Generational Shifts: Shauna Feth’s Guide to Family Succession

In this podcast episode, Cory engages with Shauna Feth, President and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce (ACC), delving into the pivotal value of family enterprises in communities. Shauna emphasizes embracing opportunities for growth and learning, drawing from her privileged experience within a multi-generational business family. She passionately highlights how family enterprises not only contribute financially but also socially and emotionally to communities. These businesses play a pivotal role, in giving back by supporting local economies, sponsoring events, and investing in various community projects.

Shauna underscores the significance of support networks within family enterprises, advocating for open communication and shared experiences among members. She discusses the critical role of organizations like the Alberta Business Family Institute (ABFI) and Family Enterprise Canada in offering resources and guidance to family enterprises. These institutes facilitate learning opportunities and provide courses, webinars, and platforms for families to address vital topics like succession planning, leadership development, and estate planning.

Furthermore, Shauna navigates the complexities of transitioning family businesses across generations. She highlights the importance of structured communication channels, comprehensive succession plans, and recognizing individual talents within the family to foster a seamless transition. Shauna emphasizes the need for continual adaptation and planning in family enterprises, encouraging proactive approaches to business growth and operational changes while maintaining strong familial and community ties.

About Shauna Feth

Shauna Feth, currently serving as the President and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce (ACC) since June 2022, brings a wealth of experience in fostering entrepreneurship and supporting family businesses. Before her tenure at ACC, she spent over a decade as the Executive Director of the Alberta Business Family Institute at the University of Alberta School of Business. With a strong foundation as a designated Family Enterprise Advisor™ and being part of a third-generation business family, Shauna has passionately promoted and advocated for entrepreneurs and business families for nearly 15 years.

Her impactful initiatives include managing the Creating Pathways for Entrepreneurial Families Initiative, a collaboration funded by the University of Alberta and Rural Alberta’s Development Fund. Throughout this endeavor, Shauna facilitated ABFI programs and services, reaching out to over 8,000 constituents across the province, significantly enhancing the sustainability of rural family businesses and communities. Additionally, she has a diverse professional background, having ventured successfully into oilfield/pipeline consulting, maintenance, and construction, co-establishing and selling two companies. Currently, she co-manages an apiary and is deeply committed to the welfare of a thriving community of honeybees.

Moreover, Shauna’s engagement extends to project and event management consulting, where she contributed to the success of notable Alberta events, including the Big Valley Jamboree, Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame’s Grand Opening, and the Viking Cup International Hockey Tournament. A dedicated community volunteer, she has held various influential positions across multiple organizations, serving as Co-Chair of the Provincial Talent Development Task Force, Past Chair of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, and holding positions in boards and advisory roles for initiatives supporting entrepreneurship and family enterprises.

Resources discussed in this episode:

Contact Cory Gagnon | Beacon Family Office at Assante Financial Management Ltd. 

Contact Shauna Feth | Alberta Chamber of Commerce: 

Welcome to Legacy Builders, strategies for building successful family enterprises. Brought to you by Beacon Family Office at Assante Financial Management Limited. I’m your host, Cory Gagnon, Senior Wealth Advisor. And on this show, we explore global ideas, concepts, and models that help family enterprises better navigate the complexities of family wealth. 

Today’s guest is Shawna Feth, president and CEO of the Alberta Chamber of Commerce. Shauna is a committed advocate for entrepreneurship and family business. With a decade-long tenure, previously as the executive director of the Alberta Business Family Institute, Sean’s passion for fostering entrepreneurial success spans decades.

She has spearheaded impactful initiatives, including the creating pathways for entrepreneurial families initiative, transforming rural family businesses and communities. With a rich background in oilfield Consulting And Invent Management, Shauna’s dedication extends to co-managing apriori and influential volunteer roles.

Shaping the landscape of entrepreneurship and family enterprises in Alberta.

My goal is to be the most curious person in today’s conversation with Shauna Feth. Delving into diverse topics such as family enterprise identification, the critical role of continuity planning, and the importance family businesses have in our communities. With her remarkable journey and rich background in business, Shauna shares valuable insights drawn from her life as part of a multi-generational business family. Now let’s dive in.

Cory: We’re excited to have you here today and share your wealth of knowledge and experiences with us.

Shauna: Well, thank you for having me, Cory.

Cory: Let’s dive right in. Shall we?

Shauna: Sure.

Cory: Alright. Well, Shauna, imagine you’re delivering a commencement speech to the graduating class of 2023, and you have the chance to inspire them with your story.

How would you begin your speech to convey the incredible lessons and expertise that you’ve gained throughout your career?

