Company matriarch shares inspiration for small business ownersWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When imagining who the owner of a manufacturing firm and a golf course might be, many people would picture a male.
But at an event hosted by the University of Toledo’s Center for Family & Privately-Held Business, speaker Kathy Dul Aznavorian told the story of the woman who owned those companies: her mother.
Aznavorian, who now owns both Clips and Clamps Industries and Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center, both near Detroit, spoke at a luncheon entitled “From Head of the Family to Head of the Firm: The Changing Role of Women in Family Business.”
While Aznavorian is currently the matriarch running the family businesses, she focused on her mother, Estelle Dul. Dul left high school after the 11th grade, and got her first job as a receptionist at the age of 17.
“Mom eventually took over the duties of the five other girls in the office,” Aznavorian said.
Dul became a partner in a few manufacturing companies with the help of a loan from her father, and purchased her first company prior to marrying her husband – no small feat for a woman in 1945. Nine years later, Clips and Clamps was formed.
Aznavorian showed one picture of the company’s employees from its early days. Nestled in a crowd of men was Dul, who stood out not only because of her large white hat, but because she was the only woman in the photo.
Clips and Clamps had a successful run for many years, but Aznavorian said retirement wouldn’t have suited her parents well. So, they made their next business move.
“At 50 year old, when many people are considering retiring, they bought a golf course,” Aznavorian said. “This was a pretty adventurous move for them. After all, what did they know about golf courses?”
Aznavorian said that as her parents learned the ins and outs of the golf business, she did as well, as she spent her summers working in the family business. After a brief stint in accounting, Aznavorian and her sister, Sandy Mily, took over the business as their parents aged. Eventually, Kathy’s husband Mike left his job at Ford to work in the company, and children Jennifer and Jeffrey soon joined in as well.
“It’s fun to be in the family business,” Aznavorian said. “You know them very well. You know they have your best interests at heart. You know you don’t have to question their loyalty.”
She also pointed to some of the perks of being a woman working in a family business, as opposed to a corporation. She said things like making your own schedule and being together at work (even on holidays) made some of her responsibilities as a mom easier to handle.
However, Aznavorian said the family faced its share of challenges. She said that some of those challenges, especially those that may be faced by women in small or family-owned businesses, were not as daunting for her, thanks to her family.
“There were no boys in the family, and your parents were great role models. We just followed their path. And as two women, we just had a chance to prove ourselves,” Aznavorian said.
Currently, Aznavorian and her family are preparing to transition the leadership of the company from one generation to the next. Karen Cady and Dawn Jinsky, both with Plante Moran, an accounting and business advisory firm, are helping Aznavorian with her family’s transition. The pair helped facilitate a question and answer session during the Sept. 17 luncheon.
In response to a question about her and her mother’s experiences as a woman leading a company, Aznavorian called her mother “a trailblazer.”
“In a lot of ways, my sister and I are trailblazers in our generation,” Aznavorian said. “But if you knew mom, you would never know that she was running a company. She was a very humble woman, leading from behind. She never needed the spotlight.”
Other attendees had questions for the family’s younger members. One asked if they felt pressured to join the family business. Both had experience working outside of the family business before becoming involved — something their parents insisted upon.
“There was no convincing. There was no pressure,” Jeffrey said. “For myself, I fell into it by taking a position in human resources.”
“It was in my blood. I was running around at the age of 5 harassing the waitresses at Fox Hills. I started bussing tables at the age of 10,” Jennifer said. “I tried to fight it a little bit, but every summer I was at the golf course and every weekend I was rushing home to work. I eventually said to myself, ‘What are you fighting it for?’”
And as younger members of the family prepare to take on bigger roles, Aznavorian is taking on the challenges presented by transition. But she says she has one advantage many other retiring company owners don’t: being a woman.
“Women tend to be more collaborative. We’re more consensus builders,” Aznavorian said.
Tags: Center for Family & Privately-Held Business, Clips and Clamps Industries, Dawn Jinsky, Estelle Dul, Family Business, Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center, From Head of the Family to Head of the Firm: The Changing Role of Women in Family Busines, Golf, Karen Cady, Kathy Dul Aznavorian, Plante Moran, Sandy Mily, Small business, University of Toledo, Women in Business