From successfully navigating financial crises to pioneering innovative strategies, women in family businesses are showing us ways to safeguard their family’s legacy and ensure the growth and success of their companies for generations to come.
Their stories highlight the resilience and determination of female leadership while illustrating the enduring power and strength of the family unit.
Here are 5 women who saved their family business while also propelling them to new heights:
Wei Lin Kwee
Pontiac Land Group
When the COVID-19 pandemic shook Singapore’s tourism industry in 2020, Wei Lin Kwee not only held the position of head of the hospitality business owned by Pontiac Land, her family’s enterprise, she was also the newly appointed President of the Singapore Hotel Association. Within days, the pandemic led to the closure of borders, virtually banning the millions of annual visitors to the city.
In response to the crisis, Wei Lin Kwee quickly shifted the focus of both her family’s business and the SingaporeHotelAssociation to a marketing strategy centred on domestic staycations. The strategic move resulted in guests at several of her six family-owned hotels enjoying gourmet meals, individually tailored shopping experiences, and personalised concierge services. Wei Lin Kwee also capitalised on the industry’s downtime to enhance her company’s training programs, upskill its associates, and refurbish the family’s hotels.
Singapore’s tourism trade reopened fully in 2022, returning occupancy rates at Pontiac Land’s hotels to over 80% of pre-pandemic levels. Today, Wei Lin Kwee serves as Head of Hotels at the Pontiac Land Group, one of Singapore’s leading real estate development and investment groups with a portfolio encompassing properties, hospitality, office, retail, medical, and residential across Singapore, New York, Sydney, and the Maldives.
Founded in 1991 by husband-and-wife team, Terry and Regina Locklear, the Alabama-based family business initially produced sports socks for Russell Athletic, intended for distribution to big-box stores nationwide. But the successful sock mill that had helped turn its small community into the self-proclaimed “Sock Capital of the World” experienced a devastating period during the 2000s. New free-trade agreements and the rise of cheaper foreign garment producers rocked Emi-G Knitting, forcing the company to cut almost all its workforce.
Having been deeply immersed in her family’s business since the age of 12, and now fearing for its future, the Lockears’ daughter, Gina, approached her parents with the idea of pivoting from basic gym-style socks to fashionable ones made from organic cotton and dyes. Although this new endeavour would be costly, and the popularity of organic products was still in its infancy, the Locklear family took the gamble.
Today, Gina Locklear leads the successful zkano brand that she created. The company’s stylish, locally sourced organic socks, which initially gained traction with millennial buyers, have helped revitalise Emi-G Knitting and its sock-making community, elevating it to the status of the world’s sock capital once again.
A world leader in climate control and energy efficiency through textile-based solutions, the multigenerational firm’s roots go back to a family textile business that began in 1887. Ludvig Svensson underwent a period of transformation during the 1970s, revolutionising its products to improve greenhouse cultivation and, in the process, becoming industry pioneers.
However, in 2007, the Swedish company found itself at an impasse. Competitors were flooding the market with imitation products based on Ludvig Svensson’s technology, eroding the company’s market share and severely limiting its capacity for growth and technical advancements. Then, in 2008, the global financial crash caused 60% of Ludvig Svensson’s market to vanish.
As CEO of her family business, Anne Ludvigson worked with her brother, Anders, to restructure the operation and transform its corporate culture. Together, they redefined Ludvig Svensson’s approach from simply delivering products to building new relationships and offering services and solutions that ingrained their business into their customers’ everyday lives.
Ludvig Svensson expanded its smart textiles business, appearing on the London Stock Exchange’s list of Europe’s 1,000 fastest-growing and most inspiring companies in 2017. Today, Anne Ludvigson serves as CEO of Ludvigson Invest, the parent company overseeing the family’s business interests. Ludvig Svensson operates in over 130 countries, with subsidiaries in the US, South Korea, the Netherlands, and China.
In 2002, when Linda Hasenfratz succeeded her father, Frank Hasenfratz, the founder of auto parts manufacturer, Linamar, the company was generating a net income of $57 million on sales totalling $1.4 billion. However, the next few years proved challenging for Linamar – and the worst in the automobile industry’s entire history. Major players such as General Motors and Chrysler declared bankruptcy, driving many smaller auto parts suppliers out of business. Consequently, in 2009, Linamar reported a net loss of $47 million.
As President of Linamar, Linda embarked on an ambitious expansion strategy that expanded the company’s footprint in Europe and Asia. She diversified with acquisitions that included construction equipment maker, Skyjack, and alternative energy products such as wind turbines and solar dishes. Linda made substantial investments in updating her company’s technology, ultimately leading to Linamar components being incorporated into some of the world’s most advanced engines. Furthermore, she developed new segments for the business, including mobility and MedTech.
Linda Hasenfratz was named EY Entrepreneur Of The Year in 2014. Today, her company generates an annual revenue of over $9 billion and employs 26,550 people in 65 manufacturing locations, 14 R&D centres, and 28 sales offices across 17 countries in North and South America, Europe and Asia.
Founded in 1950 by Katharina List-Nagl’s grandfather, F/LIST initially focused on manufacturing high-end interior fittings for residences. However, during the 1990s, it pivoted to outfitting yacht and airplane cabins. Nonetheless, in 2004, the small, relatively unknown company was finding it difficult to attract new customers, and was consequently thrown into a full-blown crisis after completing a major project with not a single new client in the pipeline.
At that time, Katharina was working as a marketing specialist in Spain, and her father pleaded with her to return and help him navigate the company out of its precarious situation. She agreed and, leveraging her marketing expertise, succeeded in turning the company around while also solidifying its reputation in the industry. F/LIST’s revenue grew from under $9 million in 2004 to over $100 million in just 15 years.
Today, Katharina List-Nagl serves as F/LIST’s CEO, leading the company’s global operations, which encompass more than 1,000 employees from 28 nations.