Doing Good: How Family Businesses Stack Up


Canadian family enterprises are a force for all manner of positive change. That should be encouraged.

Is your family enterprise a force for good?

Conventional wisdom says family-controlled firms, be they small farms or giants, such as Power Corp., embody the best of corporate behaviour by thinking long term and being resilient.

What many Canadians may not know is just how community-minded our country’s family enterprises truly are and to what extent they are forces for positive change.

Earlier this month, Montreal-based Saputo Inc. renewed its ties with KidSport, a non-profit that gets youngsters into organized sports by cutting costs to entry. Since partnering in 2018, Saputo’s $1.2 million contribution has removed barriers to help 4,000 children to participate in organized sports in Canada.

“Our goal is to build healthier communities where we work, live and play and KidSport certainly knows how to make positive change happen in an impactful way,” says Suputo spokesperson Sandy Vassiadis.

Giving big

So does Saputo. The $15 billion dairy giant invests 1% of its annual pre-tax profits in communities through cash contributions, product donations and time. Last fiscal year, that amounted to $11.2 million. 

Our goal is to build healthier communities

For obvious reasons, the past year has seen countless examples of businesses supporting communities. Dig deeper and you’ll find Canadian family businesses have a rich history of kinder, gentler capitalism.

For a fifth year running, Toronto’s family-run Freeman Real Estate joined forces with Fiesta Farms, a family-owned grocer, to help feed 100 local families in need through a particularly timely December food basket giveaway.

Since 1972 Alberta’s Supreme Steel LP, an industrial steel fabricator, has kept bridges and skyscrapers standing strong: “The most important thing we build is community,” says family-owned Supreme, whose support for the Salvation Army runs deep.

At Richmond, B.C.’s Nature’s Path, North America’s largest organic breakfast and snack food company, building better communities takes inner strength – through nutrition and principles.

Jyoti Stephens, vice president at the 36-year-old company, believes every family business is different and the degree to which values are integrated into business can vary. “Our core purpose, to leave the earth better than we found it, came from my grandfather and was baked into the organic food we make.

Reparational thinking

This reparational way of thinking, and investing, is not new. On a grand scale, it’s woven tightly into fabric of certain family offices, among them Renewal Partners, co-founded in 1994 by Carol Newell and Joel Solomon, and which has invested in more than 40 “mission-based” businesses.

Solomon is founding partner of Renewal Partners’ outgrowth, Vancouver’s Renewal Funds, and has invested in dozens of early growth-stage companies, delivering above market returns.

His philosophy? “The purpose of money is to make the world better for the future.” It is a disarmingly enticing statement that resonates.

With $240 million in assets under management, Renewal Funds is taking more than a crack improving the world. Newell, who was appointed a member of the Order of Canada for her philanthropic work, is a discerning venture capital investor. She directs her investments to companies that pay more than lip service to the triple bottom line.

“Ideally, I want companies to be reflective . . . [and ask themselves]: ‘Do we really need to continue to this product? Is this product out there just to make more money or is it really creating a beneficial service in the world?’”

Use the force

Whether your family business is small, medium or large, there are countless ways to make a positive impact in the world. 

After all, Nature’s Path’s organic legacy sprouted more than 50 years ago with a $1,500 loan and a dream. In the past dozen years, the company has donated more than $30 million worth of food to North American food banks and charities.

“I believe that the structure of family business is well-suited for social responsibility and community support and connection,” says Stephens, who encourages a purpose-focused culture in her business.

“Thinking about building a business intergenerationally requires different ideas of partnerships and connection than a business built to sell or focused on quarterly management.”

Thinking about a business intergenerationally means thinking about family. And healthy families will always be a force for good.

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