Bubbling Leadership: Madame Clicquot's Influence on Women in Family Businesses Worldwide

Prof Maura McAdam

Prof Maura McAdam

In the following article Prof Maura McAdam delves into the evolving role of women in family businesses through the lens of Madame Clicquot, a female entrepreneur who challenged traditional gender norms in business during the early 19th century. Prof McAdam draws connections to contemporary scenarios in Ireland, China, and Bahrain, utilising recent DCU NCFB’s research that provides valuable insights into the dynamics of women entrepreneurs and leaders in family businesses.

Madame Clicquot - A Pioneer in Champagne and Business:

In the effervescent business of champagne, one name stands out as a beacon of innovation, resilience, and entrepreneurial spirit — Madame Barbe Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin. Widely known as Madame Clicquot, she not only transformed the champagne industry but also challenged traditional gender norms in business during the early 19th century. 

In 1805, 27-year-old Madame Clicquot took over the luxury champagne brand, Veuve Clicquot after her husband's untimely death. It was through her innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurial spirit that she revolutionised the world of business and champagne production. The young widow's entrepreneurial spirit manifested in various ground-breaking innovations. Notably, she perfected the process of riddling, a technique that clarified champagne, to produce crystal-clear, high-quality sparkling wine. Madame Clicquot is often credited with transforming the Champagne industry and the Veuve Clicquot brand into an internationally renowned and successful champagne house.

The Veuve Clicquot Award - Honouring Madame Clicquot's Legacy:
The Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman Award was established to honour the legacy of Madame Clicquot. The award was also created to acknowledge and honour contemporary female entrepreneurs and business leaders who, like Madame Clicquot, have demonstrated exceptional business acumen and leadership.
Women in Family Business Leadership - A Historical Shift:
Historically, women's involvement in family businesses, particularly in leadership roles, was generally, an inadvertent event triggered when there was no viable male successor or by a
crisis as exemplified by Madame Clicquot's ascent to the helm. In the ever-evolving landscape of family businesses, a significant paradigm shift is occurring as daughters take on increasingly prominent roles. To fully grasp the evolution of women's roles in family businesses, we need to consider the socio-cultural contexts that have shaped these changes.

This involves exploring the societal shifts, legal frameworks, and changing attitudes towards gender roles that have paved the way for daughters to play significant roles in family enterprises. Intriguingly, recent research which has explored the dynamics of women entrepreneurs in family businesses in Bahrain provides valuable insights into the evolving landscape of family businesses and the crucial role played by women in these enterprises.

By examining the specific challenges and opportunities faced by women in family businesses across different regions, as exemplified in the research conducted by NCFB, we can better understand the common threads that unite their experiences and the unique factors that shape their journeys. This research will contribute to a nuanced understanding of the global trends in women's participation in family business leadership.

One of the paramount challenges daughters encounter in contemplating the takeover of the family business is the pervasive influence of gender stereotypes. Historically, family businesses have been passed down along patrilineal lines, perpetuating the antiquated notion that only sons possess the innate ability to navigate the complexities of leadership and make decisive business decisions. For daughters, dismantling these gender stereotypes demands a unique blend of skill, determination, and resilience. By showcasing competence and an intimate understanding of the business, daughters can dismantle the entrenched beliefs that have historically confined women to secondary and invisible roles within family enterprises.

Beyond external stereotypes, family businesses often harbour complex interpersonal dynamics that further complicate the succession process. The weight of expectations from both family members and the broader business community can create an additional layer of pressure for daughters contemplating leadership roles. Striking a delicate balance between familial expectations and personal aspirations is paramount for a seamless transition.

Effective communication becomes a linchpin, as open and honest dialogue serves as a tool to manage expectations and foster a collaborative environment within the family.

Key Takeaways for Family Business
1. Challenge traditional gender roles:
- Encourage open conversations about the importance of dismantling gender stereotypes within family & business contexts.
- Highlight successful female leaders.
- Share inspiring stories of daughters who have excelled in various industries, showcasing their competence and impact.
2. Address bias and prejudice:
- Develop strategies to confront and overcome bias, emphasising the value of competence over gender.
- Provide guidance on navigating the unique challenges daughters face managing family dynamics alongside professional responsibilities.
3. Build a supportive environment:
- Create mentorship opportunities.
- Establish mentorship programmes within family businesses to provide daughters with guidance & support from experienced leaders.
- Encouraging open communication.
- Emphasise the importance of transparent communication to strengthen family bonds and foster a collaborative business environment.
4. Embrace diversity for business success:
- Illustrate how incorporating diverse viewpoints, including those of daughters, leads to innovation and business success.
- Showcase examples of family businesses that have thrived by embracing diversity and leveraging the unique strengths of daughters in leadership roles.
5. Nurturing future generations:
- Advocate for providing daughters with the education and skills needed for success in their chosen industries.
- Discuss the importance of fair and inclusive succession planning to ensure smooth transitions and continuity of family businesses.

Madame Clicquot's story serves as an inspirational bridge between historical and contemporary perspectives on women in family business leadership. Her legacy resonates with the growing number of daughters stepping into prominent roles within family businesses globally. Family businesses are witnessing a transformative shift as daughters assume more prominent leadership roles. Breaking free from traditional norms, daughters are contributing significantly to the success and resilience of family enterprises.

Empowering daughters in family businesses is not just a progressive move; it is a strategic advantage for long-term success. By breaking down barriers and fostering inclusivity, family enterprises can thrive across generations, leaving a legacy built on the strengths of both sons and daughters. The daughters who step into these roles are not only continuing a familial
tradition but are also becoming architects of change, contributing to the ongoing evolution of family businesses worldwide.

Read more from Prof McAdam here and find out more about the NCFB research here.