Shauna: I would tell them to just embrace any opportunity that comes your way. Any opportunities to learn or grow professionally. I was so incredibly fortunate in my life. I was born into their generation’s business families.

I started learning from the day I was born what it meant to be an entrepreneur my grandmother owned hair salons, and I grew up sweeping floors and being a part of that business from my earliest memories.

It was kind of bred into me, but that part came genetically or inherited I’ve just had such an amazing journey in terms of the opportunities that have been presented to me and the wonderful mentors and teachers and educators and colleagues that I’ve been so fortunate and blessed to be, able to work with and collaborate with throughout the years and to learn from.

I would be that would be my number one thing is an embrace every opportunity I have. To learn and to be mentored and to gain more information. And I family prize, that’s not a calling of choice. It’s not something back when I was in postsecondary that we were talking about. I kind of evolved into it just because I’m so passionate about the impact that family enterprises have.

On our communities and our economy. And I’m so passionate about the value that it presented to my family, and the value that we saw from being part of a family enterprise, not just financially, but just socially and emotionally, and our ability to integrate and be part of our community at a different level.

So again, just be excited to embrace every opportunity and, just be really grateful about where you come from and the gifts that you’ve been given from your family of origin to support you in your journey.

Cory: I love that, Shauna, and I want to go down the road a little bit of that opportunity to integrate into the community because some of these family members may look at it as, maybe not an opportunity as you say it. Although, I think it is and there’s something there. Can you talk a little bit more about the community within the family enterprise space? We’re beyond and how being a part of a family enterprise gave you that.

Shauna: Yeah. I mean, I could talk about community and different levels. I guess I would say, Cory. So more immediately family enterprises in our communities are they’re so supportive they give back they are too appreciative of the people who are shopping local, buying, local, contracting local, and supporting them and their businesses. And again, the value that that that adds to their family so they are so good. Like, this is just about my experience over many, many years.

They are so good at giving that value and paying that forward into their communities, whether that be building a direct center or just sponsoring a sports team or supporting arts and culture events or any of those critical kind of capstone events that happened in our communities throughout the year. Hands down, you always see family businesses supporting those. And I think that that’s so important.

And then I think too, a family business can create a broader sense of community, through some of the organizations that are in place to support family businesses. And I think that is important too because that’s a different type of community.

That’s a supportive community where they can access other leaders like themselves and they can be learning from each other’s shared experiences. So I think there’s kind of 2 sets of community that and family business provides so much value in both of those.

Especially when you have an organization like Family Enterprise Canada or the Alberta Business Family Institute that is convening these individuals together and allowing them to share learn and grow.

I think both sets of communities for family enterprises are so can be so impactful from a learning perspective and a growth and support perspective for their local communities.

Cory: That’s great. I love the two sides of community because, the community that supports the business and the enterprise and giving back, but then the community of others that are in the same situation. I think that many people on this earth feel alone in their situation and understanding that there are organizations out there that support, the people that are in similar situations is important. So your involvement in both those organizations that you mentioned, has been tremendous. Can you speak a little bit more about your situation growing up and being a part of the family enterprise and what you see the value of those organizations to be?

Shauna: Yeah. As you’re aware, I’ve kind of shifted lanes in terms of my professional career, and I’m very excited to head out, to the Alberta Chamber of Commerce. But before this role, I ran the Alberta Business Family Institute at the University of Alberta for almost 15 years. During that time, I had a very close relationship. I’ve been kind of a part of the family and supervisor designation journey, right, from the beginning. Back when Judy first proposed the concept and said, well, what do you think?

And right from that first conversation, I’ve been a massive supporter, and just have great belief in that designation. And the two organizations, ABFI, just fantastic in terms of providing, because they’re university-based, it’s that ability to take the research and what’s going on in research and then apply that on the ground to supporting family enterprises through whether it be courses, master classes, whether it be webinars or podcasts whatever the case may be, they’re finding many ways to disseminate that knowledge out to the family of depressed community in the province. I think that’s so critically important.

And again, it’s still very passionate about that work because at the Alberta Chambers, we have over 20,000 businesses across the province that we represent through our membership. And we know a high percentage of those are still family enterprises. So, I’m so excited that we’re still able to provide those resources to them. And then nationally through Family Enterprise Canada, it just, again what saying about community, but it just expands that community.

If you’re in a small town, Alberta, you have kind of your little nuclear community and maybe your nuclear group of advisors or friends that you’ve been talking to in terms of the challenges or opportunities in your family enterprise but then when you can go up to the provincial level and engage with the province with the Alberta Business Family Institute, that just broadens that nucleus. And then again, being able to go up to found enterprise Canada level, just broadens it all that much more to be national and scope.

