October 4, 2023
Dad-to-daughter business succession

Photo: Feld Entertainment

All three Feld daughters (from left), Alana, Juliette and Nicole, have joined dad, Kenneth Feld, in the business.

Small Business in Florida

Dad-to-daughter business succession

The days have passed when the founders of businesses and the children who inherit those businesses were almost all men. Today, more family businesses are being passed on to daughters, who must navigate traditional succession issues and contemporary business issues — challenges arising from increased globalization, regulation and technical change.

“We are seeing things moving at a nine times rate of change,” says Greg McCann, director of the Family Enterprise Center at Stetson University. “Most founders are aware of it and feel it, but not everyone has thought about what it means.”

The next generation of business leaders has to think differently while holding on to the practices that made the company successful.

One challenging trend: Older generations are staying longer in family businesses, sometimes leaving employees unclear about who is in charge. “Succession probably needs to be rethought,” McCann says. “Instead of passing the torch, family members will need to figure out the best role for everyone.”

With these new dynamics, communication among family members becomes increasingly important, says Adi Rappoport, a Gunster shareholder in West Palm Beach who specializes in estate planning and corporate law. Fathers need to talk to their daughters about their hopes, desires, fears and concerns for the business and how long they want to remain involved in the company.

Rappoport says founders often are concerned about transferring their business to children who may have different motivations. “Rather than creating wealth, the next generation needs to sustain it,” he says. Parents worry about how to transfer the “fire in the gut” and other motivators that made them successful, he says.

One advantage the younger generation enjoys is the presence of more resources for family businesses. Accountants, lawyers, strategic advisers, consultants, university professors and bankers can offer guidance. Rappoport believes women leaders tend to be more willing to ask for help with transition and more collaborative, both traits that will help them steer a family business. Following are six profiles of family businesses which daughters have taken over from fathers.

Feld Entertainment Palmetto

Circus Act

Kenneth Feld makes way for his three daughters.

The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus may be an American pastime, but it is also a family business in transition.

Kenneth Feld, 67, took over the company at age 36 after his father died. Today, his three daughters are finding their place in Feld Entertainment.

Kenneth Feld had strict rules about how and when his daughters could join the company. He required them to finish college and work elsewhere first, believing that working elsewhere would give them a better understanding of how to work with people. “I think a lot of the obstacles I faced were the result of not having work experience. People who were there before I was had no reason to respect me other than my name,” he says.

Most people know Feld Entertainment as the southwest Florida company that produces the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus and Disney On Ice. But Feld also produces as many as 5,000 other performances a year, including Disney Live, Monster Jam, Marvel Universe Live and Feld Motor Sports.

As the daughters joined, one at time, Feld moved them into various operations based on their skills, education and experience. Nicole Feld, 38, and Alana Feld, 35, are in New York, while Juliette Feld, 32, works in Chicago. All three are executive vice presidents, and each has a speciality: Nicole is comfortable with hiring and has an artistic flair; Alana’s strength is with numbers and spreadsheets; while Juliette, an MBA, has a knack for details.

“I have taught them to remove their personalities and make longterm decisions based on what’s best for the business,” Feld says.

Nicole spent her first year at the company as her father’s assistant, shadowing him and observing his management style. Nicole, the first of the daughters to join Feld Entertainment, says employees initially didn’t know what to make of her. Some didn’t trust her. She says those concerns disappeared as she became more confident and took on more responsibility.

Her father had to learn how to share power. “In the beginning, I had to remind him to have conversations with me, not around me. After a meeting, he would say, ‘I just want to fill you in.’ I would say, ‘Next time get me on the phone before you make a decision.’ It took a long time for him to think like that.”

Nicole got her first lesson in bouncing back from mistakes when she changed the traditional threering circus model to one with a single ring, massive high-definition screens and more music. Her concept, based on market research, flopped. Critics panned the show, calling it overproduced, and circus salespeople revolted. But Nicole says she won’t shy away from trying new ideas, mostly because her father advocates continual change. “He doesn’t believe in the status quo. He believes there is always something we can be doing better.”

To ensure the business transitions into a fourth generation, Feld has brought in a consultant to help with succession. All three of the daughters have young children. “It becomes more complicated with each generation,” he says. “We are trying to create a constitution or guidelines for how future generations are going to come into the business.” Part of the transition is to figure out whether one of the Feld daughters will take over someday as CEO. “I can’t ordain anyone. If they want it, they have to embrace it, but the company is large enough that there are leadership roles for everybody.”

