The rise of father and daughter businesses

By Nadira Tudor
Business reporter

media captionSmruti Sriram and her father Sri Ram talk about their working relationship

Successful chief executive Smruti Sriram has one strict rule at work - she never addresses her chairman as "daddy", "dad", or "father".

The chairman in question is her parent, Sri Ram, and together they run Supreme Creations, the UK's largest producer of reusable shopping bags made from natural fibres.

For 16 years the business has been making jute, canvas and cotton bags for everyone from UK supermarkets Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's, to US sportswear giant Nike, and fashion retailer Top Shop.

Set up by Mr Ram, his daughter convinced him to let her join the business six years ago when she was 22.

He made her work her way up from the bottom at the firm's London head office.

When Ms Sriram joined the company it only made plain reusable bags, but her big idea was to introduce fashion designs. And as a result, sales rose sharply, and last year she was made chief executive.

image copyrightOliver Pscherer
image captionSmruti Sriram had to persuade her father to let her join his business

Supreme Creations now manufacturers "several million" bags a year at its own factory in southern India, has 800 staff, and supplies 50,000 clients around the world.

The business is an example of a still rare but growing phenomenon - a company run by a father and daughter.

While father and son firms remain far more common, as an increasing number of women are deciding on a career in business, many are choosing to join their dads at the family firm.

But what is it like to run a company with your father or daughter? What are the benefits, and what can go wrong?

Here three sets of dads and daughters discuss their working lives.

'Yin and yang'

Ms Sriram, now 28, says her dad took some persuading before he would let her join Supreme Creations, because he was apprehensive about mixing family life with business.

At the time she was an Oxford University graduate who had completed internships at Deutsche Bank and advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi, but "wanted to get a short stint with my father as he is a successful entrepreneur".

image copyrightMartin Eidemak
image captionSmruti Sriram's idea to introduce fashion bags saw sales soar at Supreme Creations

After joining the company she never looked back.

"My father and I have an extremely loving yet professional relationship, but he remains Dr Sri or chairman [at work]," says Ms Sriram.

"It keeps a very clear divider between our lives, which allows us to respect each other in a professional outfit.

"Business is business, however he has given me unadulterated advice and mentored me daily. This is priceless.".

Mr Ram says that his daughter was able to quickly understand the business and "carve a niche for herself".

He also thinks that their working relationship is more effective because she is his daughter rather than a son.

"There are many things that men do differently [to women]," says Mr Ram. "If I had a son then he might have been a mini version of me. But with a daughter, that yin and yang situation exists."

Independent adjudicator

While everything appears to run smoothly at Supreme Creations, another father and daughter partnership, Peter Ibbetson and Gemma Guise, admit that their working relationship can be a lot more tempestuous.

image captionFather and daughter Peter Ibbetson and Gemma Guise had to bring in an independent voice

Together they run two businesses - Primedia Solutions, which delivers media training to chief executives, and a public relations company called Journolink.

Mrs Guise joined the her dad at the businesses in London's Canary Wharf three years ago, and they ultimately had to bring in an independent adjudicator to prevent them from arguing.

Mr Ibbetson, 59, says: "We have put in a chairwoman who is the independent part of the business, and she is the oil between us.

"She's set out that if you're having a row or disagreement, you have to be allowed to take 10 to 15 minutes of time out, to prevent an escalation."

Mrs Guise, 31, says that the pressure of running the two businesses can be "immense", and that this is what can lead to arguments.

She adds: "You sacrifice everything for the business, your time, your income, your holiday, your life in general.

"We [my dad and I] share the best highs and the worst lows. We are best friends and worst enemies.

"But that common ground of sheer success and determination will always cement the cracks in our relationship."

'Different strengths'

Entrepreneur and business mentor, Clare Raynor, says she turned down the chance to join her father's company when she was younger, because she felt she "would be more an employee than a partner".

image captionCharleh and Peter Dickenson says they complement each other

For a father and daughter relationship to work, she says it "really does depend" on their underlying relationship, and that their skills complement each other.

"If he has the knowledge and experience, and the daughter brings energy, enthusiasm, and ideas, then it can work," adds Ms Raynor.

To increase the chance of a father and daughter being a success, her advice is that creating a new business together will likely prove easier than the daughter joining a long-established family firm.

"With a start-up there's more room to understand each other's roles and ideals, which can be sorted out beforehand," says Ms Raynor.

"You are both creating things equally, but a hand-me-down business might have issues, and there could be conflict due to differing ideas."

Creating a new business with her father is exactly what 20 year old Charleh Dickenson did 18 months ago.

image captionCharleh Dickenson's own food allergies were the inspiration for her business

Ms Dickenson, who had suffered from food allergies from a young age, came up with the idea of producing a range of cakes and snacks, which are all free from gluten, dairy products, and eggs, and only contain naturally occurring sugars.

Joining forces with her dad, Peter Dickenson, they set up Designed2Eat. Based in Wigan, Greater Manchester, it sells both online and at food festivals.

Ms Dickenson says that setting up the company with her dad was an easy decision to make.

"I'm a daddy's girl, and we always got on really," she says. "We are very similar characters, but we have different strengths."

Designed2Eat now sells more than 1,000 products per month, and dad agrees that he and Ms Dickenson "complement each other very well".

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