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Monette Malewski and Lianne Ulin in conversation with Natalya Anderson, Financial Post about women

Extract of the article FEC course supports women in family business by Natalya Anderson published in Canadian Family Offices on January 13, 2022

Monette Malewski, president and CEO of Montreal-based insurance firm M Bacal Group, which she took over after the founder, her husband, died

What is your role within your family enterprise?

“I am the owner and president [and] CEO of M Bacal Group, a thriving insurance family business which includes my daughter, Lianne Ulin, and my brother, Philip Malewski. I am the main business developer and have helped the firm grow and move in a new direction.

We help SMBs, individuals, and business families to see how insurance can be used to provide financial sustainability [and] to grow and successfully transition their capital and values to the next generation.

My tools for doing this are my depth of knowledge, my business acumens, and the desire to leave a legacy. I am also working with Lianne to be able to give her the reins when the time comes to hand them over. We work in a very collaborative way.”

How did you come to take over the family business, and what was that succession experience like for you?

“M Bacal Group was founded by my late husband, Mike Bacal, an experienced CA who since the company’s inception in 1980 provided his clients with financial security by combining appropriate strategies with quality resources. I joined the company in 1994 and upon Mike’s death in 1998, I took over as owner and president.

I couldn’t have done it without my daughter, Lianne, who was instrumental in providing the support needed to manage the business. I was left with many hard tasks, including taking on the firm in a conservative male dominated field. Success depends on credibility and in-depth knowledge acquired through years of experience.

With the help of PPI as my strategic partner, I learned very quickly the technical knowledge required to give our clients the peace of mind they needed with the sudden changing of the guard. Through courage, empathy, and the desire to help people, I was able to build trust and long-lasting relationships to maintain 96 percent of my husband’s clients. I recognized the necessity to provide frontline personal services to the entrepreneurial and family enterprise market.”

How did you become involved in Family Enterprise Canada’s Women’s Roles course and programs?

“Jim Burton, one of the principal founders of FEC, asked me to become a founding member to strengthen the voice of family businesses, provide a trusted peer network with common interests, and inspire the rising generations to carry on the family business legacy.

The FEC role is to support Canadian family businesses and our economy. To do this it is essential for multigenerational family businesses to help each other. Relying on a dynamic network can truly make a difference as each family moves forward with their vision and prepares the next generation to take on new challenges.

I am proud that my daughter Lianne, my designated successor, is an active member of the FEC National Board, whose role is to empower business families to succeed and flourish across generations.”

How has the Women’s Roles course affected you?

“As [part of] an immigrant family to Canada, my mother worked alongside my father in the family business. Notwithstanding this fact, my parents encouraged my brothers to develop their professional skills. They felt as a daughter I was meant to find a husband, marry, and support my husband while I raised the children.

Life is a like a river with many turns and tributaries that are unknown. This happened through real-life circumstances, and I have become the matriarch and key member of our business family.

The roles of women in family businesses have been hindered by longstanding convention and complex intergenerational dynamics.

The course shows how women can use their skills and ability to create harmony. It offers a picture of leadership that connects family and business. It helped me see how well the families I work with respond to all the hats I wear, as a woman, mother, sister, grandmother, community leader, professional, and business owner. It confirmed my belief that my clients can share their challenges and fears knowing I can sympathize with their worries about conflict, communication as well as the old ‘fair versus equal’ challenge.

In hearing other entrepreneurial women share their stories and wisdom, we learn about how the new family business powerhouses have been able to grow and innovate at a time when resiliency and adaption is necessary for every business family.”

Lianne Ulin, CHU, FEA, VP finance and administration and advisor at Montreal-based M Bacal Group, and daughter of Monette Malewski

What is your role within your family enterprise?

“My role within the family business is a sort of ‘jack of all trades.’ I often feel that I wear many hats and since we are a small firm that means that I have a hand in almost every aspect of the business.

I run the day-to-day administration of the office, which can range from supervising staff, to tech support, to accounting and purchasing. I am a support to the sales team in the form of preparations and follow ups for meetings as well as the go-to for customer service.

I am also the succession plan and am learning every day from our president, my mother, Monette Malewski, about how to network, develop and grow the business.”

How did you move into that role within the family business?

“I started at the firm 24 years ago just to ‘help out’ when our founder, my stepfather, Mike Bacal, passed away. It was his idea – more like vision – that I join the company and help my mother out. Even as he was dying, he saw clearly the path that I was not able to see at that time.

I learned the business from the ground up and proceeded to get my insurance licenses as well as my CHU and FEA designations. [I did this] all while supporting my mother and helping to grow the business.

Throughout the years, I made many connections and almost organically eased into the role I am in now. My mother has made it clear that I am her succession plan, and we keep that in mind with the decisions we make and the relationships we build.

It often gives our clients comfort to know that there is a plan for many years to come. I love our business and the fact that we help people feel secure in their planning. I am proud to be a part of this company and feel that our past experiences, along with our willingness to change and adapt, will help us forge a path for a better future.”

How did you become involved in Family Enterprise Canada’s Women’s Roles course and programs?

“I come from a learning family and grew up understanding that education comes in many forms. My mother was a founding member of Family Enterprise Canada (FEC), an organization that brings together business families and gives them a voice, as well as teaches advisors the language and nuances required to work with these families.

I was fascinated by this new world, and it was at that time that a lightbulb went off and I realized that family businesses come in all shapes and sizes and that we were, in fact, one of these rare gems that is a business family.

I developed an insatiable appetite to learn more about others in family business and connect with this unique community that is so generous with their time and willing to share their experiences, successes, and failures. I embarked on a learning journey that was facilitated by my connection to FEC. I believed so much in the organization that I joined the board of directors to help shape and impact its future.”

How has the Women’s Roles course affected you?

“Being a mother of two young boys, (11 and 13), a wife, an entrepreneur, a leader in my community and a woman comes with its challenges, to say the least.

Taking a course like this one showed me a few important things: One, that I am not alone and that most women struggle with finding balance in their lives; two, that you need to set boundaries, goals and, most of all, priorities; and, finally, that it is possible to do it all just not all at the same time.

I was (and sometimes still am) juggling all the balls and thinking that they are all crystal. Sitting down and remembering that some of them are indeed rubber and can be dropped or left for later is a huge help and clearly identifying which ones are indeed crystal and cannot be put back together is an important lesson that we need to be reminded of constantly.

The course gave me some clarity on what direction I want to take and the type of person I want to be. It is an evolving work in progress and must be constantly reassessed. This, in turn, helped me build confidence and a sense of self that is not afraid or worried to make my wishes, fears, concerns, etc. known within the business or the family circle.

I feel like I am part of the journey now and not just a passenger along for the ride.”

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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