And so it just creates more opportunity for that reciprocity of sharing that I was just talking about when you talk about community. I feel like these organizations are so critically important to family enterprises because now, we don’t want we don’t know what we don’t know when we’re in when we’re working 24/7 in our businesses, we don’t know that we need to be thinking about transition planning leadership development.

We need to be thinking about a state planning and share structure and all of those things that we need to have on our radar when we look at transitioning to the next generation. And just that bigger question, as a family enterprise, do you want to transition to the next generation?

That’s critically important. You need to answer that question first and foremost. And if the answer is yes, then there’s a ton of planning that needs to be done and a lot of work that needs to be done with the next generation to prepare them. For that eventuality. And if the answer is no, then you need to make your business ready for sale.

And there’s a lot of work that goes into doing that so that you can realize the best economic outcome for your family when you get to that point of sale or transition.

Cory: And, Shauna, as you mentioned we don’t know there’s so many business owners that I speak to who are consumed by working in their business that the idea of working on their business is it’s very daunting. Can you touch it a little bit? And you spoke of the Family Business Institute, and I know there are many, other institutes across the country and worldwide within these cities. Some of these families don’t see themselves as a family enterprise, and that’s what I admire about what you’re doing with the Alberta Chamber now is that there are these businesses disguised as they don’t see themselves as that family business and, really in fact, they are.

So how do you see families identifying themselves in that way?

Shauna: I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had this question asked of me, Cory, what is a family business?  And, essentially, the bottom-line answer is if you are if you think you’re a family business, you probably are a family business. And there are so many different ways to be a family business. It’s not necessarily generational.

Like, it could be that you’re in business with your brother or your sister, or you had your parents invest in your company, or you’re getting advice or mentorship from your aunt or your uncle. I mean, there are so many ways that our families support us when we’re in business. And when you talk about being a family business, one of the major challenges for us is communication because we are a family and I think that’s pretty prevalent across lots of businesses that have aspects of family in them.

Now if you’re talking about a multi-generational family enterprise, then you’re talking about something different. You’re talking about a system systemic transition of wealth and, operations from generation to generation. If that is what you truly want to be if you truly want to be a multi-generational family enterprise.

That’s the different set of parameters because we’re looking at, again, like I said, the big challenges of transitioning from one generation to the next and great opportunities that present in the next generation, but being systemic about paying attention to leadership development.

Who’s going to be stepping into some of these roles?

Making sure there are policies in place and criteria so that it’s very clearly defined for the next generation what they need to do to be prepared and qualified to even come into that family business and making sure that’s communicated.

How are they being educated? How are we mentoring them? What is their leadership development plan? What is our family employment policy? Making all of those pieces very, very structured.

That’s not usual in a lot of family businesses. A lot of times, there’s a lot of this. Okay. I know in a very traditional format, oldest son to oldest son. I just know that Joe is going to take it over and when I’m ready to retire, he’s just going to be there. And that’s not the case anymore.

And we’re smashing that traditional, kind of models as well in terms of who’s taking over?

When are they taking over? It’s not the oldest son It’s the youngest daughter because at the end of the day, we had put the criteria in place and realized that she’s the best one who qualified to be the CEO.

So really understand the unique gifts of our children as well. And where do they fit in? Because not everybody is going to want to be the CEO. And if we have 3 children, How do we allow for that and make sure that we’re planning for that?

And so that was a long-winded answer to your question, but Family businesses come in all shapes and sizes. What I would caution is that if you want to be of an all-degeneration family enterprise think about that and think about how you’re planning for it starting today. Because today is the day to start. it’s never too soon to start planning for this.

I’ve given many presentations where I’ve said ultimately no matter what kind of business you are, if you’re smart, you will start succession planning the day write your business plan in terms of making sure that it is on your radar always to be paying attention to what are the next steps and how to do that?

Because businesses evolve and grow too. Family businesses evolve and they grow and they get much more complex. And being able to prepare for that and have that on your radar consistently in terms of what are those characteristics and qualifications we’re going to need in the next iteration of leader.  And so, if you’re doing that right from the beginning, you should be well prepared when the time comes.

Cory: I love what you just said, Shauna, of successions, should be a part of your business plan start with the end in mind. And what a lot of people don’t understand is a business that is ready for transition is of high value and also tends to be extremely profitable. So other strategic benefits do fit into that business plan of why you might want to have your business ready. And Shauna, thank you.

Shauna: I just had something there. Just a tidbit that I just so, just an incredibly smart, though generation family business owner, and I were having a conversation. And he shared with me and said, what?

I started my business or I came into my business, my family business, and my first thought was always that my business at any point in time would be up for it I never really had this long-term lens, and they were in the process of transitioning to the 4th generation. They were very successful. But he said that was never what he said, I always run my business, like, I would be able to sell it tomorrow.

