Family Enterprises are Playing the Long Game


As they pivot, adjust, and adapt, entrepreneurial families are pulling out the stops to keep business rolling in a “new normal” pandemic economy.

Where there’s a will there’s a way.

As the coronavirus crisis runs its course, this time-worn maxim has proven to be true, often with families at the heart.

Family-owned enterprises are finding new ways to thrive as they pivot in a pandemic that is pushing world economies to breaking point.

Toronto Stamp Inc. is one company leading the charge after cobbling together a previously non-existent supply chain in order to fulfill a federal government contract for four million face shields and bio-barriers.

“When COVID-19 started, I was worried,” says Jimmy Williams,” general manager of the family-run business that began trading in 1907. “I was afraid we were going to have to close our doors.”

Williams’ consternation turned into action after a late-night conversation over hospital equipment shortages with James Mather, a family doctor and his childhood friend.

Before long Toronto Stamp began putting together suppliers with expertise in everything from plastics to laser cutting. When Williams learned his company had won the government contract, he feared they were “never going to be successful alone” and sought out allies.

“In a matter of weeks, dozens of partners rallied to fill the market gap. Many took risks to save their business and many more retooled their infrastructure and way of doing things to make this network work."

Easy Does It

As Canada’s provinces and territories begin to ease lockdown restrictions, businesses are taking tentative steps on the road to a reopened economy.

The country is not out of the woods. Nationwide, Canada has more than 71,000 coronavirus cases while deaths from the illness have pushed past 5,000.

Many took risks to save their business

South of the border, the pandemic is far from over. As factory workers began returning to assembly lines in Michigan, paving the way to reopen the US automotive sector, there are fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections as lockdowns are eased across the country.

Yet as the US economy reopens, companies like Wassertrom are learning to live with the pandemic, continue to trade, and help other businesses do the same in as safe a manner as possible.

The fourth-generation foodservice equipment manufacturer has partnered with tech company PopID to roll out instant facial recognition and body temperature screening technology. The big idea? Help employers offer safe workplaces for employees and customers.

US firms have been reluctant to allow employees to work from home because of inertia, but the pandemic has forced nearly two-thirds of Americans to work remotely, according to a Gallup report.

Tech the Savior?

Yet not all jobs – food service and healthcare roles, for example – can be adapted for homeworking. That doesn’t diminish the need for employee safety. PopID says its biometric technology is already in use in restaurants, professional sports leagues, and assisted living centers.

“We believe our digital identity platform will play an important role in protecting workers and consumers through automated temperature testing and contact-free payment,” says John Miller, chief executive. “In the post-COVID-19 world, companies that succeed will be those that safeguard their people.”

With 4.4 million coronavirus cases worldwide and international borders shut, it’s hard to imagine life ever returning to normal. Big or small, the new normal for family enterprises is adaptation, sometimes extreme.

Sandals Resorts International, the luxury holiday group, has introduced “platinum protocols” of cleanliness, ultra-high safety measures the family-owned group says address intensified consumer expectations amidst COVID-19.

Adapt and Adjust

Meanwhile Hemlock Printers Ltd., a family-owned company in B.C., is printing social distancing signs at no charge for key customers. Few businesses can afford such luxury. “While trying to adapt our business, we’re also trying to figure out ways we can be part of the effort,” says Hemlock President Richard Kouwenhoven.

In other words, family enterprises are adjusting nimbly in the face of a crisis whose final chapters are not yet written.

Many continue to take a long-term view. In a statement this week Toronto Stamp said it “chose to take an innovative pivot to lead a coalition of companies” and deliver crucial healthcare equipment.

The words of Williams, the GM behind it all, go farther still: “We are all working together to achieve the same goals, and that’s to protect our people.”

And that’s what matters most.

Start Your Free Learning Journey

Try it now - Commitment-free.