family business; we were free to follow our hearts desires.

Work Elsewhere. Of course, I did eventually get a job within the company, but only after I had worked elsewhere. My first job at the age of 15

was cleaning rooms at a local B’n’B and then eventually busing tables.  After I had a few years of experience working for someone else I finally got a job at our hotel on the front desk. This was monumental because I then understood the role of being an employee rather than just being the boss’s daughter; in essence working elsewhere first allowed me to establish good work ethics.

Keep Working Elsewhere. As per point #1 I never had expectations of carrying on the family business, so I went off to university chasing after my heart’s desire (psychology and beer drinking).  During the summers I worked at a few other hotels, the Fairmont Empress, since that’s what I knew, loved to do and basically needed the pay cheque. It was here at these other hotels that I really grew my understanding of the big picture of the tourism industry. Working outside the family business in the same industry I believe is essential for creating future leaders.

Terry and Mandy Farmer

Mandy Farmer takes the reigns from her Father Terry

Okay, I’ll leave you here at this juncture in my life for this blog post.  Check in next week to find out how I managed the transitions and finally got my dad, the man who will never fully retire, to pass the reins to me and actually let me lead the company.