By doing that, created such a solid business in terms of the ability to grow and capitalize on opportunities, reinvestment into the business versus harvesting out and dividends, those types of things that he did just because he was always thinking about what would happen if I wanted to sell it tomorrow and how my hard for that.

And I think that’s just such a thoughtful way of thinking about anybody, any business owner running their business, being sure that if somebody came to me tomorrow, I would have a salable business that I could capitalize on and monetize the most.

Cory: Absolutely. And unsolicited offers do come about and being prepared for them is important.  Now going back to the communication within the family, let’s maybe bring those two concepts together a little bit. In a family that’s preparing for family succession. And maybe there is an offer that comes knocking that is too hard to turn up. Have you seen that within the space? And can you talk a little bit on that front, Shauna?

Shauna: Yeah. Absolutely. I think there are a couple of things to be thinking about here. First and foremost, does your family have a structure of communication whereby you can have these conversations?

So do you have a dedicated family council, for instance, where the family can get it together in a neutral environment and have some of those open frank discussions when these types of opportunities come into play so that everybody has a voice, everybody has the option to be heard, especially if they’re part of an ongoing transition or succession plan that’s happening within the family.

Because then if as long as we’re all heard, then we can manage to mitigate the conflict that’s going to arise if there’s disagreement in terms of how the family should proceed in a situation like that. Ensuring that your family has that medium to have those open really honest transparent conversations in an environment where everybody feels safe and heard is critically important.

Some of the critical teachings of all the coursework that we do around family enterprises and creating that environment. And then the second piece to that is thinking about post-sale then. You let’s say the family decides, yes. We’re going to capitalize on this. Like, we’re being offered double what we thought we would get for this.

We are going to capitalize on this for the good of the family. That event happens, and then all of a sudden you become you transition from a family that is operating a business to a family that’s managing wealth. And you still are a family enterprise at that point because you are still managing the app sets.

You’re still managing the investments. Maybe you’re thinking about getting into philanthropy because you’d have that much of a windfall and you want to start getting back. The family business doesn’t go away. The family enterprise doesn’t go away because now all of a sudden you have to transition to ensuring that this wealth or this liquidity event is going to support future generations.

Again, back to that question, are you truly an enterprising family? Is it the intent of all this work that you provide this continuity of wealth for generations to come? In that case, even though you do have a liquidity event, you are transitioning and you still need to manage the wealth then you need to manage it for the family members and provide those resources. In a lot of cases, I mean, so many family businesses and family business leaders, are, like, serial printers. I just had seen it over and over again.

A lot of times, there may be a liquidity event, and then they shift into managing the wealth, and then all of a sudden 12 months down the road, there’s this great opportunity. They’re going to get back into another operating company or maybe different members of the family have different visions and passions. Maybe we were going to all of a sudden invest in a bunch of different businesses. So that our family has other opportunities in terms of different industries or exposures. It’s kind of like a snowball. It doesn’t It doesn’t stop at that liquidity event. It really can just keep going and, again, provide more economic spin-off and benefit for that family.

Cory: Well and let’s go a little bit back to the first community that we mentioned and, the way that the families are involved in the community locally and the projects and events and supporting that and how maybe they define themselves because transitioning from that operating company to managing the wealth and some of the things that I’ve seen along the way is people defining themselves that this is who we are our business name is how we’re seen.

Can you touch a little bit on that? From our perspective of what you’ve seen sometimes that serial entrepreneur is not only an opportunity for profit and to make money, but also to get back in from that perspective.

Shauna: Well, I mean I think any entrepreneur is incredibly tied to the businesses that they operate. In so many ways, especially in that 1st generation as they’re growing the business.

That’s just as much their baby as their son or daughter. And in a lot of cases, they may spend more time with that.

Maybe then they get to spend with their actual children because they are so dedicated to growing it. And so how can you not? I mean, any of us who have ever been entrepreneurs, how can you not get wrapped up with that being part of your identity?

And then that identity, again how you present yourself within your community is very much your self-esteem and a part of who you are in terms of being recognized when you community and people appreciating and valuing, what you bring to the community and how you support the community. And I don’t think that goes away.  If there’s a liquidity event, I think the legacy is still there. And those individuals are still held in the same esteem.

I think they just need to find other ways to contribute to their community. In so many cases, we see a lot of these individuals going into philanthropy, for instance, finding ways to invest in volunteering to spend all they have, they all of a sudden, they have all this time on their hands, volunteering within their communities is a huge place where we see a lot of these individuals going in terms of giving back.

