Women in family business fulfil several roles simultaneously. On top of their responsibilities as decision makers, executives and wives, they often hold the most influence when it comes to inculcating family and company values in the next generation.
Ana Maria Matallana Boggio has a deep understanding of this multiplicity. After growing up in a family business environment in her native Colombia, she married into a second-generation family business, Alfagres, a manufacturing company specialising in wall and floor coverings. Ana spearheads their philanthropic efforts through her position as President of the family foundation, Fundación la Cayena.
Ana, a co-founding member of Women in Family Business, recently sat down with Ramia El Agamy Khan and Amy Katz from Daughters in Charge to discuss the challenges of raising children as responsible heirs to the family business.
Ramia: Ana, could you tell us a little about yourself and why you are passionate about this subject?
Ana: Of course. I was born in Colombia, South America. When I was 18, I went to the US to attend the University of Miami where I studied management science. I worked in consulting for about a year and then moved to Italy. I married my husband, a second-generation member of his family business, and we’ve had three children together. They are 16, 12 and 7.
In 2010, I took up a position in the family foundation. To improve my performance and better understand my role in the organisation, I acquired a master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in non-profit management.
I became interested in family businesses because of my father, who founded his own company. After growing it for 20 years, he asked his brothers to join him. Even when I was a child, I knew it was hard for him. He had a lot of trouble with one of his brothers – they ended up fighting, and right now they don’t talk to each other. When I married my husband, now the CEO of Alfagres, I understood his responsibility to the family and the importance of maintaining relationships within the family business. He’s the emotional leader and the CEO of the company.
It took me a while to understand my role. Initially, it was tough for me to fit into the family. So, I started studying, and that’s how I came to know about WiFB. I realised that every family is entirely different. You have to train yourself to be a better family member, and you have to deal with conflict by working through issues. You are responsible not only for yourself and your family but also for the many people employed by the family business. In our business, there are about 3000 employees, and their families depend on us as well.
I feel the weight of responsibility to my own family as well as all the families associated with our business. I try my best, even though I know I make a lot of mistakes – that’s all we can do.
Ramia: Aside from your role in the foundation, you’re in charge of raising your children who are next in line to take over their father’s business responsibilities. You’re also an in-law. Amy, in your experience coaching other women who are in this situation, what are some commonalities you see?
Amy: It’s interesting that you ask this question because I often see this from the other side, where the in-laws are the men, and the women own the family business. I hear about the issues women face in trying to deal with the fact that their husbands are new to their families. Trying to communicate a family culture to an in-law can be challenging. Also, when a woman has some concerns about the work of her husband, and she is in a higher position than him, it adds complexity to the relationship.
Ramia: Ana, regarding the issue of raising heirs, have you talked to your children about the family business? If so, what do they have to say?
Ana: We used to live in the US, and they spent a decade of their childhood there. We moved back to Colombia two years ago. Here, the business is a household name, and as such, they come into contact with it – we have to discuss it. I believe that when you raise a child, you have to respect each other and be honest – it’s that reciprocity that makes a decent person.
Our oldest, in particular, has started asking questions about inheritance. We have a family council where we talk about how it works and what their responsibilities are right now, mainly working on their values. They can do this by being honest with family, friends, peers, their teachers and, of course, me. They have cousins who are also going to be in the business, and that’s when it starts to become a little more difficult.
We all come from different backgrounds, even though we are family. We have different educational backgrounds for one thing. You need to start teaching them to tolerate the differences. Differences are to be accepted and celebrated because in the future my sons and their cousins may have to work together.
What I say to them is, I know you care about the business. I know you know it’s important and one day you’re going to be the owners of this business. Right now, focus on your values and your education.
You can do whatever you want to do but educate yourself. My son wants to be a politician. He can do it – he doesn’t have to work in the business. However, he feels it’s his responsibility because he’s the oldest. I tell him not to worry about it. Whether or not it’s in the family business, you can be the best at what you want to do.
We have rules about who can work in the business. To be a family member and work in the business, you have to study and have a master’s degree. Additionally, you have to have experience in another company for two years, only then can you come to work in the business. They know all of this.
Ramia: Ana, do you and your husband see eye-to-eye on this approach or are there differences between how you raise awareness in the kids? Do you feel his expectations are the same as yours with regards to the boys joining?
Ana: Yes, and this is true of the whole family. It’s hard because, of course, I want my kids to be a part of the family business. But I also want them to have a diverse skill set. We could be out of business in 10 years. If you teach them to be a good person and study hard, in the business or outside the business, they’re going to succeed in life. This will make them happy and fulfilled regardless of what they decide to do.
Amy: It sounds like you have embraced the importance of the role perhaps because of your own family business experience and education. Is being an in-law ever an issue? If it is, it sounds like you’ve adapted admirably.
