Family Business

Taking the family business into future generations


7 min




Watch the Woodmans, a third generation business family in the food industry operating Woodman's of Essex based in Massachusetts, USA, with employees in the 5th generation, explain how the next generation sees its role in sustaining the family business.


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Stephen Woodman
I’m 3rd generation. My folks actually had 7 kids and all seven of us at one time have been involved in the business. We never forced, almost really never asked but all of us really wanted to work in here one time or another. We all worked with my dad. We loved the atmosphere of working in a family business.

My first memories of working here, I can remember, I was in the 6th grade actually and I would come down in the mornings and I would clean the restaurant. I would take out all the trash and dump it, sweep the floors, wash the tables. I cooked all through high school and even through college when I was, I would come back, I would come back and I would cook and you know still work in the business. Then after college, my ... View More dad more or less said, “Here is here is the catering business. You take care of it.” (laughs) And so that’s how I got involved in the first management aspect of running the business.

In terms of what we do with our own children and getting them involved in the business, they all worked here when they were young either in the restaurant or in the catering, I have one that is very involved in the business. He is working full-time, his role is in the restaurant, he is one of our managers.

Maureen Woodman
I have been working at Woodman’s since I was 15, which is over 35 years. I married Doug Woodman, 3rd generation, we have two girls, Vanessa 27, Erica soon to be 25. Vanessa just started law school, she has worked here all her life. She started probably when she was about 12 years old. She could run almost every revenue center here, she has been trained. We tell her all the time that the business is always here if you want to come back but I think that you should go out, do something else and you will only bring more back to the business.

Our second daughter graduate from Pharmacy school and she will be a pharmacist up in Maine, uh again she started here when she was 14. She worked in the catering office, she worked in the restaurant, she did all the catering, she could probably run the business tomorrow, she is very quick with numbers, and math, has a much more of a business brain, they chose something that they liked, but if I had a crystal ball, do I know what is going to happen when they are 40 no, it would not surprise me if either one of them came back.

Kristi Swett
I started probably when I was like 12/13 after school, and my grandmother ran the office, and I would file PO’s and invoices for her a couple days a week, and then I moved into um prep kitchen. I started working in the restaurant probably around 15/16 and worked in the kitchen there, around 17ish 16/17 I started catering, and that is the job I hold now, and then 2 years ago I started working in the catering office.

Stephen Woodman
We have a system where we have the 4th generation, get together and come up with ideas to bring forth and what they would like to see the business. We have 5th generation meetings where the 5th generation gets together and they have ideas that they would like to see. We set aside other days also that we get together actually the whole group and so we are getting different perspectives in terms of our ages and generations of where they would like to see the business go.

Kristi Swett
Sometimes I feel like they should not do it necessarily as a generation, but they should separate it into age categories.

My cousin and I are the oldest in the generation and the youngest in our generation is only 3 months old, so they can not come to the meetings until they can actually work for the business, and once they have a job here, or are old enough to have a job here, they start coming to the generational meetings.

I think my role in the company is something I am still trying to figure out, I do not know if it is so much obligation I feel like I want the family business to continue and I want it to continue to grow as still being a family, so I am very supportive to try and you know get as many people involved in it and try to keep it going with a younger point of view.

My cousin Ian is the 4th generation, and he is kind of running the business here in Essex and I feel like I would love to someone, from the 5th to step in and keep it going with him. I do not know if I am ready to be that person yet, but it is nothing that I have said no to.

Obviously there is very few family businesses that have this much involvement with the 5th generation. They usually either fall out or none of the family you know wants any part of it. But I guess there is enough of us that it will keep going somehow, someway.

Maureen Woodman
I have this great feeling about our business I talk to my mother-in-law about it all the time, I think it is something that helps me get through the business and understand that you know some days you are not the only one, you think you are the only one and you know the place is not going to go on. My history at Woodman’s I have seen so many people pass away and I have seen this business open up the next day and every time I always think you know if this one goes my God what are we going to do, how are we going to make it, and I have come with this analogy in my head that I look at the business as a chain, a link of chain and I think of each person that has been a link on this chain and when you pass away you are in there, or when you retire you are in there, or an employee that came before you and this chain is literally in my head it is almost the size of a football field that I can name each link to this chain and I think every link was important to make the chain grow and without one link the chain would be broken and I think all of us need to remember the people that came before us and what they did to get us here.