And not just within their community but Internationally. With different programs going around the world to support the needs of people in disenfranchised communities that need help. I’d like to think that our identity doesn’t stop when the business is sold. I think that we build that personally and we build that reputation for ourselves.

And again, these individuals never slow down. It’s not like they’re going to jump on their lazy boy and start watching golf for the rest of their life because that’s just not who they are. They’re used to going a hundred miles an hour 24/7. They’re always going to find other ways. In a lot of cases, that liquidity event just gives them more ability to expand where and how they’re supporting their community or communities or their additional volunteer endeavors. Whatever those may be.

Cory: Yes. Well, that’s great. And talking about the community on a bigger picture and some of the work that you’ve been doing, from a Chamber of Commerce perspective, in our last episode, we talked to Trevor MacLean and the work that he’s doing at MNP and the agricultural business space. And now, we talked about the trends of consolidation within the farming sector and what that means. Can you speak a little bit, not just within, of course, how important farming is to our economy, in Western Canada, but how important these family enterprises are in some of these businesses in smaller communities and how important these transitions are to those communities?

Shauna: Yeah. and I mean, the transition challenge is prevalent, in every jurisdiction in the world, where it becomes challenging is smaller communities where those are cornerstone businesses. Those producers are cornerstone businesses, those dealerships, those stores those things, those gas stations are actual services that those communities need. And if for some reason we can’t successfully transition them, then we create a hole in that community.

And then all of a sudden, we create accidents because, I mean if you’re in in a small rural community in Southern Alberta and you can’t fill your vehicle because the gas station is shut down, or you cannot buy groceries or milk within 2 minutes from your house, and you have to travel into cities to do that type of stuff.

A lot of times that’s when we kind of lose that momentum for these communities and lose some of those some of those people that are providing value and could be incredibly helpful in terms of the continuity of that community itself. And so that’s why it’s just so incredibly important, especially in rural communities that we pay a lot of attention to what is happening on our main street. From a municipal perspective if I were in economic development in any rural community in the province right now, one of the first things I would be thinking of is doing an inventory, going out and talking to those businesses, talking to all of your local businesses, find out where they’re at, in the transition and succession planning process and support them and find them their resources and tools that they’re going to need to either successfully sell and make sure that business is short out in that community or support them when they’re looking to transition to another family member.

And again, agriculture specifically is one of the more challenging ones because what’s happened with agriculture is that you don’t necessarily have so much of a wavelength that you don’t necessarily pull the operations out. Of the assets, that’s one of the biggest challenges that we’re seeing for family enterprises in that specific industry right now is that you’ve got this huge asset worth a million and a millionth of a million dollars being the land and the equipment. How do you put that burden on to the next generation?

Because it’s just not realistic to expect that they can go and take out a $25,000,000 or $50,000,000 loan. So being creative and there are some creative ways this is happening. In terms of managing to separate options or the operations and the shares from the actual assets, how do we look at a longer-term transition for some of those bigger abuses, while still being able to turn over control? To the next generation is critically important.

And I think I’m just really, really excited about some of those thoughtful and unique ways that those transitions are taking place because specifically in agriculture, it’s more challenging just because of the structure. And it’s nice to see too though, that the traditional mom lives passing to the oldest male that we’ve seen in that industry for a long time has been shattered and we’re seeing everybody, taking on those transitions, because they’re looking now at who’s most passionate in the family about continuing that legacy that way of life, that lifestyle, that stewardship, which is so important to these family enterprises.

Cory: And wow. Many good now gets in there, Shauna. I have many questions that I’ll dig a little further into. One of the things that you said about farming specifically in the assets and operations being together. Just drawing back on some of the conversations around succession and preparing that next generation, because ownership and operations have 2 separate successions that need to happen from that perspective. Is preparing that next generation to be good owners and the conversation that we’ve been having of what it means to be the leader of the business and specifically the term CEO? How do you see families transitioning the leadership of the business with the separate from the ownership?

Shauna: Well, so I’m just going to back up a bit. And maybe I’m not going to assume that all the people listening to your podcast know about the 3 circle models. So maybe what I’ll do is just do a high-level overview of how we look at systemically look at a family enterprise and so when we look at the family enterprise, we think about it in 3 interfacing circles.

The family in one circle, the business in one circle, and ownership in another circle. The conversation earlier that where I was talking about the family needs and mechanism to be talking about these decisions like the sale of the business. That’s in the family circle. And we would look at putting in place a family meeting or a family council. In the business, of course, that’s the CEO.

That’s the individual who’s in the operations running the business day to day or any of the family members that are in that business contributing to the growth and expansion and the profitability of that business.

