The legacy of Stanfield’s: Like most great entrepreneurs, Charles Stanfield was part inventor, part marketer and part gambler. When he started his textile business in 1856, the Maritimes were fertile ground for success — a fresh start from his native England. Four years ago Jon Stanfield took over the helm of the company that his great-great-grandfather founded 11 years before Canada became a nation.
He immediately embarked on a program of new growth, expansion and innovation — the same kind of attention to detail that his ancestors have been showing for 150 years. “Each generation of Stanfield’s has its own challenges. But in the end my grandfather, my father and I, we’re all the stewards of Charles Stanfield. Our growth philosophy doesn’t change. We’re always moving aggressively in the direction of new business,” says Stanfield.
That philosophy may explain how Stanfield’s has managed to become one of the oldest and most respected family businesses in Atlantic Canada — but they’re not alone.
A few have been in business even longer than Stanfield’s. The Wilson family, also based in Truro, traces the roots of its business empire back to New England Planters, and entrepreneur William Wilson, who made his way to Nova Scotia on the heels of the Acadian Expulsion, some 260 years ago.
Leslie McNabb is director of the Centre for Family Business and Regional Prosperity, a department of the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie, says that many family businesses fail soon after the founder relinquishes control. In many ways family businesses become extensions of the family that created them, complete with all the complications of living as part of a family dynamic — sibling rivalries, entitlement issues, members who refuse to pull their fair share of the weight.
McNabb says family businesses have some real advantages over typical corporations. For one thing they tend to be leaner and are able to implement new policies and new directions much quicker. But bringing family members into the mix can cause real upheavals in a business.
Succession planning is key, says McNabb, yet only 30 per cent of family businesses have a succession plan in place. “All businesses are concerned with succession issues, but when family is involved it takes on an added stress. Family issues tend to creep into the discussion.”
But the hardest thing for any entrepreneur may be relinquishing control of a business they’ve spent a lifetime building.