Feld says he pushes his daughters to think beyond today. “History is wonderful to talk about, but the excitement is about the future,” he says.

Today, Nicole produces Disney on Ice and works on Supercross; Alana produces Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus shows; and Juliette produces for Marvel Universe Live and Motor Sports.

Nicole says she, her sisters and her dad see each other often, call regularly and update each other on conversations or thoughts. “Each of us has a different perspective on situations, but we are all clear on what is best for the company,” she says. “It’s nice to feel like we’re in it together. Each of us understands that we all live the risks and the rewards.”

Codina Partners Doral

Building a Future Together

Ana-Marie Codina Barlick makes her mark on the family business.

The view from the top of a new high-rise condo tower in the Doral area of Miami is spectacular: One side overlooks the Trump National Doral Miami golf course, and the other looks out toward the Miami skyline. These are the views Ana-Marie Codina Barlick had envisioned at Downtown Doral, a mixed-use development in an area of Miami known for warehouses.

As Barlick plans the phases of the community side by side with her father, Armando Codina, she knows she’s also proving to the real estate industry that she has what it takes to succeed him in the family business. Asserting her ideas for strategy and direction comes easily for a daughter who watched her father for decades choose projects such as Deering Bay and Beacon Centre that earned him financial rewards and a reputation as one of the state’s most respected real estate developers.

The property that now houses the Downtown Doral development spans 120 acres and was the only parcel in Miami-Dade County that Codina kept in 2006 when he merged his former company, Codina Group, with Florida East Coast Industries, and sold that company in 2007 to Fortress Investment Group, based in New York.

Codina says what he was seeing in real estate in 2006 scared him — overzealous lending, outrageous prices and inexperienced developers. When the bubble burst, Codina was well positioned with cash from the sale to buy distressed bonds, mortgages and other real estate-related instruments that allowed him to build a portfolio that includes large parcels of land in Collier County.

With new holdings throughout the state and in Dallas, Codina formed Codina Partners with Barlick, the oldest of his four daughters, who initially served as managing director and had some experience working in real estate in New York.

Codina says he structured his new company so it could operate with fewer employees and fewer liabilities. He wanted a small business in which only family members had ownership. He says from the beginning, Barlick showed him she had skills he didn’t have — a knack for analytics, a passion for management and an interest in bringing art and culture to their projects. In 2013, after working with his daughter for nine years, Codina gave her the title of CEO, and he became chairman.

They touch base throughout the day — and often at night. Barlick oversees all investment, development and construction activities and the company’s 30 employees. She also manages relationships with the company’s partners and contractors. Codina handles the commercial construction and leasing as well as holdings outside of Miami-Dade.

They spend much of their time overseeing build-out of Downtown Doral and talking about what else they will add to the community, which already includes condos, townhomes, a shopping pavilion and a park. Additions likely will include a grocery store, a medical facility and an adult living center.

“We’re different, but we complement each other,” Barlick says. “Most importantly, we enjoy being together in and out of the office.”

Codina explains it this way: “Where Ana-Marie is analytical, I work on instinct, but we usually get to the same place.”

Working alongside her father — and one day taking over completely has its advantages and disadvantages, Barlick admits. “He casts a big shadow, but he also opens doors.”

To make her own mark, Barlick is pursuing deals in which her father has less interest. One was the construction of a charter school in Downtown Doral. For years, talks about the school were unproductive. Today, the school is open.

Recently, Codina agreed to follow Barlick’s strategic direction for the company, one that differs from his. Instead of selling assets, Barlick wants to hold on to them and even increase the number of income-producing properties the company owns. “In the past, when I’ve done rentals, I sold them. In the future, we will keep our offices and multifamily properties,” Codina says. “I respect her Judgment because she has earned it. I think it’s the right decision.”

While the next generation is young (there are nine grandchildren), Barlick, mother of three, says her role at Codina Partners definitely is more of a steward than an entrepreneur, which is why she considers herself more risk averse than her father. Regularly, Codina calls family meetings to discuss business that will affect all shareholders, including his other three daughters. “The business is owned by the family, so we have to be respectful of that,” he says. Barlick says the biggest lesson from her father is humility: “He tells me, ‘Don’t believe your own bullsh--. Know your place and where you fit into the greater world.”

Frigibar Industries Miami

Suddenly in Charge

After her father died, Shuly Oletzky found herself unprepared to take over.

Shuly Oletzky wishes her father, Sheldon Oletzky, could see how much heart and soul she has put into the business he founded 46 years ago. President of Frigibar Industries, a manufacturer of yacht and boat refrigerators, Oletzky, 38, stepped into her father’s shoes six years ago after he died from ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, with no succession plan in place.

