Beginning of April, Julie Lietaer dove into the studio together with Aurélie Maes to create our very first Ellie.Talks Podcast!
We kick off our new podcast series with an episode about family businesses and how you can implement change as the new generation.
Family businesses are often different generations with different views. How can you deal with these differences? How do you keep the long-term vision of the company whilst also adapting to the changing times? How to change the mindset to a more open, transparent, and sustainable one?
Aurélie Maes is the fourth generation at her family company, Maes Mattress Ticking. She works with her father, who is CEO, and with her brother who is in charge of operations. Maes Mattress Ticking is a B2B company that produces mattress tickings, the fabrics that go around mattresses. They are a vertically integrated company that is taking steps to become more sustainable every day.
A backpack of experience
Aurélie did not start her professional career in the family business straight away. She first gained experience elsewhere: something she would recommend to anybody.
If you have the chance, first get some experience outside of the family business before entering the company. This experience is valuable for many reasons. You get to know yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses,… When you do join the family company, you’ll have learned how to defend your case and how to take responsibility. This way, you will be treated more like any other employee instead of as the son/daughter.
External experience also teaches you a lot. It gives you a comparison to see what goes well, what should change, and where we can we do better. You have something to compare your family company to. The knowledge you gain from working somewhere else is something you take with you and can enrich the family company with. You will have a backpack full of experience when joining the family company.
Grow into the company, step by step
Aurélie started in the family business in a purchasing role and by assisting her father. This was a good way to get to know the company as well as the textile world, which was relatively new to her.
It gave Aurélie the possibility and time to learn about the industry, the specific vocabulary, the technical details, etc. Step by step, she grew in the company.
It’s one of the nice things about a family company, there are no boundaries. If it’s interesting and good for the company, you can do it. You see the gaps that you can fill, and new opportunities and you act on them. You are not stuck on an island.
The other employees share this mentality. It’s one of the reasons why the ‘different generations’ do not cause issues at MMT. New initiatives and the change that comes with them can come from everyone. As long as you can motivate it, you can do it.
There is an understanding in the company that the world is changing, no matter the generation. We, as a company, try to facilitate this change as much as possible.
Work-life, work-family, it’s all about balance
Working with family is all about finding balance, balancing work-life and work-family. In the Maes family, it is Aurélie’s mother that makes sure they do not talk too much about work during family time. It’s important to be able to log off work in order to truly relax and be in the moment.
And how it is to work with your brother? According to Aurélie, it goes quite naturally.
We are very complementary, and most importantly, we make sure to have open and transparent communication. Whether something is bothering us, or we are in doubt, we talk openly with each other. You need to learn it, and we have even started to structure it more. We plan moments together, or go for lunch to really take the time to talk things through and have open communication, outside the company.
Taking the lead on sustainability
At Maes Mattress Ticking, they have been working on sustainability and innovation for years, but it’s only recently that they started acting on it in a more proactive way.
Where we used to wait for the demand of the client, we will now take the initiative ourselves and try to take the lead. We have a lot of pieces of the puzzle, and now, we are making one big sustainable puzzle in a proactive way.
Everybody in the company knows the direction they want to go in and works towards this. By having open and transparent communication, both internal and external, they are able to keep everybody on board and create an open mindset. Sustainability is something you cannot do on your own. So open collaboration is crucial. And with this collaboration comes transparency as a must.
Take baby steps forward, just begin
But implementing this change in mindset is not always easy. Aurélie gave some tips for anybody that is trying to implement sustainability, digitalization, and innovation in their own family company.
Take baby steps. Don’t look at it as a revolution but more as an evolution. Take small steps, even when you don’t know where to begin, just begin. Start with something small to get the ball rolling. Once this ball is rolling, you’ll create a snowball effect.
Sustainability as a long-term vision
What characterizes family businesses is their long-term thinking, as they think about the legacy for the next generations. It’s a strength to leverage when it comes to sustainability.
Sustainability takes time, so you will have to invest time and resources into it for a long period, but in the long haul, it will pay off.
Aurélie compares it to the Belgian government. They only think in 4 – 5 years, until the new elections come around. This is the biggest problem in politics, they do not think long-term which makes it hard to implement sustainability. So when implementing change, think long-term and know that it takes time.
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