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The power of mom and pop

Can management lessons learned from family operations be successfully applied to other enterprises?
November 13, 2014
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By Christian Durand

Father daughter team Enrico and Erika Cimino at Boulangerie & Pâtisserie Salerno in Montreal. Enrico is the owner/ operator of the business with his father Antonio who opened the bakery in 1965. Salerno's is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Father daughter team Enrico and Erika Cimino at Boulangerie & Pâtisserie Salerno in Montreal. Enrico is the owner/operator of the business with his father Antonio who opened the bakery in 1965. Salerno's is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. | Photos by Concordia University


When your boss is your parent, you don’t leave work at the office — you discuss it at the dinner table. The rules of a 9-to-5 simply don’t apply when the heart is as much a part of a business strategy as the wallet.

But can the interactions that govern much of the decision-making and ethos of a family business be successfully applied to the management of other enterprises?

Barbara Reda, a PhD student in Business Administration at the John Molson School of Business (JMSB), thinks so. While conducting research for her master’s degree, she gleaned insight from an examination of 31 family-run bakeries in Montreal.

PhD student Barbara Reda's research indicates that in family run businesses a "job becomes much more than a pay check – it’s a passion and this translates into quality products or services." PhD student Barbara Reda's research indicates that in family run businesses a "job becomes much more than a pay check — it’s a passion and this translates into quality products or services."

“From the management side of things, the family model has not been traditionally seen as something to emulate,” she says. “But I think it has great potential.” 

Reda maintains that to appreciate the positive potential of family-run businesses, you must first understand the potential pitfalls.

“A lot of decisions made in a family business are emotionally based — mom or dad may be looking out for what’s best for certain family members, and not necessarily for the long-term success of the business. This forms the basis of nepotism, which is traditionally seen as a negative concept.”

The stress that comes from the long hours and financial uncertainty involved in running a business can also scare off the next generation. If the younger family members don’t get involved, ,the potential for innovation — essential for survival in an increasingly competitive global economy — is limited.

However, for businesses that manage internal dynamics well and create a legacy built on pride and hard work, the power of kinship can be turned into an advantage over non-family competitors.

According to Reda, it generally results in better engagement and more commitment to the business. “The job becomes much more than a pay cheque — it’s a passion and this translates into quality products or services.”

To attain similar results, non-family businesses must hire employees who are passionate about their work and feel invested in the success of the company. This also means that management must regard employees as much more than replaceable workers.

“If non-family firms understand how family businesses make decisions, I think they can groom their employees for long-term service and increase engagement,” says Reda. She is building on her research by conducting in-depth interviews with family business owners and operations.

Reda’s aim is to develop a more nuanced understanding of the complexity of their decision-making processes. She hopes that this will eventually lead to consulting work helping non-family businesses harness the power of mom and pop.



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