Only 10 per cent of the world’s top family businesses are led by women, and according to a KPMG study from 2020, only 18 per cent of all family business leaders are women. But there are some encouraging indications that those numbers are rising.
Changing demographics and the most significant generational wealth transfer in history are creating more leadership opportunities for women in their family businesses. Still, the ascent is more than simply a numbers game. As gender biases and societal prejudices shift globally, family businesses, and the men that often lead them, are embracing fresh perspectives and reevaluating the role women play in their organisations.
Here are ten women family business owners who succeeded their fathers:
Colleen and Danny Wegman (Wegmans)
One of the largest private companies in the US, the New York State-based supermarket chain was looking to expand its regional footprint when Wegman’s Chairman, Danny Wegman, selected his daughter, Colleen Wegman, to succeed him as CEO in 2017. In 1991, Colleen joined the 100-plus-year family business her great-grandfather founded, gaining experience in various roles and eventually becoming President in 2005.
Under Colleen Wegman’s lead, Wegmans opened 17 new locations and established its presence in three additional States and Districts in under six years. The company now operates 109 stores employing roughly 52,000 and generating annual sales of $11.2 billion.
Delphine and Bernard Arnault (Christian Dior)
Owner of Luxury group LVMH, Bernard Arnault appointed his daughter, Delphine Arnault, as the new head of the French fashion and beauty brand Christian Dior in early 2023. Delphine had served as Executive Vice President of Louis Vuitton since 2013. Before this, she was a member of Christian Dior Couture’s Executive Committee and also served as Dior’s Deputy Managing Director.
Bernard Arnault pointed to his daughter’s accomplishments at Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior as drivers for his decision and suggested she would replicate the product desirability and sales increases seen at Louis Vuitton during her tenure with the brand. The move also signalled the label’s desire to resume its pre-pandemic development and growth. Following the announcement of Delphine Arnault’s promotion, LVMH shares climbed nearly 2 per cent.
Abigail Johnson and Edward Johnson III (Fidelity Investments)
After nearly 38 years of running the family business his father, Edward Johnson II, founded in 1946, Edward Johnson III turned the leadership of Fidelity Investments over to his daughter, Abigail Johnson, in 2015. Based in Boston, Fidelity Investments is one of the largest mutual fund companies in the United States, with $9.6 trillion in assets under administration and annual revenue of $24 billion.
Abigail Johnson joined the business full-time in 1988 after receiving an MBA from Harvard. She initially began working as an analyst before gaining experience in various roles. She became Fidelity’s first female CEO and one of the few women to head a multinational investment company. Her commitment to women investors has led to greater awareness of gender biases within the financial services industry.
As CEO, Abigail Johnson has pivoted Fidelity away from its traditional reliance on mutual funds in favour of financial services and venture capital opportunities. She also implemented a strategy targeting younger investors, introducing cryptocurrency investment at the company for the first time in 2018.
Chrissy and Andy Taylor (Enterprise Holdings)
After its CEO retired in 2019, Enterprise Holdings, owner of car rental companies, Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent-a-Car, gained only its fourth new CEO in the company’s 62-year history. Succeeding her father, Andy Taylor, and his father, Jack Taylor, Chrissy Taylor became the third member of her family to lead the company her grandfather founded in 1957. Enterprise operates in nearly 100 countries and territories.
Chrissy Taylor began her career in the family business as an intern, eventually working as a Branch Manager before transitioning to Enterprise’s corporate operations. Her wealth of company experience spans 17 different positions, including stints in Fleet Management, IT, and developing consumer rental markets in the UK and Europe. To help celebrate these achievements, Cox Automotive selected her for the Barbara Cox Woman of the Year award in 2022.
Sophie and Pierre Bellon (Sodexo)
When Pierre Bellon, founder of Paris-based global contract services firm, Sodexo, stepped away from the business in 2016, he appointed his daughter, Sophie Bellon, as Chair of the 50-year-old family business. She would subsequently move into the role of interim CEO in 2021, eventually securing the job permanently in early 2022.
Sophie Bellon formally joined Sodexo in 1994 as a project manager in the finance department, where she contributed to the successful integration of two strategic American acquisitions that helped the company more than double its revenues. In 2008, she was named CEO of the Corporate Services business unit for Sodexo France and headed the company’s Research, Development, and Innovation strategy in 2013.
