“Keep Your Shared Values Top of Mind”
Who: Sonia Fisher, President, E.R. Fisher Menswear, Ottawa
Sonia is the fourth generation owner of E.R. Fisher, a quality menswear company which was founded by her great grandfather in 1905. Sonia purchased majority ownership of the business from her uncle in 2009 and works with her father, Peter, in the business. She happens to be the only women of ten cousins.
Q: What one thing should a family do to manage conflict within a business?
A: “Keep your shared values top of mind.”
“If you are not passionate about your business, then you don’t argue about it” Sonia wisely recognizes. “We all have a desire to see the business succeed” conveys Sonia. When you and your family members disagree in the business, it is a sign that you all deeply care about the business. Recognizing and focusing on your shared values, helps you find the common ground for overcoming differences.
Shared values and shared meals help
Sometimes just stepping away from the issue for a moment helps you regain your perspective and reflect on those values. And after that little pause we all need from time to time, sharing a meal and glass of wine together helps smooth the ruffles and strengthen family bonds.
Q: What one thing would you recommend a family do before it considers starting or becoming a ‘family business’?
A: “Lay out specific roles for each working family member.”
“Family businesses often take shape quickly, initiated by one or two entrepreneurs bringing an idea to market” observes Sonia. “Laying out very specific roles even before the company is legally formed would be priority number one.” Certainly, having clear roles and responsibilities for all employees is a best practice of most successful organizations. This becomes even more important in family businesses where who you are (family relation) becomes confused with what you do. Having clarity of roles helps employees too. They know who to go to for what topic at hand.
How do you assign roles for family members? To me, this is tricky water to navigate. Sonia notes that a person’s natural tendencies are likely more clear within a family. Giving duties that are appropriate to the family member’s natural competencies is key. “Assign detail-intensive duties to the detail-oriented person and people-oriented duties to the people person.”
Q: What one thing would you or your family do differently in your family business if you could?
A: “Be patient.”
“Initially, Dad and I locked horns because we both thought we knew it all and we were both very passionate about our company”, Sonia shares. It took six months to iron out their different approaches to the business, “but sometimes I wish we’d been a bit more patient with each other.”
Time and open dialogue are key elements to successful transitions. In Sonia’s words, “we got to where we are because of the conflicts and compromise so who’s to say that this is not all just part of the process?”
Thank you Sonia for your wise words and congratulations to E.R. Fisher Menswear on its 110th anniversary!