Celebrate female success in family firms on International Women’s Day

| March 8, 2018

International Women’s Day on March 8 celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the world. Women have an increasingly important part in today’s business world, from starting their own companies to running major international corporations, but also play a vital role in sustaining family firms.

Sue Ismiel founded waxing company, Nad’s, after experimenting with hair-removal formulas at her kitchen table in 1991. It has since expanded into a $42 million empire and she aims to list the business within two years.

After recently appointing a CEO to handle the day-to-day running of the business, Sue has been freed up to concentrate on philanthropy through her foundation, Sue Ismiel & Daughters. When her three daughters inherit the company, she will be one of the first Australian female business founders to hand over the reins to a second generation of women.

Vanessa Katsanevakis took over as director of Sussex Taps from her ailing father, after her brother turned down a position at the company. Although she was in her late twenties at the time and entering a male dominated high-end tapware business, she discovered she could empathise with their key demographic – women aged between 35 and 50. Vanessa has her own distinctive vision for Sussex, centred on bespoke customisation, innovation, beautiful design and the expression of individual tastes.

Like many others, Caroline Lubbers joined her mother’s hospitality company after gaining valuable high-end experience outside of the family business. She is passionate about empowering women to develop their own leadership style and, together with an NGO, has set up Equipoise, an international network of women working in the cocoa and chocolate industries. Caroline now has a role on the board of her global family business as well as continuing to run her social enterprise.

Michael Hill International, retail jewellers based in New Zealand, handed the reins over to daughter Emma Hill in 2015, a decision taken in part to retain its sense of family-run romance and soul. She was groomed for leadership for many years, serving as deputy chair in 2011, and is now the chairwoman of the business with an estimated worth of over $600 million.

Keen to make her mark on the company, Emma launched Emma & Roe in 2014, a sideline label specialising in interchangeable jewellery. It has expanded to 20 stores across Australia and New Zealand, and Emma hopes it will eventually grow to the size of Michael Hill, or bigger.

After working as an environmental lawyer, Margaret E Sheehan switched career to work as general counsel and vice-president of L. Knife & Co, her families fourth-generation business with ownership passed down through her mother’s side of the family.

As a wholesale distributor of Anheuser-Busch beer, the company has a unique ownership structure, with eight participating and non-participating siblings owning all of the non-voting stock. She leveraged her background to help set up both a family council and foundation, as well as provide support on matters of succession. Her work helped to ensure the business was sustainable and will continue to thrive when for future generations.

Women seeking advice about entering or advancing in the business world might like to contact Insights, a not-for-profit organisation working exclusively with family groups in commercial endeavors.  Watch these videos, take an online women in business course or download the free Women in Family Business e-book.

This piece was first published at Insights.