And then the 3rd circle is the actual people who own the company. In a lot of cases, when you look at agriculture transitions, if we want to talk about that specifically, Generally, you’re looking at its mom and dad for the most part. That’s who owns it. maybe it’s brothers depending on the structure of how it was transitioned and how many generations it’s transitioned.

Maybe it’s cousins but in any case, there’s a group of shareholders in the generation that’s in the senior generation, and that’s for simplicity, say, mom and dad own the shares. Of course, they own all the assets. They own all the land.

They, of course, are key in the operations mom and Dad have been running the farm and doing all of the decision-making from an operational perspective, where to sell went to sell all of those types of things. Now, when you look at the next generation, let’s assume that mom and dad have 3 kids, and only one of them has any interest in the operation, the actual running of the farm.

So have you then in that business transition that ownership of leadership, and the operations of the business to that one individual will still understand that you have 3 children as parents, you have 3 children that you need to make sure all benefit from the farm and the transition as it happens. And then also the benefit at the time when mom and dad pass on.

And, how can we ensure that those 3 kids with very different kinds of views on that transition because as you can imagine, if you’ve got the daughter that’s taking over and she’s there 247, building the business building the enterprise up, and her sister and brother of making their own money doing their own thing, building their careers how do you equate that? And we always say it’s fair versus equal. They’re very 2 very different things.

So how do you treat that operating child, in an equitably, equitable way with the other selling the things that are not on the farm and contributing to operations? And that’s really when you look at share structure where we talk about that in terms of how are we going to distribute these shares?

How are these siblings going to work together when they’re very different types of shareholders? So we have very different types of shareholders. Right?

We have active shareholders who are in the business with passive shareholders that have nothing to do with the business, but still probably want their dividends or some sort of reward out of that system. And so that’s really where you the transition upon is so critically important.

And then again, in the agriculture system, with the asset being what they are, being able to transition the operations to that daughter that wants to run the farm, to continue to run the farm, doing that in a way that also accounts for the long-term transition or eventual transition of the asset down the road at some point. And then balancing those expectations of that working child with the other 2 who are passive shareholders. So, it’s very different in terms of the leadership transition.

What do you need to do to get that daughter ready to take over that farm? And to have a few especially been doing it since she was born, probably. And, does she need additional support? I mean, farming is a very complex business these days. It’s not the traditional model that we think about. It’s very complex. You need to understand markets. You need to stand your commodity.

You need to understand, how to maximize yields and how to maximize production, whatever that, whatever in whatever agriculture industry you’re in, very, very complex stuff that the next generation needs to be really on top of so how do you train her to take that over? Make sure that she can do that effectively without hamstringing her with a million of dollars in debt, to outright purchase the land. What does that look like? And then have you ensure that the 3 siblings maintain harmony and can work together as shareholders and have those discussions about, okay we had a great year.

Are we taking it out in dividends, or are we going to invest in a new piece of machinery that’s going to yield us this kind of return on investment? Those are the conversations that shareholders need to have.

I hope that that was a lot of conversation, but hopefully, that kind of clarifies where the conversations need to happen and why it’s so critically important that we put some guardrails around the conversations happening with the right individuals in the right place. And ensuring that we’re treating individuals, equitably within the system in terms of where they reside.

Cory: Well, and, Shauna, it’s not just the not just farming that has this this issue. It’s looking at other industries maybe manufacturing, there’s many family enterprises that when you take a look at the assets and the wealth, the financial wealth of the family, a lot of times, real estate whatever it might be, if it’s raw land and farming or real estate with a building, could be the largest asset and being creative as you say, with how do you transition that operation possibly separate from some of those other assets that support the business as well.

Shauna: Yeah. And that’s what you say to you. So in the field course, we talk about the family enterprise model, but that’s when it happens during those transitions, That’s when we need to start thinking about pulling out the operating company from all of the other assets.

What I mean by that is there are real estate assets. There are financial assets. There’s life insurance. There are heirloom assets. Sets, in terms of potentially those family cabins or vacation properties. There are potential philanthropy or philanthropic endeavors that we need to be pairing out. And it becomes quite complex as you look at transitioning to the next generation because the operating company is one thing, but, if you have a robust giving or philanthropic, arm to your family enterprise, at some point, as that continues to grow, you’re going to need somebody that’s going to be able to pay attention to that.

Same with real estate you’re going to need somebody who can pay attention to those, and ensure that they are meeting their full potential in creating the best monetary value for the family. And it the nice thing about it is when you look at a family, it tries in all of the buckets. And then there are all of the social-economic benefits from family, their education, their experience, all of the knowledge they can bring back.

