Her Leadership Story Is Truly Personal

When I told my business partner that I had talked with the CEO of Jelmar, he
responded enthusiastically: “You mean the company that makes CLR? THAT
company? I LOVE CLR!”

Perhaps you use CLR products too…and Tarn-X, one of Jelmar’s successful products
for over 50 years. If you’ve spent some time on CLR’s website, www.clrbrands.com,
you certainly know the name Alison Gutterman, Jelmar’s current CEO. Alison’s
grandfather founded Jelmar and her father and uncle worked hand in hand to sell it
across the U. S. successfully. But when Alison took over, she focused on her
customers in a way that had not been done before—bringing a unique and personal
style to the way she promotes her business and its products.

Unlike her father and grandfather, who viewed themselves as “salesmen” or “peddlers,” Alison has embraced her role as a very public CEO, becoming “the face” of Jelmar. She writes regular blogs on topics ranging from parenting to women in business and her passion for both shines through. Alison, a single mom, often draws upon her own family as a source of her insights.

“Life is about connection and approachability,” she observes. “I’m comfortable weaving my story into my business.”

I loved hearing Alison describe how her marketing savvy and passion for the
business evolved. She memorized commercials as a young child, and, in 7th grade,
thoroughly enjoyed the assignment to develop a product and create a marketing
campaign around it. Although her father led the business, Alison’s mother also
played a key role. “She was our first PR person,” says Alison. “She created a
newsletter for our sales force that featured their stories, and while she didn’t get the
recognition she deserved, she was very business-savvy.”

Back to CLR: Alison recognized consumers’ need to have environmentally safe
products in their homes, and worked to reformulate many of the CLR products to
align with EPA standards. She convinced her dad that it was important to emphasize
the benefit in marketing CLR. She took CLR and found just the right way to market
it to current and potential customers. And it’s worked! CLR products have been
very successful, and Alison has been recognized as an entrepreneur by Ernst &
Young—quite an achievement.

How have you brought your unique talents into your family’s business? Alison is a
thoroughly modern leader. She’s ambitious, authentic, transparent and personal.

You can be, too.

Why We Have to Talk About Women in Family Business

In the next few months I’ll be sharing my conversations with Ramia M. El Agamy. Ramia is the Editor in Chief of Tharawat magazine, which focuses on family businesses and entrepreneurs. She also co-created Women in Family Business, which offers a wealth of content to women like you.

Ramia is a true global citizen who grew up in a family business. She is thoughtful and funny and devoted to family business interests and concerns. I hope you enjoy our conversations as much as I have!


All the best,

Sibling Rivalry and Teamwork

Fast Company magazine recently posted a short video showing Laura and Kate Mulleavy talking about the way they work together at Rodarte, the luxury fashion brand they created.

Take a look at the video here.

There are a lot of very impressive insights in Laura and Kate’s brief but meaningful conversation. Two ideas struck me. The first is that these sisters recognize that some kind of “sibling dynamic” characterizes all siblings. That may seem obvious, but I wonder if most siblings truly understand or are prepared for their “dynamic” when it transfers from their childhood home to the workplace. What are the patterns? How do they change? Does the dynamic work for or against the siblings-and their business?

In my work with daughters, I often hear about how much sibling conflicts affect their feelings at work. But I’ve also observed how meaningful it can be when siblings resolve their conflicts through the experience of working together. Rivalry can become teamwork as siblings appreciate their shared commitment to the business and their dependence upon each other’s unique contributions.

And the other idea that struck me? That, as Kate says, “I think every workplace should feel like family”. I’ve heard many family business leaders talk about their employees as “family”, but I’m not always so sure that the employees feel that way. I admire the Mulleavy sisters’ intention to create a sense of family within their company, and to become partners not just with each other, but also with the people they work with. It seems to me that they really do have fun, and I suspect their employees do as well.

Ask Amy: I’m underutilized and see no succession plan

Dear Amy,

Last week I read your response to Vicky about her struggle to figure out her role. I feel a lot like Vicky, though my situation is very different from hers.

Here’s my challenge. My dad and his two sisters have created a very successful global business in the financial services industry. They hired a non-family executive about 15 years ago, and they are very dependent on him and trust him to run the business.

