Welcome to Engaging,
the reason we are here in the first place.
The Engagement process was developed by Amelia Renkert-Thomas to illuminate an alternative to the broadly-accepted notion that family businesses should always be run on public company models, focusing foremost on financial metrics and getting the owners “out of the way” of board and management decision-making.
For owners of family enterprises,
there is more at stake than money.
You may be seeking to create a family legacy; preserve a legacy that has been inherited; provide careers for family members; enrich your community through civic involvement or charitable giving; or any number of other, non-financial, returns, only to be hampered by a lack of sound advice addressing these topics.
Additionally, business-owning families face challenges in succession and estate planning; inter-generational shifts in family structure and vision; a lack of, or ineffective, governance structure; managing trusts as owners of the business; and undervaluing Core Capital, among a host of other issues.
Our biweekly Engaging series exists to help you navigate these difficult challenges, on your terms, for your own unique family and business circumstances. Amelia has been through these challenges countless times, both as an advisor to her clients, and personally, as a family business owner, and she offers the insight she has gained from both perspectives.
TOLD THROUGH THE STORY OF THE OWEN FAMILY
Readers of Engaging will see engaged ownership in action, as shared through the Owen family’s path through engagement—in good and bad times. There will be times when the right choice is obvious, when everyone agrees—and then there will be other times, when choices are murky, consensus is fragile, and family members distrust each other’s’ motives. Through it all, you’ll have access to one family’s journey forward, as engaged owners.
Latest Installments from the Owens
Mike Owen I am sitting here in the kitchen, eating some Pad Thai left over from dinner and drinking a beer. Everyone else has been asleep for hours, but I can’t get our visit with Dan Sumner, or our Owners Council call, out of my mind. Dan wants to acquire Owen...read more
Amanda Owen Cooper After Dan Sumner called Mike, and our Owners Council met here in my office to discuss what to do, we decided that Mike and I should meet with Dan. I would be there as an owner, not a lawyer, which was interesting—it took some discipline to think...read more
Meet the Owens
The Owen Family
Four siblings—Mike Owen, Martha Owen Jones, Amanda Owen Cooper, and Christopher Owen—found themselves as owners of Owen Products, Ltd. after the unexpected death of their father (and CEO of Owen Products), Charlie Owen.
The Owen siblings faced issues they—and their father—never really considered when he opted to transfer his shares in the company to them in his will. Should Mike continue to run the business like a controlling owner, making all the decisions, or was there a way to tap into the strengths of all the Owens? How should they balance distributions vs. investment? Why did they want to continue in business together, at all? (Readers of Amelia’s book, Engaged Ownership: A Guide for Owners of Family Businesses—published by Wiley in 2015, and available here—will remember the Owen family and their journey through these early challenges.)
In our Engaging column, the story of the Owen siblings’ progress continues. How will they establish and utilize governance structures and improve decision-making strategies? How does the process of investing in Christopher’s promising start-up, CombuSynth work for them? Do the Owen siblings continue on together as engaged owners, even when unexpected situations—and opportunities—arise?
John Owen was born in 1915. By the time he turned 33 years old he had fought in WWII; married his sweetheart, Leah; had his first and only child, Charlie; and founded his own clay pot manufacturing company, Owen Products Ltd.
After founding Owen Products in 1948, John successfully built the company’s reputation for quality products and grew it into a regional force of the industry. He ran Owen Products with a strong but fair hand alongside his partner, David Smith, and his brother, Fred Owen, until 1975, when he passed leadership on to his son, Charlie.
John Owen died in 1991.
Charlie Owen was born in 1948, the son of a newly minted entrepreneur, and grew up in that spirit of industry, perseverance, and innovation. In 1970, Charlie married Alison, a brilliant corporate lawyer whom he had met while at college out West. Together, they had four children: Michael, Martha, Amanda, and Christopher.
After taking over the highly respected Owen Products from his father in 1975, Charlie guided the company to further expansion, establishing Owen Products West in 1986 to cater to the vastly different climatic demands of growers and greenhouses in that region. With the clay-mixing expertise of David Smith, and his own know-how, strong intuition, and drive, Charlie led Owen Products to be among the domestic leaders in clay pot production and innovation.
Despite leading an active and healthy lifestyle, Charlie Owen died unexpectedly in January 2010 from an undiagnosed aneurysm, while out running.
Michael Owen, or Mike, as he prefers, is the oldest of Charlie and Alison Owen’s four children. Mike was born in 1971, and from an early age showed an aptitude for developing relationships. He is steady and focused, and by the age of 26, had become VP of Sales for Owen Products East. Using his remarkable ability to connect with people, Mike continued to grow the client base.
When Mike took over Owen Products as President and CEO in the wake of his father’s death in 2010, Owen Products was the largest terra cotta clay pot manufacturer in the country. Mike serves on the Board, and holds a 25% share ownership of the company.
Mike is married to Jane Bing Owen, and together they have twin girls, Cate and Chloe.
Martha Owen Jones is the second child of Charlie and Alison Owen. Born in 1972, she is married to Ryan Jones and they have a son, Jameson.
