Family Business

A mother's perspective on business family dynamics


4 min




Listen to a mother reflecting upon the challenges of maintaining harmonious relationships as the business family grows and develops. The Kotelko family in Alberta, Canada, is a 4th generation business family in agriculture who owns and operates Highland Feeders, one of the largest cattle feedlots in Canada and has two major spin-off businesses: (i) Spring Creek ranch, a multi-million dollar beef steaks, sausages and patties business and (ii) Highmark Renewables, a bio-energy company.


Donna Kotelko


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Much of my role in the family business has been more of a support over the years. I have worked off the farm as a speech language pathologist, at least in a part time role for most of the years. I came on the scene when my husband was just back from University and entering, coming back to the farm with all these wonderful ideas, and his father was quite traditional and there was a lot of tension at, during that time. And then gradually his father relinquished control, and Bern took over a lot more of the leadership. And then as Mike came back, you know, that was the next stepping stone for us, as Mike is nine years younger, but you know, that worked very I think because we started on equal footing. And over the years as Mike got married that is more dynamics, and of course ... View More with our kids coming back to the business, that has been probably the biggest change in the last few years. Five years ago Peter came back and then four years ago Kirsten came back to the business. For Spring Creek we needed somebody, and Kirsten was obviously the best person, the most passionate in the family, and the same for our son Peter coming back to Highmark. We needed an engineer at the plant, and he has a passion for fixing, creating, developing, designing. I felt it was my role to take on looking on what we needed to be a successful family, and you know I, what I learned is that we needed to continue growing together. We needed to seek education and look for supports and work on having a healthy relationship and open the doors to discussing some of the undiscussables, to deal with some of the softer issues, issues of how people feel and will they be able to live out their passions? For me it was a little bit of being part of the family but not really feeling like I was part of the business. Family values are really important to me, and I want to make sure that we do everything we can to work as a family. Right now we have the two children in the business, but we have our youngest son is off to University. He is doing his PhD. in engineering at Cambridge, and I do not know if he will come back, but I want things to be in place so that if he does choose to come back, we have the structure that is there to welcome him back and keep everybody comfortable. We were looking at what do we need to do for the future for our business, which was growing so rapidly to survive. Even though some may choose to work directly with the business and others may support the business by going off to work in their careers, you want them to have you know, balanced happy lives.