Former Prime Minister Paul Martin was likely the perfect person to help celebrate the 10th National Family Business Day celebration.
Martin is an entrepreneur who would eventually turn his business over to his sons. Then again, he might have another qualification — his relationship with former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
Following his nearly 30-minute informal speech before close to 200 people at the Hilton Hotel, Martin answered several questions from the audience. One of those questions asked him to compare serving as finance minister under Chrétien to being in a family business.
Known for his frequent clashes with Chrétien, Martin — somewhat jokingly — said there were some familiarities.
“The prime minister’s job is to keep the cabinet together, basically keep caucus together and make things work. The finance minster’s job is to deal with the financial issues they have to face,” Martin said. “So there is bound to be tension between the prime minister and the financial minister. I think we certainly accomplished that.”
Martin, who spent 20 years in parliament as MP for LaSalle-Émard, served as keynote speaker on Friday (April 11) during the 2014 National Family Business Day and Family Enterprise of the Year Achievement Award. The event was a joint effort of the Business Families Centre (BFC) at the Richard Ivey School of Business and CAFE Canada (Canadian Association of Family Enterprise).
Speaking on topics such as the economic potential of Africa, the challenges and opportunities faced by Canada’s First Nations’ people and his times working for the Desmarais family at Power Corporation, Martin might have received the loudest reaction when talking about his own family business issues.
In particular, Martin spoke to the reception he received from his sons after leaving politics and was looking to return to the family business. “I did not receive the same overwhelming joy from my sons that I thought I was going to receive,” Martin said to a combination of laughter and applause.
The event’s record-setting crowd was clear indication Martin’s appearance accomplished exactly what organizers had hoped when they invited him.
Dave Simpson, BFC director, said the celebration was created to give business families the opportunity to “come out and talk about their challenges and opportunities.” Often the public hears stories of family infighting and “who is suing whom,” but Simpson said the truth is family businesses have a strong track record when compared to all other forms of business.
“They outperform in most financial metrics, they are an integral part of our economy, driving all new jobs and a big share of GDP,” Simpson said. “So we thought we should send out the positive messages, along with understanding the challenges.”
Simpson said programs run by the BFC, along with the efforts of CAFE Canada, have helped change the perception of the family business; for example, on the radio people can hear the advertisement, ‘SC Johnson, a family company.’
That change in attitude occurred slowly, which Simpson said is why having Martin on hand was so important.
“Not only has he led this nation, he understands the importance of business families. He has he has lived it, worked it, he understands the transfer of power,” Simpson said. “He was a natural choice to help us celebrate what we have been talking about for 10 years.”
Paul MacDonald, CAFE Canada executive director, said Friday’s event was about celebrating the “vital contributions” family businesses make.
Globally, over 80 percent of family businesses are actually family run and operate. They contribute upwards of 70 percent of global GDP. They are vital not only to the economies of the world, but the culture as well.
“A lot of people liken family business to small mom and pop type shops. But the reality is quite different; some of the most prominent businesses in Canada are family businesses,” MacDonald said. “Family businesses are among the major philanthropic contributors to the economy. They run the gambit in terms of their influence.”
Murray Flanagan is the CAFE Canada board chair and he said the importance of the celebration is showing people family businesses can indeed be the “mom and pop corner store,” but it can also be the media empire of the Thomsons, the richest family in Canada.
Flanagan said the “value” in celebrating family businesses is in recognizing the people, who are typically rather humble and don’t like to brag or celebrate. However, Flanagan said many times they should and that becomes important on a day like today.
“We have had several great speakers over the years, but this year, we have Paul Martin,” Flanagan said. “And judging by the crowd today, it is a testament to the weight he brings to the conversation.”