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exit: john warrillow

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 the previous two segments in this series, which you can read here and here, I asked the current generation of Macgregors — brothers Don and Duncan — about the culture at Macgregors and the challenges of working for their father. In today's discussion, I asked Duncan if he feels claustrophobic running the company.

Question: Do you feel as though you own the business, or do you have a sense you are just taking care of it for the next generation of Macgregors?

Duncan Macgregor: At this point, Don and I have no set plans for the next generation — time will obviously tell — but if our children do want into the business, it will certainly be more complicated than what Duncan Sr. had to deal with in the second generation or what Don and I had to deal with in the third generation, because the next generation involves more family members. Duncan Sr. made passing on ownership of Macgregors an easy endeavour for Don and me, and we simply see ourselves as stewards of the business. There is certainly pride, but there has never been a feeling of entitlement. That word doesn't really exist in our family — part of Duncan Sr.'s legacy.

Q: I guess what I'm wondering is does this ever feel restrictive? For example, I owned my business and started it from scratch, so if I wanted to take out some money and buy something indulgent like a cottage or a new car, that was my decision. I'm wondering if you feel the same freedom to take money out of the business to fund your lifestyle or if there is a sense of guilt that you would be taking away from future generations or that your father might frown on how you are spending the money he played a large part in making possible.

DM: The bottom line is that Don and I own the shares of Macgregors and, in general, can decide what to take out and when to take it out … but we have a value system in our nature that keeps Don and I cautious and conservative. We could easily change our salaries, which would affect our income statement and therefore affect our profit-sharing plan and each of our staff's compensation as a result. But we have chosen to run the business fairly, just as prior generations did. There will be times when taking money out of the business makes sense, and there will be times when we decide the opposite. Many years ago, during rough times, Duncan Sr. forwent taking a salary at all. Fortunately, Don and I haven't experienced having to do this.

Q: Do you ever dream about starting your own business to prove to yourself that you can be successful outside the family business?

DM: I really don't. At this stage, I love my work; I love playing a part in shepherding close to 200 people in business and our roles as third-generation owners and leaders are evolving as Duncan Sr. phases out of the business — that is both exciting and uncomfortable at the same time. Boy, I only wish to fill his shoes but a fraction. I would consider that successful.

Last of a three-part series.

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.