August 1, 2016
Lee Ann Knudsen
Lee Ann Knudsen

When business is drama, comedy and soap opera

Family ties

Snowfighters work brutal hours guarding public safety — everyone agrees. But beyond that heroic effort, insiders know that family businesses make up a huge portion of the snow sector. Essential family support just keeps coming through, winter after winter.

“Last year we had a ridiculous dump of snow. It went on for days and days; he had no sleep, and it got to where he was not even thinking so clearly anymore.” Sherriann Dexter’s husband, Derek, manages The Grounds Guys of Winnipeg. She describes the challenge of supporting his snow removal responsibilities as “single parenting.” Carpooling with a neighbour and coordinated phone calendars are ways the Dexters manage looking after their four- and six-year-old kids. On top of it all, Sherriann’s stressful and time-consuming profession is managing a mental health agency.

In response, she says the couple changed strategies and started being more careful about scheduling time for the family. The kids certainly miss their dad during snow season, she says, but it all balances out.

Regular family time featuring activities that have nothing to do with work is also key for the Tester family. The Testers operate TNT Property Maintenance of Kitchener, Ont. “When we moved, our son insisted we renovate the garage to house the business, so we can close the door on it,” said Linda Tester. Snow is especially challenging for TNT, because the company also sells salt. Rob and Linda Tester’s children, Brian, Bobby and Missy, are key company supervisors. “The kids started working at 12, and they understand hard work. They come in to work, no matter what. Missy runs a sidewalk crew, has been since she was 16; we simply hired a driver for her.”

Missy is currently studying at Mohawk College in nearby Hamilton. A break from school means a bus ride, working her supervisor shift, getting five hours of sleep and catching the bus in time for school in the morning.
Linda Tester is proud of the business-family dynamic that has grown up; she calls it a different kind of relationship. That attitude extends to helping with groceries and around the house. She calls her children, “The most responsible people I have ever met.”

On top of my horticulture industry responsibilities, I moonlight in my own family business. Sometimes it feels like family businesses carry the full weight of driving Canada’s economy. We have to dot every I and cross every T, and figure out how to do it ourselves, without a legal department. Threat of postal interruption? The income delivery stream for many family businesses dries up. Family-owned companies do plenty of Canada’s heavy lifting, when it comes to signing the front of paycheques.

But the chance to tell your business partner and spouse “Well done,” on your own patio at sunset? Priceless.