Feeling alone as she tried to figure out how her father ran the business, Oletzky turned to company employees for guidance. “Because of their love for my dad, they were willing to stick around and teach me what I needed to learn,” she says. “I learned more and more about their jobs so I could understand my job better. It was the epitome of teamwork.”

Oletzky had some exposure to the business. As a teen, she had helped out at boat shows and watched her father interact with customers. She had learned how to engage customers and how to make a sale. She and her father had never directly discussed whether he wanted her to come into the business, however.

Looking back, she says she realized he had hinted at her taking over. But because she had an established career path in real estate, she didn’t pick up on the hints. “Finding out later from one of his friends that it was what he wanted was heartbreaking. What a wonderful experience it would have been to have had that time to learn the business from him,” Oletzky says.

While there will always be challenges when leadership changes in a family business, Oletzky says the timing of her takeover in 2010 made it particularly difficult because the luxury market was in the doldrums.

selling accessories to the marine market seemed nearly impossible. To survive, she beefed up marketing with a new website, created social media campaigns and established partnerships. She also has added products to target boats of all sizes, and made a personal financial investment in the company.

Oletzky says she turned to her mother and sister for input with bigpicture decisions; however, mentors in the business community offered important advice. “Asking for help has gotten me endless opportunities to meet people and changed the direction of how I want the future of the business to look,” she says.

Adi Rappoport, an estate planning attorney at Gunster in West Palm Beach, says Oletzky’s scenario embodies the reason why succession planning is important.

“It’s hard to transfer power and culture to your daughter when you never have had a conversation about how and why you do things a certain way,” he says. “It shouldn’t have to be trial and error.”

Jon Smith Subs Palm Beach County

Playing a Different Tune

Alexis Smith sets aside her ambitions as a trombone player to get into the family’s sub business.

A few months ago, Alexis Smith recognized that becoming a leader in her father’s 27-year-old sub chain offered better opportunities than being a professional trombone player. And she realized that the creativity and discipline she learned at Julliard and employed in music could be applied in her family business.

As a second-generation family business member working her way up the leadership ranks, Smith, 26, has been on a whirlwind tour of Jon Smith Subs’ nine shops and its corporate office in Palm Beach County to learn what key personnel do, how ad campaigns are created and what’s involved in a good customer experience.

One of the biggest challenges has been convincing her father that she can handle his criticism. “I had to tell him I am not a little girl. I am a strong woman who wants to know what I am doing wrong so I can fix it,” she says. “I also had to convince him I can take on more responsibility.”

Jon Smith, 65, admits he was apprehensive about his daughter joining the company he built. He considers Alexis a talented musician and wanted her to follow her dream of playing trombone in professional Orchestras. Still, Alexis’ interest has given him and his employees a sense of relief, he says. “It put an end to any thoughts that I would sell to a larger company. It’s been great.”

As part of Alexis’ training, Smith took his daughter through the myriad steps of a product launch. Her lesson included creating a new sub offering, pricing, developing a marketing plan to introduce it and tracking sales.

Her other big challenge, Alexis says, was establishing her own identity among her co-workers as more than the founder’s daughter or someone who was there to spy on them. Many employees have been there for more than a decade.

“I’m trying to earn their respect by putting in my time and becoming fluent in the operations.” She also has had to walk the line between offering new ideas and understanding why some experiments had failed in the past.

Alexis says she and her father have a close, loving relationship outside the office and a mentor/ mentee relationship at work. “The idea of training the next generation to continue our commitment to growth is exciting for both of us,” says Smith, adding that his company has had particularly strong growth in the last four years.

Jon Smith’s mantra for succession: “Don’t give the business to them. Make them take it from you.”

Meanwhile, Alexis has her own vision for the future of her family business: “I want to carry on the tradition of high-quality subs and good customer service, but I want to continue to grow and get the word out. In 10 years, I want everyone in Palm Beach County to know of Jon Smith Subs.”

Leo C. Chase & Son Funeral Home St. Augustine

Easy Transition

Avis Chase is the third generation in the family business.

Avis Chase, 45, is a third-generation mortician who relishes being at the helm of the funeral business her grandfather founded and passed on to her father, Arnett Chase. “I grew up in the business and saw the compassion my grandfather and father had for others.”

