Quebec is known for the sheer numbers of new business start-ups that spring up all across its regions. Today, with its aging population and a scarcity of labour, owners are having a tough time finding people interested in taking their businesses over. This presents an opportunity for the next generation of entrepreneurs who want to take up the torch, since by 2020 close to 38,000 owners will be retiring. And this holds especially true in areas where SMEs make up the heart of the local economy.
Fortunately, there are plenty of entrepreneurial young people who are interested in leaving their mark by taking over the family business. What's more, plenty of them have the courage to buck the current exodus towards the big cities and go home to take over the family business. Of course, there's no lack of challenges to making that happen! While the majority of today's young adults look to settle down, buy a house and start a family, those who want to take the plunge in the family business need to also secure the financial resources to carry out their plans, which becomes the biggest stumbling block in close to 90% of cases. That was the situation with Martin L. of Warwick, who decided to take over the family sugar bush with his brother and who succeeded in doing it his way while getting it ready for the future.
“ In my case, I was able to buy shares of the business. In a lot of cases, however, people have to sell and it becomes extremely difficult for young people to buy farms. In our area, it's a handful of large players who end up buying the smaller businesses. ”
Nonetheless, the call to entrepreneurship for young Quebecers remains strong. Close to 20% of 18-34 year olds would like to become business people like Martin and more than half of them end up going for it and taking steps towards realizing their dreams. Getting well-informed and prepared for that kind of adventure is important and more often than not a factor for success.
The exodus of young people from the regions: a real challenge
Young people leaving behind the outlying regions where they were born and building their lives in big cities is a well-established trend. They start off coming to study, then the job market and social circles they establish convince them to stay. But going home, taking over the family business and building their own futures is an opportunity many can't pass up, which also lets them enjoy a way of life with their families they both know and love.
Even if when he was younger Martin had no intention of taking over the family business and had already left the area, he saw and seized the opportunity to run it for the coming years. “I did my university away from home along with my partner, who's also from the Bois-Francs. My older brother was always involved in the business with our father, but our father was getting older, and seeing that my brother's kids had no interest in the business, I decided to go back and start my family. My partner was also able to find work in civil engineering locally.”
The exodus of young people from the regions is still a challenge, even for those who remain, or those who return, like Martin, especially when they think about replacing or hiring future staff members. “You better believe we're thinking about it,” he added.
Taking over the family business: bringing together management, emotions and passion
If starting a business from nothing is a bit of an adventure, don't believe for a second that taking one over is any easier. Our parents and grandparents who built these businesses were able to evolve and learn over time. They grew up in the business and got used to it. When you take over a family business, sometimes you end up with a mature business, sometimes with a number of employees, and you have to jump right in and get up to speed quickly, because the train has already left the station.
The Centre de transfert d'entreprise du Québec (in French) can be an excellent resource for learning the details about what's ahead and for ensuring a seamless transition. To be sure you're ready before making the leap, it might be a good idea to add a few arrows to your quiver by getting some basic managerial training. L'École des entrepreneurs du Québec (in French) or HEC Montréal, for instance, offer workshops, programs and certificates in entrepreneurship and business creation (in French)which can provide you with the tools you need to efficiently and easily manage the family business.
As in life, your family can provide excellent support and become a resource to assist you in your learning. As Martin and his brother know each other well, it was obvious to them right from the start how best to divide the responsibilities while building the knowledge and expertise they would need. “We split up up the work according to our interests and our strengths,” said Martin.
On the other hand, the family dynamic has its own history and its own emotional baggage and you have to compartmentalize things, managing the business and dealing with personal relationships separately. “You can be sure that managing is a lot more emotional because we're brothers!” offered Martin suddenly, which he sees as an asset, as everyone quickly gets behind a common vision. “It's not always easy to manage a business with your brother, but since we share the same deep-seated values and goals, we have complete confidence in each other and can count on each other.”
A family business also comes with its own soul, something that's been a long time in the making. By obtaining the knowledge and resources necessary to make it grow and, never forgetting where you came from, the odds will be in your favour that it will continue in your family's image. “Clearly the family's values, like sharing, generosity and respect are of the first order of importance in our lives. We often make decisions looking back at what our father would have thought or done.”
Start thinking about the next generation today
Just as the family business was built in the past and handed off to the current generation, the young people who are next in line also want to be sure that what they create and build will be sustainable. For a lot of today's entrepreneurs, the environment is central to their values and concerns and Martin L. is no exception. “As a nature lover, I have always been keen on preserving the environment. Without making myself crazy over it, I'm always thinking about the impact of my choices on future generations.”
Every business is unique and evolves differently. The people taking over also want to make a difference! By setting the tone when they take over, it's easy for their current values to take root. Martin L. found the perfect approach for his syrup operation. “Our syrup production is now certified organic. That forces us to make decisions that are far more ecological than 10 years ago, for example. Obviously, it's regulated and that requires lots of changes in terms of production, but it's made us very proud.” The principal change in order to be certified was to comply with the regulations regarding cleaning agents. There were also changes to how the operation is set up and maintained, the use of ethyl alcohol when tapping, as well as the use of certified organic vegetable oils as anti-foaming agents.
Walking in your parents' or grandparents' footsteps by taking over the family business can be quite a challenge, but it can be totally gratifying when you get to put your heart and your values into it. Young people today taking over such businesses have everything it takes to succeed. By getting properly equipped right from the start and by learning about the resources you need to get there, chances are good you'll build something that will continue to live and grow the way you want it to.