But when you look at it like that, it becomes very complex, but it also provides a lot of opportunity for the next generation because let’s just go back to a family farm example. Maybe I’m not that daughter who wants to stay on the farm and run the operations, but maybe I am that daughter who would love to run the philanthropy side of things. Maybe we’ve invested a whole month much money in a foundation, whatever the case may be, maybe that’s my passion.

Maybe that’s where I can provide the most value, or maybe I have great ideas about how we can utilize the land in other ways creating new ways of generating additional revenue. So again, very complex. At the end of the day, we know it’s very complex. That’s why the bottom line is you need to be planning today.  If you haven’t started thinking about it, you need to plan today and not just find the enterprises, but I would encourage you again as an organization that represents over 20,000 businesses in the province. Through our members, I just really could not underline enough that you need to be thinking about the stuff you need to be thinking about next steps.

And by doing that, actually, and thinking about how my business be most saleable tomorrow, or how would I be able to transition it tomorrow, you’re doing yourself a great service in terms of, ensuring that your business has been optimized and that you are running the best possible level that you can be running at, and that you’re taking advantage of opportunities as they arise and you’re able to continue to grow and expand your operations because as we know, if you’re not growing or expanding, you’re declining and any business owner knows that that you need to be constantly looking at that, as an entrepreneur.

Cory: Absolutely. Shauna, as we near the end of our conversation today, I think that this is a great way to transition. There are a few questions that I ask each guest. are you ready for the hard ones?

Shauna: Sure. So rapid rocket fire route. Is that what’s going on here?

Cory: That’s right. Yes.

Shauna: One-word answers. 

Cory: Short answers, I think, and feel free to expand if you think that we need to. And so the first question is what is one key strategy that you believe is most essential for building a successful family enterprise?

Shauna: Communication structure. 1st and foremost. I think, every single instance where you hear in the headlines of family businesses imploding on themselves, or things going wrong, It’s because there was a fundamental lack of communication and a fundamental lack of structure for the family to communicate effectively in a way that’s neutralized, provides them the ability to have their voice heard because critically important to family enterprises, we know how to push each other each other’s buttons and we know you’re cutting for each other much quicker.

One of the mentors and advisors that I admire, is Donald Cooper. So that was the Cooper Canada Family. So, anybody who played hockey at any point more, his name on part of the body or has golf clubs or huge, huge family enterprise. His saying was, that family businesses are businesses where blood boils at room temperature. I always love that and that always stayed with me. And I think being able to ensure that blood doesn’t start boiling and we can have those conversations before they become a conflict is the most critical thing for bounding enterprises openness and transparency are just so critical, especially when I’m talking about the complexity, there’s a lot of decisions to be made. There are a lot of policies that need to be in place.

A lot of conversations need to happen and those need to happen in a structured way that everybody feels hurt, and can participate in the outcomes, positive outcomes for the enterprise.

Cory: Great. And what is the most common challenge you see family enterprises encountering when it comes to wealth transition and generational continuity?

Shauna: I think that one of the biggest ones is just the expectation. The expectation without conversation, I’ll put it that way. The expectation is that people are just going to fall into certain roles because that’s what we think they should do. Without ever asking them what they want, I think that happens way more often than we think. We just assume because there are kids or because they’re our brother or sister or whatever the case may be or because there are parents.

So, there is an aunt and uncle. We just assume we know them and we know what they want, and we just make decisions based on our assumptions and never have the conversations.

That’s why it’s so important to start this process early. Because if you’re expecting that daughter to take off over the farm because she’s been passionate about working in it, you never asked her and you go to make the transition plan. She says, well, no. I never planned on staying after mom and dad left.

What do you do to them? So again, I think that that expectation of where people are going to fit into the transition planning has to be eliminated. You need to have those conversations right out of the gate. And we do a lot of it, I what this one family, I worked with many, many years ago, one of the very first sound leaders I worked with, actually, it was a daughter and father.

A successful family business. And, they worked well together they’d had these conversations. They’d been talking about the transition plan. everything was fantastic. And then 6 months later, things are imploding.  Go back into just question, like, what’s going on? You have this leadership plan in place what’s going on? And the daughter says, well, Dad doesn’t want to give up control. He absolutely won’t give up any control. And then you talked to Dad and dad says, she’s not asking to take over any leadership.

They wanted the same thing, but there were there were expectations there that the other one was going to be the first to make the move. And so, ensuring that that’s clearly articulated in terms of, okay. Starting Monday, this is what we’re going to do. And here’s what we’re going to do. The next year, the next 3 years, the next 5 years so that when that time comes and I’m ready to step away, whatever that looks like, you’re ready, and we’ve given you all the tools and resources we need. But again, expectations, right, we just make assumptions. We’re human, and we make it more of our own family than anyone so that would be my thing. Make sure you have the conversations at the gate. Don’t just assume what people want.