After graduating from college, Martha ran the Owen Products Community Fund until Jameson’s birth in 1998. Like her grandmother, Leah, she has always been a force for promoting community service and involvement. Martha would like to see Jameson follow in his father’s footsteps and join Owen Products once he is finished with school.
Because she is not directly involved in the management of the company, Martha often provides level and insightful perspective on the ownership of the business. After her father’s death, she became a source of leadership for her siblings and was the first Chair of the Owners Council. She holds a 25% share ownership of Owen Products, Ltd.
Dan Sumner was born in 1951, the son of second-generation family business-owning parents. Their company, Sumner Ceramics Ltd., manufactures terra cotta roofing tiles for use across the country. Dan was eventually passed the reins to the company.
Now in his mid-sixties, Dan is the controlling owner of Sumner Ceramics and under his leadership, the company has become the largest manufacturer of clay roof tiles in the country. Dan casts an imposing figure—he is straight to the point, and, “he knows what he knows what he knows.”
Due to the troubled housing market, the demand for terra cotta roofing tiles is diminishing, and Dan recognizes that they must diversify. He is looking to acquire Owen Products Ltd.
Fred Owen was born in 1924 the younger brother of John Owen. Fred was an exceptionally savvy accountant, and served as CFO of Owen Product Ltd. from 1958 until he retired in 1996.
Fred became a widower when his son, Alfred, was still young, and raised Alfred on his own—a major undertaking, because Alfred has cerebral palsy. Upon his death from a heart attack in 2008, Fred’s 25% ownership of Owen Products was transferred in trust to Alfred, to take care of Alfred’s medical and living expenses. The trust was redeemed in 2013 by the four Owen children and reinvested to better provide for Alfred’s needs.
Fred was beloved by his family for his dry sense of humor and endless patience, and is still dearly missed.
Alison Owen—or Ali, as she prefers—was born in 1947, into a retail store-owning family.
She studied law at Western University, where she met Charlie Owen. They married in 1970. Ali practiced corporate law for a prominent eastern firm until the birth of their first child. Together, she and Charlie had four children—Mike, Martha, Amanda, and Christopher. She was devastated by Charlie’s unexpected death in 2010, but was proud of the way her children overcame the many problems that arose in its wake.
Ali is upbeat and fun-loving, and is a caring grandmother to her five grandchildren.
Born in 1975, Amanda Owen Cooper is the third child of Charlie and Alison Owen. She is married to Paul Cooper, and they have two sons, Eric and Peter.
Amanda is a lawyer, following in her mother’s footsteps, and practices out West with a firm specializing in corporate law. She has worked extensively with family-owned businesses, and thus is often the voice of the legal needs for Owen Products. “We need to professionalize”, is a phrase her siblings have heard time and again from Amanda.
Amanda serves as trustee for her uncle Alfred’s trust, is on the Board of Owen Products, and holds a 25% share ownership of the company.
Christopher Owen is the youngest of Charlie and Alison Owen’s four children. He was born in 1976, and has always been the most shy and reserved of his family.
A brilliant mind, Christopher became an associate professor of Applied Mathematics at Eastern University, studying nanoscale combustion synthesis catalysts for use in solar panels. His research led to the 2014 launch of his company, Combusynth, which develops more effective and powerful solar cells. The establishment of Combusynth happened thanks in large part to a $2 million investment from Owen Products.
After becoming a 25% share owner of the family business following the death of his father, Christopher surprised everyone by becoming heavily involved in the ownership of the business, and serves as Co-Chair of the Owners Council.
Christopher and his girlfriend, Amatya, have been together for more than a decade.
Born in 1968, Ryan Jones is married to Martha Owen Jones, and together they have a son, Jameson.
Ryan started working at Owen Products Ltd. straight out of college, and quickly showed his value. He became a manufacturing supervisor at the western division while dating Martha. As a highly talented manager, Ryan became Head of Operations at Owen Products West, and was instrumental in the growth of that division. Additionally, he provided extensive support to Mike at Owen Products East when Mike was named CEO and was struggling to juggle the new responsibilities.
Ryan has always been a faithful and loyal part of Owen Products and the Owen family, turning aside more lucrative job opportunities presented to him by the company’s competitors. Like his wife, Martha, Ryan would like to see Jameson join him at Owen Products once he is through school.
Owen Products Timeline
Owen Products is founded by John Owen.
A kiln explosion destroys the first Owen Products Plant, and nearly derails the entire company.
Charlie Owen takes over Owen Products from his father, John.
Owen Products opens a Western Division, to cater to the different climatic conditions of that part of the country.
Owen Products’ founder, John Owen, dies.
Owen Products is the largest clay pot producer in the country. Charlie Owen dies, and Mike Owen takes over as President and CEO of Owen Products. Amanda Owen Cooper becomes trustee of Alfred Owen’s 25%-share-owning trust
Alfred’s trust is redeemed and Mike, Martha, Amanda, and Christopher are now each 25% share owners of Owen Products.
Owen Products makes a $2 million investment in the launch of Combusynth, Christopher’s new solar-cell technology enterprise.
Dan Sumner, head of the largest clay roof tile manufacturer in the country, approaches the Owen Products owners about acquiring Owen Products.