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(J.P. MOCZULSKI)
(J.P. MOCZULSKI)

Exit: John Warrillow

The perils and payoffs of working for a parent Add to ...

If you’ve ordered a steak in a restaurant lately, there’s a good chance it was supplied by Macgregors Meat & Seafood Ltd. — a $100-million-plus Canadian business that has survived and thrived through seven generations of family ownership.

In part one of a three-part series, I asked the current generation of owners — brothers Duncan and Don Macgregor — about the role culture has played in allowing Macgregors to beat the odds. In today’s discussion, we focus on the intersection of family life and business life.

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Question: What has been the toughest part of working for your dad?

Duncan Macgregor: I’ve never really felt as though I was working for my father — that might be the toughest part. Until Don and I officially took over leadership of the company nearly six years ago, we had a non-family-member president who played a key role in growing the business in the ’90s and the early part of this century — although Duncan Sr. had a firm hand on our training and succession plan. Perhaps the toughest part of working with him was not working with him.

Q: So how did your dad avoid you (or Don) doing an “end run” around the president on key decisions? Also, how did your dad manage to keep the president motivated and loyal to Macgregors when it would have been obvious that his intention was to pass the business on to his sons eventually?

DM: The thought of an “end run” isn’t part of our culture, history or experience. However, I definitely recall dad defaulting us to the president as he was running the operational show for many years. In the past-president’s case, dad put in place a creative approach to compensation and retirement planning to look after the motivational and loyalty side of things.

Q: Do you feel a sense of pressure to live up to your dad’s success?

DM: Absolutely, but the pressure is definitely not coming from him. He has been a great support in our leadership. Don’t get me wrong, though — he won’t shy away from telling Don and I things we can improve on.

Q: Can you give me a specific example of when he told you that you needed to improve on something?

DM: The one thing that comes to mind is dad continuing to remind us: “Communicate, communicate, communicate.” In an age when e-mail communication is more and more common, his reminder and challenge for us to remain hands-on and open is valued feedback. Even as open-book as we are and given our culture, communication is always something that can be improved upon.

I believe that any child seeks the approval and reassurance of his or her parents. I’m certainly no different. What I seek from my parents is “You’re good, you’re doing well, and blessings to you.” From a business standpoint, Don and I have had that reassurance on many occasions — from both my father and my mother (who has also been key to Macgregors’ success over the years on many fronts).

Q: When was the last time your dad gave you genuine professional praise or said he was proud of your accomplishments at Macgregors?

DM: My mom and dad genuinely praise us upon our annual business meeting celebrations each year. It’s intentional words, certainly not fanfare (that’s not our family’s way), nor public in front of our staff but a note saying, “We’re proud of you. Your grandfather would be proud to see Macgregors where it is today.”

In the next instalment, I’ll ask the Macgregors if they ever feel restricted by the weight and responsibility of a seventh-generation family business.

Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable – sellable – company.

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