Ana: Well, I’ll begin by saying my father and mother-in-law are incredible people. I especially admire my father-in-law’s work as the founder of the family business. When I got married, we grew very close because we were both living in Italy. He was retiring, and I was lucky to be near him and learn from his experiences. He grew up in Italy, he experienced World War II, and then he went back to Colombia. He inspired me to start thinking about how I can be a better family member.
To answer your question though, it can be hard being an in-law. There are issues that the family might not feel comfortable discussing with me. In the beginning, I felt like they were exerting too much control over how I was raising my children. It took me time to understand, and I’m glad I did because I learned a lot from them.
That said, it doesn’t mean I have a perfect relationship with everyone in the family, there are still some issues. My husband helped me to understand where I should involve myself and where I shouldn’t, and I think my children appreciate this aspect of our family dynamic.
Ramia: Ana, your children represent the third-generation, and you’ve mentioned that the cousins’ consortium is slightly older. We see a lot of negative statistics about the third generation; conflict can ensue when cousins start to coordinate and see others of their generation as rivals. Going forward, what do you believe will be the most significant challenge in communicating the family and business culture to the next generation? How will you ensure that those running the business will share a common vision?
Ana: I think it’s essential for them to be secure in their values but to tolerate each other at the same time. They are very different despite being family – that’s something I cannot and would not change. If you teach children to respect each other and tolerate differences, they will continue to respect and tolerate each other in the future. This is the most important thing going forward.
I tell my children and their cousins, if they decide to work outside the business, it’s great – maybe even better. I always tell them it’s not always easy being part of a family business. If you find you have a passion for something else and want to work outside, you’re still going to be a board member. You’re still going to take part in important decisions, and maybe you’ll be happier out.
Amy: You’re an exceptionally well-educated woman, and your children see you playing an important professional role within the family business. Could you describe some of your work with the Family Foundation for our listeners?
Ana: I am passionate about what I do, and I enjoy my work. I think it’s crucial to love what you do. I come from a country with glaring socio-economic disparity and grew up seeing various situations with guerrillas and drug dealers. With the foundation, Fundación la Cayena, I’m able to improve the situation.
I am grateful that the family sees me in this role – they’re helping me do what I love. I also understand that one day I may not be able to be part of the foundation, and that is just something that I have to be aware of. In any relationship, there are disagreements and differences. It’s not always easy, but I do something that I love.
Ramia: The foundation’s work is primarily focused on women and children, is that right Ana?
Ana: The focus is on educating women – she may be the head of household who lacks formal education and has few opportunities. We try to give them a job either in our business or one of the other businesses associated with the foundation. For example, if there is an opportunity to be an electrician in another company, we’ll give them the opportunity train as an electrician.
We work by educating the population, mostly the unemployed, and helping them find a job. We have women in Parliament that help them find a job or guide them through the process of empowerment so they feel like they can do it themselves.
Another part of the foundation focuses on kids, and that’s the part I like most. We work with children in their free time. Here in Colombia, the Government pays for schooling, but that’s just half the day. The rest of the day, the kids are unoccupied. With their parents at work, too often, they become involved in drug dealing, prostitution, or ganging. We give them a meal and use the backdrop of soccer to fill up their free time and teach them values. They aren’t bored, and they don’t have the time to get into trouble.
Ramia: Ana, when you consider other family businesses, do you think women should play a role in the philanthropic side, the business side, or both?
Ana: I think that right now, it’s imperative for women to work, regardless of where they work. That said, from my experience, I think it’s harder to work within the context of a family business if you are an in-law. However, setting that example is very important because being a mother, which is my most important job, is all about setting good examples. These days, women are getting educated to work – it’s not like 30 years ago. Opportunities exist for women to work wherever they want to work.
Ramia: I’d like to ask you a final, challenging question. Maybe some people who listen to this podcast will feel like things haven’t gone the way they wanted to so far with their kids. If you see that children lack interest in the family business or seem to be developing in a very different direction in terms of values, what would your advice be?
Ana: That’s a challenging question, and it depends on the personality of the child. Every child is different. Even though you may want to shape them in your image, they are different people. In my case, my husband has been an enormous help. We have a hard job, as you mentioned, in passing the torch from the second to the third generation but seeing him working passionately and talking about his responsibilities makes our kids proud.
The key to empowering them is having them work for another family business. Give them the opportunity to intern with other family businesses, to understand how they work and see how they feel in that environment – they’ll know if they like it or not. That’s what I want to do with my children. They’ll be able to see the inner workings of a family business without the expectation and responsibility of being part of the family.
Ramia: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on how to raise heirs in the family business, Ana. And Amy, thank you for joining us in the conversation.
Featured photo courtesy of Ana Maria Matallana Boggio