The truth behind the myth of “Being Daughter Of”: Much more than glamour and sparkles

Three top examples on what it takes to run a successful family-owned business

Clear mission, strong values, long term vision and ambition could be the 4 key points that resume the unicity and potential of a family-owned business. All of those aspects were treated all along the inspirational testimonials that Sophie Bellon – Chairman of the Board of Directors, SODEXO; Valerie Tandeau de Marsac – Founder at VTM Conseil and Caroline Mathieu – General Manager of the Family Business Network France, gave to over 60 attendees on Monday 22nd of September.

These three remarkable women shared with us their success stories, talking not only about their strategic business decisions but also about their fears, challenges and top learnings which help them reach the top of 3 very different family-owned businesses.

After a brief introduction, Agnès Poirier the panel moderator mentioned the main topics of the discussion: parental influence on their professional path, difficult professional situations that they faced, key differences between “traditional” vs. family-owned businesses, to end up by asking which was the “recipe” of success of the later?

To answer the final question first, here you have the top 4 ingredients for “succeed a family-owned business” recipe:

  1. “Walk the talk” when it comes to values: make sure you display the management that you expect your employees display to your clients
  2. Make sure the organisation values fit your needs: otherwise you will end up either leaving or frustrated (or both!)
  3. Take the opportunities that show in your path and learn the most from them: life will not be all the time as you expect to be
  4. Make your own choices and ensure you are able to question and renew the way you think and do things

Surprisingly, none of the panelists wanted to be part of a/the family-owned business at the beginning of their career!  This was not related to the pressure from their families, but more to the fact that they wanted to prove themselves and demonstrate that they had earned their position. Valerie expressed that she wanted to feel legitimate before joining the “prestigious world of lawyers” while Caroline Mathieu just didn’t liked the “construction materials”, the core of her dad’s business so she went to the editorial world for 17 years, before taking the lead of the Family Business Network in France

All three agreed that is wasn’t easy to be the “daughter of”. Sophie Bellon admired her dad very much, but at the same time wanted to be independent. “Being his daughter was sometimes even harder […] he could request more from me or my siblings than from other people […] we never got preferred treatment”.  This proves that SODEXO’s corporate values - integrity, respect and work - were, and are still now displayed through exemplarity.

After this rich exchange we identified 6 key differentiation points that family-owned businesses possess and which make all the difference in both growth and crisis periods:

-     You are not “owner of the business” but responsible to “pass on the heritage”: making you much more cautious on financial and strategic decisions

-      Your financial capital is invested as much as your human capital:  driving you to define a long term vision and stick to the plan

-      Conflict could lead to new ideas and be a powerful source of progress: driving you to build and implement stable relationship between the “internal” and the “external” stakeholders

-      Values such as: love, respect and collaboration, go first at companies like SODEXO

-      Take the time to listen, share and challenge your board (sometimes meaning your family!): search for a third-party professional if needed, this is a critical step to be conscious on what’s really critical for the business

-      Employees feel much safer: thanks to your business’ clear mission and long term vision


I’d like to close this article with a powerful phrase from Sophie Bellon, who said I don’t try to be my dad, but myself […] I want to find my own position”.

For those who couldn’t make it to this event, please do not miss again the opportunity, check out the calendar for the coming weeks and register now!!!

Claudia Garcia, PWN Paris member

Claudia GARCIA is CEO at DAREto. After studying Economics in Mexico, her intercultural curiosity brought her to Italy and then to France, where she graduated from a Master in European Business from ESCP Europe. In the meantime, Claudia sold her first startup created in 2003 with her brother. She spent 5 years working for General Electric (GE)’s strategic department Investment Management based in Paris before launching DAREto: a groundbreaking leadership program which develops and triggers women’s self-confidence.

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