Pandemic Pivot: Canadian Family Firms Rise to the Challenge


The coronavirus crisis has shaken the world yet family enterprises have adapted with agility, ingenuity and compassion.

What do many Canadian distillers have in common these days? Hint: the answer is not manufacturing tipple.   

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisismany are adjusting to the market realities of sharply reduced sales as consumers stay home to ride out the global pandemic.

Kinsip, a small batch distillery in Ontario’s Prince Edward County, has repurposed its production facility to make hand sanitizer. 

Some 1,600 kilometers away in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Steinhart Distillery – an operation fuelled by 300 years of family tradition – halted its gin and vodka production to produce hand sanitizer. 

Meanwhile Revelstoke, B.C.-based Monashee Spirits craft distillery has found a new use for its waste alcohol by-product: surface disinfectants andof coursehand sanitizers, which the small family firm is giving away free. 

Distilleries are well placed to make disinfectants because they produce a key ingredient: ethanol, which is normally crafted into spirits. 

Their common ground? Enterprises like these are role model heroes.  

Role Model Heroes

COVID-19 has forced family businesses to adapt quickly to change and redesign their products and services or even create new ones to respond to the demands of millions of people self-isolating around the world.  

Demand for many products might be down these days yet several businesses are rushing to change their production lines to help fight the pandemic. 

For 75 years, family-owned Cowan Graphics Inc. has printed advertising materials. Now the Edmonton firm is manufacturing thousands of face shields, sneeze guards and floor signs for hospitals and businesses on the front lines of the pandemic. 

Call it the pandemic pivotThe crisis has pushed mature enterprises to behave more like start-ups (which is not necessarily a bad thing) by reacquainting them with their agility. 

As intrapreneurial expert Guillaume Hervé explains in this video, start-ups pivot frequently until they find their sweet spot. And many role model hero firms are doing just that. 

Mature firms are pivoting and adopting agilestart-up attitudes 

“Until a start-up has figured out its business modeland proved it in the marketit will need to pivot several times whereas a core business rarely pivots becausit’s already set on a long-term trajectory,” Hervé says.  

Mature enterprises may need the odd modification but they rarely implement outright changes in their strategy. That doesn’t mean they’re not nimble. 

Pandemic Pivot

In a world where the unprecedented has become commonplace, scores of businesses are in the midst of a massive pivot in response to COVID-19.  

Companies of all shapes and sizes are stepping up but the crisis will take its toll. As Jasmin Guénette, vice-president of national affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, points out: “30% of small firms say they can survive less than a month in the current situation. 

Fortunately, the Canadian federal government has introduced a raft of measures designed to provide relief to small businesses and individuals. 

Giving back to communities is more vital than ever, says Imagine Canada, a national charitable organization whose cause is Canada’s charities. Yet the charitable sector itself is under threat. 

Based on extensive consultation with sector leaders across Canada, Imagine Canada is projecting that three months of mandated social distancing and the economic downturn associated with COVID-19 will cause charities to lose $9.5 billion and layoff more than 117,000 employees of which the vast majority would be women.  

“We have a very real concern that, without a major infusion of funds to help charities weather the storm, the sector is in real danger of going dark,” says Bruce MacDonald, Imagine Canada’s president and chief executive officer. 

Impact and Purpose

If ever there were a time to pull together and make an impact it’s now. Tight-knit enterprising families are uniquely positioned to do so, and as AOL founder Steve Case explains in this videothey simply need to make a choice.   

“Every family is different but as families start thinking about want kind of impact they want to have in the world, it starts with the business they have,” Case says. 

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, family business expert Patricia Angus poses a loaded question: “What role should a family business play in its community?”  

Angus runs the gamut – from social contract theory to shareholder primacy – trying to answer that question. Yet at one point, she states: “The reality is that family businesses have long understood that they have multiple stakeholders.”  

Perhaps this is why family enterprises are so agile. They pivot with purpose because they know families’ lives are at stake. They’re engaged. They’re purposeful. 

Learn how our upcoming course 
Engaged Philanthropy and Impact Investing can enhance your family’s purpose.

Family ForwardBusiness Families Foundation’s family learning tool, defines purpose as an enduring commitment shared by family members to makmeaningful difference in the world beyond family. 

Has your family business decided how it will pivot and maka difference? 

Start Your Free Learning Journey

Try it now - Commitment-free.