Today, with a bachelor’s degree from Florida A&M and a degree in funeral service management from Gupton Jones, Chase handles most of the day-to-day duties of the funeral home, which for nearly 60 years has served St. Augustine and surrounding areas. Her father, 75, still comes in some days and conducts funeral services as he moves into semi-retirement. Chase’s brother, Arnett Jr., is a funeral attendant. Her godfather is the office manager.

For Chase, the transition has been easy. “My father let me get my feet wet, but he guided me. He let me make own way, but I always felt him there for me, looking over my shoulder.”

The firm’s founder, Leo C. Chase, her grandfather, earned a reputation for having high expectations. He stressed punctuality, customer service and top-notch presentation — all employees had to wear ties.

Chase says her father taught her lessons he learned from his father. “In this business, timing is everything. If the service starts at 11, at 10:58 you are late,” her father would say to her.

Chase says she eased into running daily operations as her father scaled back. “My family allowed me to grow into the mortician I have become,” she says. “I spent years working with my father, and when he felt I was ready, he said, ‘It’s your time’ and gave me the reins.”

Chase says she has introduced new ideas that she often gets from industry workshops — new technology, pre-need contracts, customized funeral decor.

“If someone was a fisherman, we can make it look like a dock,” she says.

Chase’s dad says that while his son is in the business, too, his daughter expressed interest from a young age in running it one day. He considers it fortunate because she can interact with the next generation of customers in a way he can’t. “She brings in new, fresh ideas and is a people person.”

Five years ago, Chase earned a master’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution, giving her even more management education and her dad additional comfort. “I don’t have to be hands-on anymore, which is nice,” Arnett Chase says. “I can mix and mingle in the community, knowing she is well prepared.”

Arroyo Process Equipment Clearwater

Differing Approaches

Diane Schleicher’s clashes with her father led her to leave the company at one point.

For Diane Schleicher, taking over the company her father, Frank Arroyo, founded in 1968 has been far from smooth. At one point she clashed with her father so much that she left the family business for eight months. But now, with her 89-yearold father ill with Alzheimer’s, Schleicher confidently leads Arroyo Process Equipment with her own style and vision.

As the second-generation leader, Schleicher considers how her decisions affect continuity at the company, which distributes and services industrial supplies such as pumps, mixers and other equipment used in manufacturing.

Schleicher joined the family business at 21. She started by answering phones and helping to automate systems, discovering she excelled in using computers.

Her father is Cuban, old school and never envisioned her as his successor, she says. Instead, he had that role picked out for his son, who is 11 years older and already had been in the business when his sister joined.

In 1994, when Arroyo acquired a machine shop in Mulberry, Arroyo put his daughter in charge of it. Seven years later when he merged the machine shop into his core company Arroyo Process Equipment, Schleicher became president and began to have differences in direction with her father. He believed in “dad knows best, which is where our friction came from” she says. “The daughter/dad dynamics can be hard. It took my father time to understand I was not the rebellious 16-year-old girl I had been in high school.” By 2004, their differences had become so intense that Schleicher left.

Shortly after her departure, the business began to falter. Her father sold off the machine shop division and began entertaining offers to buy the entire company. “I saw he was being taken advantage of and told him we could work our differences out. I came back and it was the best decision for both of us.”

Eight years after she returned, Arroyo had a stroke and could no longer work, but by then Schleicher was already running the company as CEO. She says her brother made it clear he wanted a 9-to-5 job, not a leadership role. “I didn’t go to college, so everything I learned was from my father, she says. “What he taught me most is to be persistent.”

Schleicher says today she runs the business, a $16-million company , Using both the wisdom her father passed on and a more strategic approach. She plans to keep a Jacksonville facility but integrate the company’s Clearwater operations into its 14,000-sq.-ft. Bartow facility, putting the savings into personnel rather than bricks and mortar. “It makes good business sense. I wanted to do it for 10 years, but my dad didn’t want to because it’s where he built the business from. For me, emotional decisions are no longer barriers.” Her goal is to be a $25-million company, “At that point, I want pass the business to my son and have him take it to a $50-million company.”

Schleicher’s son Kurt, 19, studies at the University of South Florida. During breaks from school, he spends time learning the family business. Kurt says he is getting hands-on lessons from his mother in the way she did from her father. “She is teaching me how to make decisions and think about the causes and effects of them that at a lower level you don’t have to think about.”

Like other daughters who succeed their fathers, Schleicher keenly feels the weight of responsibility for the future of the business. Her mark, she says, will be great service and more diverse operations. “I see companies being bought by bigger conglomerates or run by venture capitalists. I want our footprint to be strong so we don’t have to go down that road.”

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