More family businesses put reins in women's hands
When Joanne Madros began learning the operations of Tarax Service Systems, all she needed to do was look to the desk four feet away, occupied by her father, George.
“My approach was to really observe,” she said. “Learn, listen, look. Ask as many questions as possible. Get some insight, get some direction.”
George Madros is CEO of Tarax, a commercial cleaning company with about 30 employees and dozens of regional clients, which he founded about 55 years ago. Three years ago, the youngest of his four daughters stepped in to help run the operation, becoming president and on track to succeed her father.
Jayne Huston, director of Seton Hill University's eMagnify center, has worked with female entrepreneurs for two decades, many of whom have taken over a family business. When blood is involved, hiring, firing or transitions through generations are sensitive decisions, she said.
“It's easy to say amongst peers, ‘don't take it personally, it's business,' ” Huston said. “But in a family-owned business, it is kind of personal.”
As the younger Madros has learned the business, her father has learned to trust her instincts.
“I've given her a lot of rope in case I have to pull it in,” George said. “I would, but I haven't.”
Fifty-five percent of family businesses in Pennsylvania say it is likely that control will remain in the family, according to 2013 Annual Pennsylvania Economic Survey. And more female entrepreneurs are starting businesses — or stepping into their father's and grandfather's shoes.
At eMagnify, Huston runs counseling, training and mentoring programs for business women in Western Pennsylvania. She heads a chapter of the international Women Presidents' Organization, where 20 female business owners regularly meet.
“Anecdotally, I'm seeing fathers passing companies onto their daughters,” Huston said. “That's what's happening with the folks I'm seeing on a more routine basis.”
The 2007 American Family Business Survey found 24 percent of businesses surveyed had female CEOs or presidents, up from 10 percent in 2002. The survey, backed by MassMutual, Kennesaw State University and the Family Firm Institute, found a fivefold increase in the number of women leaders in family business in a decade. The numbers portend growth, and around a third of firms indicated they may have a female successor.
Madros, 40, recalls spending weekends checking in on operations with her dad as a girl. Years later, after a career in sales and traveling throughout Canada, Madros said her mother encouraged her to join her father to continue to grow the business.
At first, the transition required adjustment. Hard work, she said, was essential.
“Just because your father owns a business doesn't mean you have a free pass,” she said. “You have to prove yourself.”
The company focuses on maintenance services, and specializes in floor and carpet restoration. Madros said she aims to grow the business with a focus on construction cleanup. Last year, they won such a bid from the South Fayette Township School District.
“It's wonderful to see this business continue, and she's done a wonderful job,” George said.
Melissa Blystone, CEO of Valley Dairy Restaurants based in Latrobe, began her career standing on a milk crate running the cash register.
“I was a waitress all through my high school years; while I was going to college, I managed one of the restaurants,” Blystone, 42, said. “I really am one of those who start at the bottom and work your way up.”
Blystone's grandfather, Joseph “Ice Cream Joe” Fleming Greubel,” started Valley Dairy in 1938 with his homemade ice cream recipe and a deli counter. Now, the business has an ice cream brand, 11 restaurant locations and 350 employees.
With five children, Blystone said her biggest challenge is balancing the commitment to work with a large family. But she's keeping an eye open to see if one day her children will head the business, the way her grandfather told her she'd be the one. It might be her 16-year-old son, who is “a real people person,” greeting customers at the door.
“There's definitely a passion for business and service types of business,” she said, “and you either have it or you don't.”
Alex Krischke, 26, grew up talking business at the dinner table with her parents, Ryan and Debra Dion Krischke, who started Three Rivers Paintball in Freedom about 30 years ago. Now she's general manager, heading up day-to-day operations and managing 75 employees at peak seasons.
“It's really fun, and we all have the same objectives,” she said. “It's a team effort.”
Running a family business came naturally for Lisa Frederick, president of Unity Printing Co. Her father, James Ernette, started the business from her childhood home 35 years ago, and she remembers falling asleep to the sounds of the presses. She and her husband, Joe, became full owners in January upon her father's retirement.
Most important, said Frederick, 41, of Greensburg, are the employees, whom she sees as part of their family.
“I go to sleep at night thinking, ‘I'm responsible for 25 people's livelihoods,' ” she said. “We don't want anyone to lose jobs. We want to create jobs and see people making a decent living.”
Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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