Joe Capozza III believes a family-owned business should be just as organized and professional as any other type of business – and knows that is often not the case.
Many family-owned companies are held back by an unwillingness to evolve, family squabbles, employees’ lack of respect for children owners, and a sense that there is no one to turn to for help who would understand their unique problems.
To help reach that level of professionalism, Capozza, vice president of Portland-based Capozza Tile & Floor Covering Center and a third-generation family business owner, has turned to an organization that has offered resources to family-owned businesses for 25 years.
“Having a group that really understands either what you’re going through or what you’ve gone through … it’s just a very helpful network to be a part of when you’re looking to make a big business decision or just a small tweak to what you’re currently doing,” Capozza said.
The Institute for Family-Owned Business celebrated its 25th anniversary on Wednesday with an awards ceremony that honored distinguished members and one of its key organizers, philanthropist and former Guy Gannett Communications Chairwoman Maddy Corson, whose family owned the Portland Press Herald for most of the 20th century.
Corson said she got heavily involved with the institute 20 years ago, in part because she remembered the feeling of being thrust into a leadership position in her own family’s business without proper training.
“It was very lonely, and it was very scary, and I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said.
Corson said she learned that the secret to success was to surround herself with good people who could help guide her decisions. That same principle governs the institute, which specializes in connecting family business executives not only to each other but to a variety of seasoned professionals in Maine.
The institute serves an important function in Maine, where the vast majority of all businesses are family-owned, she said.
When Corson joined the institute, it had about 50 members. That number has since grown to over 170, with a wide variety of business sizes and industries represented.
Catherine Wygant Fossett, the institute’s executive director for the past five years, said the nonprofit has more than doubled in size since she was brought on board. It now offers more than 50 different programs to its members, including educational seminars, networking events and “affinity groups” that bring together like-minded family business leaders in small gatherings.
“We tailor the education and the programming to help them based on what they’re (telling) us that they need,” Wygant Fossett said. “I’ve had someone come into one of these affinity groups, and they sit down and they have this sense of relief like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to explain that I’m a family business.’”
Wygant Fossett said the institute has organized training sessions on managing family conflicts, creating a smooth transition of ownership from parents to children, and a variety of other best practices relevant to family-owned businesses.
Dierdre Wadsworth, president of Portland-based Hardypond Construction and a second-generation family business owner, joined the institute three years ago.
She said Wygant Fossett introduced her to an affinity group for young adults who have recently taken over a family business from their parents. Capozza, whom she coincidentally grew up on the same street with, is also a member.
Wadsworth, who is 30, said one of the first challenges the institute helped her with was garnering respect from longtime company employees who still tended to view her as a child.
“There are people on our team that knew me when I was 12 – you know, they essentially baby-sat me,” she said. “And now I’m their boss. That’s a very different relationship than you would ever have in another kind of company.”
Wadsworth said other members of the affinity group, including Capozza, could relate to her struggle and helped her develop strategies to gain the respect of her workers.
Overall, she said, belonging to the institute has been a tremendous asset.
“There’s a lot that I have learned and been able to implement within the company,” Wadsworth said.