It should be okay for women and men to embrace their differences. It is the differences that are important for moving us all forward.
Canadian Fiber Optics Corp. is a family-owned telecommunications infrastructure company. Headquartered in western Canada, the company builds and delivers high-speed internet connectivity to remote and rural communities in underserved areas. The origins of the company are the story of a transformative family succession decision that led the first-generation founders of the Bloomer family to exit their long-established and traditional businesses to become shareholders in an ambitious new technology enterprise founded by the next generation – their daughter, Jodi Bloomer, and her husband Arjen Kaput.
While this might not be a typical family business succession story, it has a great deal in common with most. For one, it is clearly extending the entrepreneurial spirit of the family from one generation to the next and taking the family values forward with it. Second, it is fulfilling both generations’ desire to create and build a business that will be sustainable in the family for multiple generations to come.
A transformational turning point – for the family and the business
Jodi initially chose not to be involved in the traditional family business, wanting instead to figure things out for herself and create something uniquely her own. After a few minor successes and what she describes as ‘good character-building failures’, an opportunity presented itself to support her family through a complete business restructuring. This process ultimately led to the family’s consequential decision to exit their businesses entirely. Not only was this a critical turning point for the family, it also paved the way for a new career path for Jodi when she recognized that she had skills and knowledge that would add value to the exit process.
The transition from daughter to business advisor is not always a straight or easy path. In Jodi’s case, it was critically important to declare her dual roles openly, and recognize that it might take time for her parents to be able to differentiate between her role in the family and her responsibilities in the business. She started by openly expressing to her father that she was there to add value to the exit process, not as a ‘daughter with her hand out’.
For family business successors, she describes the transition to a dual family/business role in this way: “It is important to be very clear about why you are making the choice to join a family business, the role you can play and what you can offer that will add value to the business and to the family – not what you can get from it. If I have to ask myself those questions every day for months, I will. Frankly, it’s empowering.”
Jodi is the first to admit that the lines between her as the daughter and her in the business were blurred initially and it was often difficult to detach the two. They were comingled and it took some time to achieve clarity on how to separate them. In the early stages, it was more challenging for her father than her mother to see Jodi as an adult and to let go – to trust how they raised her and to be confident in her knowledge and ability to execute business plans.
However, the exit process became a significant transition point itself, as it became increasingly necessary to allow others to become involved in the business and contribute their very specific expertise. It also allowed the trust that already existed between father and daughter to unfold in a business relationship. The business relationship evolved and became clearer when Jodi and Arjen founded Canadian Fiber Optics Corp., with her family financially and emotionally invested in the company, but not participating in it directly.
Leading with respect
Jodi is a young woman working in a tech industry dominated by men. In Canadian Fiber Optics Corp.’s early days, she was running the construction side of the business. She understood the importance of earning the respect of the men on the company’s construction sites, many of whom are her father’s age and have been working in the industry for more years than she has been alive.
Her starting point was a position of enquiry to acknowledge that they knew more than her and to understand their specific areas of expertise. Their input is critical to making good decisions on behalf of the entire company. As their business leader, she has established a tone of mutual appreciation for their experience and knowledge, combined with her technology and business development know-how.
Future prospects for women in family business
The Bloomer family raised their daughters to be strong women. The message when Jodi and her sister Carlie were growing up was, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Today, she feels that her entire family – husband, father and mother, sister and brother-in-law – are always right beside and behind her to support her in what she has chosen to do.
Externally, where she is not known, however, she recognizes that there may be perception issues that have to be addressed quickly for women in business, particularly those working in male-dominated industries, to build and maintain their credibility.
In today’s environment, authenticity is becoming increasingly important. For women in male-dominated family businesses, that means leading like a woman, not like a man – to be feminine, sensitive and intuitive in a business environment and effective in growing a prosperous business.
An environment that allowed women in business to be authentic often didn’t exist for previous generations and women had to ‘put on their shoulder pads’ and work hard at trying to be one of the boys. It is Jodi’s hope that authenticity becomes the standard for all women in business. To lead the way, she believes that family businesses have an exceptional opportunity to give a new generation of women a greater voice in their businesses and demonstrate the value they add through their talent and distinctive perspectives.
“When you believe that this is the way things should be for women in business, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the way things have always been,” remarks Jodi. “It’s due to the hard work of so many women – and men – who have come before us to open the doors. It should be okay for women and men to embrace their differences because it is the differences that are important for moving us all forward."