Bellon’s experience in the US market is expected to be an asset for Sodexo as it looks to grow its business following the pandemic in the contract services space. Sodexo provides catering, facilities management, employee benefits, and personal home services to 100 million consumers in 53 countries.
Jeanie and Jerry Buss (Los Angeles Lakers)
Often called the most powerful woman in professional basketball, Jeanie Buss was put in charge of the LA Lakers’ business operations by her father, Jerry Buss, in 2013 as part of his succession strategy. During Jerry Buss’s run as owner and team President, the Los Angeles Lakers became one of the NBA’s most successful franchises.
Jeanie would go on to fire the team’s General Manager in 2017, along with her brother, Jim Buss, who headed the Lakers’ basketball operations. The bold move is largely credited for a change in the organisation’s culture that helped propel the Lakers to their 2019–2020 championship run.
Linda Johnson Rice and John H Johnson (Johnson Publishing)
Founded in 1942 by John H Johnson, Johnson Publishing became the largest Black-owned public company during its peak publishing period from the 1960s until the early 2000s. Linda Johnson Rice’s father began preparing her to take over the family business immediately after she joined the company in the 1980s. At just 29, Linda Johnson Rice was made President of Johnson Publishing, becoming one of the youngest publishing executives in the United States to steer publications as iconic as Ebony and Jet.
Serving as Johnson Publishing’s CEO and Chairman today, Linda Johnson Rice has navigated the challenges felt by the publishing industry by reinventing the company as a production house for television, film, and other media. She also continues to serve on numerous corporate boards, including Tesla, Kimberly-Clark, and Omnicom Group.
Kim Ruiz Beck and Fred Louis (Ruiz Food Products)
What began as a dream for Louis Ruiz to sell frozen enchiladas, burritos, and tamales with his son, Fred Ruiz, in 1964 became a multi-generationally led, privately-owned corporation considered the largest Mexican food manufacturer in the United States. The company’s El Monterey line is America’s No. 1 selling frozen Mexican food brand.
But it was the challenges he faced while working with his father and building the successful business that influenced Fred Louis’s strategy for his eldest daughter, Kim Ruiz Beck. Fred secured an outside agent to manage the succession that would see Kim made company President and CEO in 2010. Serving as Ruiz Food Products Board Chairman today, Kim Ruiz Beck oversees the company’s multi-channel distribution network, including retail, vending, industrial, and food service.
Nina Østergaard Borris Torben Østergaard-Nielsen (United Shipping and Trading Company)
Hired as USTC’s new Managing Director in 1978, Torben Østergaard-Nielsen used his visionary approach to the shipping industry and its fuelling needs to transform the Danish business that began in 1876, eventually acquiring it in the 1980s. It was with a similar eye to the future that Torben turned over the daily operations of the family-owned firm to his eldest daughter, Nina Østergaard Borris, making her CEO in 2022.
Nina’s sister, Mia Østergaard Rechnitzer, who co-owns the business with her father and sister, also switched roles in 2022, stepping into Executive Management as USTC’s Chief Governance Officer. Both moves reflect the family’s plan for the ascent of the next generation and the evolution of the company. The USTC Group operates in 40 countries with diversified interests, including fuel distribution, logistics, risk management, tanker shipping, IT activities, and sustainable energy solutions.
Roshni Nadar Malhotra and Shiv Nadar (HCLTech)
When Indian industrialist Shiv Nadar wanted a break from overseeing the daily activities of his multinational IT services and consulting firm, he trusted his daughter, Roshni Nadar Malhotra, to fill the Chairman’s role he had held since founding the business in 1976. Previously serving as CEO of the $12 billion technology company, today, Roshni Nadar Malhotra is responsible for all HCLTech’s strategic decisions.
The first woman to lead an Indian technology company, Roshni Nadar Malhotra studied Business Administration at the Kellogg School of Management before joining HCLTech. As HCLTech’s Chairman, she manages a global team of over 222,000 across 60 countries. Roshni’s father and their family firm are credited for catalysing India’s transformation into a global IT hub.