The family business started in the first years after the communist regime fell in Bulgaria, back in 1990 when my father was able to register as a sole trader. The company now has almost 25 years of history following the ups and downs of the Bulgarian economy. It started as a copy shop, where people could make copies of books, documents, etc. and the two copy machines are still on exhibit in our office. The business is still managed by my parents, but my brother and I are responsible for new businesses within the family one. After the restructuring we did we do have a board of managers but the important strategic decisions are still taken within the family.
What is your first memory of visiting / being exposed to your family business as a child?
I used to work in the copy shop in the summer vocations when I was at school and I did not get paid as the other workers but I had access to free copies of the cassettes and CD covers of my favorite bands and all the English literature that was scarce at the time – not a bad deal.
Can you describe the time when you were prepared to take over the family business? Were you explicitly prepared to take over the business? If yes, how? Is there anything you would have done differently in the transition process?
I do not think that there will come the time when I will feel prepared to take over the family business. I think my parents did their best to prepare me – I had the right education and constant, profound exposure to all business activities. Hopefully I will have some years more to work under their guidance and be able to spend more time with my children as they did when we were younger with my brother.
Can you tell us about one challenging moment and one positive moment from the transition process?
When I came back from London after I did my degrees I had my (at the time very much theoretical) ideas about how business should be done which were very contradictory to the norm in Bulgaria. In addition, my parents expected that I took charge of the furniture business that they named after me, but to their disappointment I chose another line of business purely because I felt there is more challenge there. Until now I do tend to be excited more by new projects and the established businesses get me “bored”.
A positive moment for me was the trust that I always get from my parents but also from our key managers. When my father jokes at company events that if I take over the business half of the companies will be closed and a lot of the oldest employees dismissed there are positive cheers from all sides. I only pray that if I have to take over the business entirely one day it will not be because of some sudden event like death or illness, but will have enough time to complete the transition started.
Do you have a role model? If so who and why?
My mother is my role model – not only as a mother but also as a business woman. I hope I am as successful as she is in raising my children and supporting a strong and demanding husband in life and in the family business. She has been always in charge of the company and family finances and in addition developed her own line of business.
In your opinion, what is the best thing about working in the family business as compared to working outside the family business?
The best thing is the feeling you have that you truly work for yourself, for your family and if the results are positive your motivation is bigger and you know your effort is not wasted. The other good thing is that you naturally spend more time with your family and children.
Did you ever work outside the family business?
Yes, I did internships in two big companies and I shortly worked for the Bulgarian Ministry of Economy. Those experiences only served to increase my confidence in the decision I had made to work in the family business. But as any young person I had to try, just to make sure I did not like it there.
Does your family business like to promote the fact that it is family owned and/or run? Why or why not?
We do promote the fact that we are family owned and mostly family run, and it helps to promote loyalty among our employees, we have a good percent that work with us from the very beginning of the company. Family ownership and management is also a sign of confidence and stability although in our country the communist legacy and the transition years that followed did not help to create the positive feeling and respect that family businesses deserve generally. That is one reason that should keep us alert and act responsibly as we have to be the good role models for the next generations to come.
Why did you decide to join your family business instead of pursuing a different career path (e.g., a regular corporate career or starting your own venture)?
I was involved in the business from the very beginning and it felt naturally to continue and develop the involvement. Of course I did try and work elsewhere to see the difference and get some external experience but always knowing that there is a place for me in the family business made it different.
I also started several ventures of my own, some supported and others not that much by the family, which also gave me the confidence that I can be in charge, implement my entrepreneurship and knowledge.
I am also grateful that I had couple of failures because that is a valuable experience. In those I felt the real support of my family who instead of accusing me or the usual “I told you so”, quite on the contrary rushed in to help and try to improve things.
What were the biggest personal challenges you faced when joining the family business as a family member?
The biggest personal challenge that I faced in the beginning was my confidence that I can do the job – any job. As an entrepreneur and a self-made businessman my father has this hand-on approach to the business and knows the details of all activities. For me the amount of information and effort to remember it all was overwhelming as it ranged from various products to dozens of deals and many activities – from accounting to servicing to marketing and logistics and the whole lot. But with time and the support of all the management I was quickly on track.
As a successor in the family business, do you feel like an entrepreneur or rather not? If yes, how do you manage to bring your entrepreneurial vision into the family business?
It is hard to feel very entrepreneurial beside my father who is always full of ideas but now I know that my strength is in the execution - in any business you need a good idea but it will never work if you do not move and do all the little things that get the business going. I also had my own ventures that thought me how to create and manage a small business, but I still have to find that brilliant idea that should not necessarily be my own – I can always count on my father or my husband!
What is your advice for other next generation members who are getting ready to join the family business?
If they are lucky to be involved in the business as early as possible it will feel more natural for them once they join full-time. From my own experience I can also advise to get down to the details – it will give you a good base and more confidence. Take time in the beginning to understand the business, get management and employees explain and work with you to be familiar with the processes, clients, suppliers, etc. Do not count on that the family relationship with a good MBA will land you on the top and automatically you will be successfully running the family business – it rarely happens. More often it is a long process that takes lots of effort.
What is the next big thing on your agenda?
It is the birth of my second son. I wish it could be something more interesting for the ones that will read this interview but the fact is that I am now in that period of my life when being a mother is more important and I am very happy to be able to enjoy the time and not be in a position to struggle between motherhood and business. I have my family that gives me the greatest support.
Anything else you want to add?
I am very grateful to be part of the big family that the FBNI is and the feeling of belonging to this community of bright and hard-working people is very positive.
Getting along with my own family does also give me the support and security that as a woman I need. For all those “rebel” children my only advice is – your best friend is your family, and it is only your family that you can always go back to over again!