Label-printer delegates responsibility gradually
Jean-Maurice Fournier is in a position that most entrepreneurs only dream of. During the past three decades he has built his label printing business into one of the most respected in the province, and he now has time to pursue his other hobbies.
"At 40 years old I had everything I ever wanted," Fournier said. "A plane, a house, a cottage and a good family. I guess I got lucky."
But lately it's not Fournier's hobbies but his family that's been on his mind.
Fournier has four daughters of which two, Caroline and Marilène are showing a strong interest in the business, as is his nephew Sylvain Jodoin. And Fournier is trying to figure out the best way to integrate them into the company.
Imprimerie Ste-Julie, which Fournier founded in his backyard shed produces self-adhesive labels for the food, pharmaceutical and computer industries. The company's 80 employees generated close to $12 million in sales last year, mostly for the domestic market.
Ste-Julie was one of the country's first label printers to grasp the importance of digital printing, which now comprises about 30 per cent of revenues. Fournier expects that to hit 50 per cent within the near future.
Unfortunately there are no standard formulas for bringing second generation members into family businesses. So Fournier is doing the best he can to ensure that the transition works smoothly.
"People sometimes say that I make running a company look easy," Fournier said. "But it's not. It's a very competitive industry. And if (my kids) don't learn to take advantage of every opportunity to be productive, then they don't stand a chance."
The Fournier children have been coming into work ever since they can remember.
"I started here when I was seven years old," Caroline Fournier said. "I would sweep the floors and help any way I could. I am sure I caused more trouble than I helped, but I began thinking about work early."
That jack-of-all trades attitude is reflected on her business card.
"See? There's no title on the card. There's a reason for that," Caroline Fournier joked. "It's because I do everything they ask me to do."
By the time that Fournier, who is now 23, finished her accounting studies at Hautes Études Commerciales, she had already several summers worth of experience.
As a result, when she joined the company she was able to hit the ground running, first in the customer service department and now in accounting.
Fournier's nephew Sylvain Jodoin also followed a varied career path.
"I started here part-time when I was 16, and have been working full-time since 1995," Jodoin said. "I have done almost every job from press operator to purchasing agent to plant manager."
Today Jodoin, -- also an H.E.C. graduate --works in costing, which is historically one of the most important departments in any print operation.
"If we price a job too high then we will lose it to a competitor. But if we price it too low, we'll get the job but we'll lose money on it," Jodoin said. "We have to find the right balance"
"My experience in production gives me a leg up, because I know what the machines and the operators can and cannot do."
According to one industry expert, companies like Imprimerie Ste-Julie, that get the second generation involved in the business at a young age are taking a very important step.
"Kids need to get a realistic picture of what the business world is like," Michael Galletti, past president of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise said. "And the best way of doing that is for them to get their hands dirty."
Galletti also recommends that kids get four or five years of experience outside of the business before joining.
"The extra confidence gives them a real boost," Galletti said. "If they join the family business without having made their bones elsewhere, they never really know in their gut if they simply made it because their parents own the place."
And finally, Galletti advises businesses to have well thought out entrance and exit strategies for family members.
"Simply planning an exit strategy is often an important exercise even if it's never used," Galletti said. "That way both parents and children know that there is nothing inevitable about their jobs in the company. Everything has to be earned."
So far Jean-Maurice Fournier seems to be very happy with the way his children and nephew are fitting in. But don't ask him about whom he'll eventually turn over the reigns to.
"Me retire? Forget it," he laughed. "It's one thing to let the others work here. But I'm not going anywhere."
Photo caption: According to Jean-Maurice Fournier, (shown here with daughter Caroline and nephew Sylvain Jodoin) integrating second generation family members is one of the biggest challenges that businesses face.
|© 2004 Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.|