Cory: Fantastic. And you answered my next question. I think that a great strategy is to just have those conversations and don’t assume that’s what everyone else is thinking.

Absolutely. Shauna, in your experience, what would you say are the top 3 qualities successfully successful family enterprise leaders possess, and these can be leaders in any generation or any part of the enterprise?

Shauna: Yeah. I think, being entrepreneurial, being innovative, and being highly empathetic in terms of middle leadership will generate fantastic outcomes for them. What I mean by that is, what? You have to be entrepreneurial. To run a business, you have to be entrepreneurial, you have to be in a family enterprise, you have to be a multi-generational entrepreneurs, and you have to be breeding that into your kids at a very young age. That could be a simple thing.

Like, in my examples, sweeping hair off a floor in a salon, provided me the opportunity to see how business ran. So that entrepreneurial piece is innovative because as family enterprises transition, we have this stupid saying; “shirts, leaves to shirts, leaves, and 3 generations”, but it plays out more often than not.

So that the next generation to be innovative and think about what is the next iteration of this business. And how am I going to continue to grow that wealth and that pot for the next generation, really taking on more of that innovative stewardship role of thinking, okay, how am I going to make this better when I passed off to the next generation from what was given to me when I took over.

And then, empathetic, you just have to be as a leader or any leader, empathy is the biggest if you can give another human being and just so critically important when you’re dealing with family because sometimes that goes right out the door when we get into some of our heated conflicts.

So, just really embracing empathy and, being that type of a leader that, leads with you with your mind but also with your heart.

Cory: That’s awesome, Shauna. And I wanted to make sure that we had the chance to cover everything. Is there anything else that you wanted to share with our audience that we didn’t get a chance to touch on today?

Shauna: No. Just that I don’t know if I can put a plug in, but again, no longer in this space as much, just letting, over the chambers of commerce. It was a passion of mine before taking over the role, as a volunteer.

There you go. Was volunteer role that I was for 15 years, I volunteered for chambers of Commerce because I truly believe in the value that they provide to their communities, across the province across the country, across the world, and the value that they provide our businesses, around advocacy policy data, research, the ability to tap into dot broader network, whether it be locally provincially nationally or internationally. There is no organization like it.

Anybody who’s listening, I would highly encourage you to take a look at, becoming part of your local chamber and finding out what value could be added to your business. Some of this, you don’t know what you don’t know. chambers are fantastic conduits. For education resources, all of those tools, that you may need. And they’re a great place to start if you’re trying to find your way down this path and don’t know what resources are out there or where to begin.

They’re fantastic places to go, and everybody there is also friendly. Trust me. So that would be my plug if that’s okay. Just really That’s great. With your local chamber.

Cory: Great plug. And I think that exactly what’s what listeners need to hear is giving back to the community conversation that we’ve had the Chamber of Commerce is a great community. And your involvement is an amazing legacy.

The years that you’ve spent, Shauna, I think it’s fantastic, and what you’ve given back to the business community in this country is fantastic. I wanted to thank you for that and thank you for taking the time today to share your expertise and experiences with us today. It’s been incredibly valuable, and we’re grateful for the contribution to this episode.

Shauna: It’s been my pleasure, Cory. And if anybody wants us to reach out, I think you’re going to share my contact details. So, I’m always happy to answer questions and yeah, recruit you to the chamber movement. I’m happy to do that. So, feel free to reach out. And thanks again for having me, Cory.

As we conclude this insightful discussion with Shawna Feth, We hope you gained valuable insights into the intricate world of family enterprises.

Throughout our conversation, Shauna emphasized the critical aspects of continuity planning, the significance of fostering open dialogues with family councils, and the vital role of community engagement in sustaining family businesses.

We’ve explored the challenges and opportunities surrounding leadership transitions and the importance of identifying unique gifts within the next generation and the continuous evolution of family enterprises.

Remember, sustaining and evolving family enterprises require ongoing focus and planning, fostering open dialogue and embracing community connections. I want to express my deepest gratitude for Shauna for generously sharing her time, expertise, and knowledge with us.

If you’d like to learn more about Shauna and her engagements, and contributions to family businesses, you can find her at Alberta Chamber of Commerce.

We’ve provided all of our information and links in the show notes.


This program was prepared by Cory Gagnon who is a Senior Wealth Advisor with Beacon Family Office at Assante Financial Management Ltd. This is not an official program of Assante Financial Management and the statements and opinions expressed during this podcast are not necessarily those of Assante Financial Management. This show is intended for general information only and may not apply to all listeners or investors; please obtain professional financial advice or contact us at [email protected] or visit to discuss your particular circumstances before acting on the information presented

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