My two cousins and I all have professional degrees and we each decided to work in the business after years of experience working in other places. I am an attorney, one cousin is a CPA, and the other has an MBA. We are ALL dealing with role issues!

We all feel underutilized, bored, frustrated, and shut out of major business decisions.

Our parents are in their 60’s, and we don’t see any plan for succession. Also, the non-family executive holds very tightly to the reins. So it’s very hard for my cousins and me to feel like we are adding any value. You are probably thinking that it’s because we’re all women… but my two cousins are men and they feel just like I do!


Amy KatzDear Lindsay,

You and your cousins are the next generation-and in many families, the transition to the next generation can be challenging.  As you describe it, you and your cousins are well-educated, experienced, and likely very capable of taking on further responsibilities.  

Perhaps this is a situation where you and your cousins can ask to talk together with your dad and your aunts about your shared interest in becoming a valuable and productive team that can sustain the success and legacy of the business. Present yourselves as a team. If you can, lay out the roles each of you would like to take on in the future, and the kinds of projects and experiences that you would like to take on right now. So many people don’t realize that succession planning is not a decision-it’s a process. That may not be something your dad and your aunts fully understand. After all, they probably never experienced it themselves….and/or they may have avoided thinking about it (many founders do).

To repeat: present yourselves as team. Your dad and your aunts have obviously been a great team-emphasize that, and tell them that you want to learn how they managed to build the business together.  

I think it’s important for you and your cousins to be positive and persuasive-clear about your collective credentials, your commitment, etc., and also about your concern that without a thoughtful succession plan the business could be at risk.  Remember to convey respect for the senior leader. There needs to be a plan for his transition as well, whether or not you decide to hire someone for his position.

Thanks for writing. Figuring out your role is SO important-for you and for your business.


P.S. – You’re right …I DID think you and your cousins were all women! The term most people are using now is “nextgen”…a recognition that both sons AND daughters are becoming leaders in the family’s business.

Ask Amy: What if I’m not treated fairly at work because I’m female?

Dear Amy,

My biggest challenge about being a woman, daughter and sister in a family business is that my younger sister and I are not equal partners on the management team.  We’re required to get approval for almost everything we do, while the men in the business (both family members and non-family) have the autonomy to make most decisions without consulting anyone. As an example, I’m required to get approval before negotiating terms with a customer, while the men negotiate with customers all the time without consulting anyone.  I had more authority and autonomy when I worked in the automobile industry.

– Jenna

Amy Katz Dear Jenna,

Your last sentence tells me something important.  You have had the experience of making decisions and feeling a sense of authority in another setting.  I know it is enormously difficult to “go backwards” and to experience the pull of a family system that constrains you.  Resisting that pull is particularly tough for women who have worked in other places or have advanced degrees and return to the family business only to find themselves in a fight to gain respect and credibility.

It sounds like the men in your business feel some threat or competition with you and your sister that started early in their lives. If your dad is in charge, he may never expected you (or any other woman) to have a leadership role in the business.  Your brothers and perhaps other male employees were probably raised with this belief as well.

There’s a lot we could focus on with your question-how to “play the game”, the unfairness of it all, etc.  But I would rather offer a more hopeful note.  Because more and more women are becoming entrepreneurs and business owners, you and your sister will likely have some advantage eventually, even if your family’s business is in a male-dominated industry. Now is the time to develop relationships with women whose businesses may one day do business with yours.  So while you’re not enjoying full authority right now, you can be cultivating relationships with other women in your community and industry-and men as well-who value the contributions that women can make.  In fact, they may insist on negotiating only with companies that share their commitment to supporting women.

You and your sister are the pioneers in your family’s business, even if the men don’t realize it.  You have the potential to open the door to the changes that are happening in our society as more women take charge.  Family businesses can be insular and isolating. Get outside the business as often as you can.  Your ability to connect with both men and women in other businesses will have positive effects on your well-being, your sister’s…and ultimately on the business itself.

Keep in touch, Jenna. I’m sure that other daughters will want to know how you resolve this particular challenge.

All the best,





Jenna’s situation may be one that you’ve experienced, too. Let me know how you would respond to her situation. I’ll be happy to pass your ideas along.