Family Matters: How to Make the Most of a Family-Owned Business

Photo courtesy JaneCane Photography

An Ode to my Mother….lessons learned from family business.

Family business is in my blood. My grandfather owned an operated a service station for over 50 years. My mother opened a business in her forties and ran it for 20 years. I didn’t see it coming but I should have known that I, too, would pursue an entrepreneurial path. The McKechnies are helpers. We appreciate the freedoms self-employment. And, we’re strong. Strong enough to weather the storms that inevitably blow through every family-owned business.

Since the beginning, mom and I have always been a dynamic duo–just me, mom and my minivan. From 4-H sewing projects to gourmet recipes, we love attacking and conquering creative projects together. While planning my sister’s wedding on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, we struggled to find vendors for the event and quickly realized we were in a DIY situation. Rather than run from the challenge, we embraced it. This began our journey working together nearly every day for the last nine years in the weddings and special events industry. My company, Northland Special Events, plans, designs, and executes around 200 events annually in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. We also operate Duluth Balloon Company  and Superior Blooms. Our well-planned, customized and professional events allow our clients to place their focus wholly on making memories.

The list of things my mom and I have done together is endless – and usually involved each of us with one of my twin daughters on our hip. We’ve laughed A LOT, cried A LOT and we’ve worked tirelessly to produce beautiful, personal, and unique events for our clients. The business grew rapidly and our roles evolved. As our businesses accelerated, I worked to be come a Chief Executive with a growing staff, inventory, and a deep passion for the future. My mom became my cheerleader and sounding board, and took on whatever role she needed to fill. Most recently, she stepped into the role of leading our everyday floral business. She stretched beyond her comfort zone and gave her time and energy freely to help.

This winter, however, my mom decided the time for retirement had come. As hard as it was to imagine my work day-to-day without her, as her daughter I knew it was for the best. Now, as I prepare for my mom to retire, I find myself reflecting on our journey and what she’s taught me about business and life.


Easier said than done, right? Separating personal from business creates communication challenges every day. It’s nearly impossible to draw lines between work and family. It brings a completely different level of emotion to every conversation. Your shared history can’t be forgotten. As the daughter and the boss, I struggled to be both the leader of my team and stay respectful and supportive of my mother. I struggled to be the adult and not the child.….and it always came back to communication. The hardest days were when we’d become disconnected. The growth of our family-owned business made it hard to find the time to reconnect. In the end, no matter what, our bond made it all worth it. I learned to lead with empathy and to communicate with clarity and care.

Lighten up

My mom is a hoot. You’d never suspect this sweet little Minnesota woman would pack such a punch. Infectiously charming, she can bring a quick smile to any face and warm the coldest heart. She has a way of looking right into your soul and zinging you with an unexpected compliment. Her ability to read people made her a dynamite partner in the events business, especially connecting with Mothers-of-the-Brides and wedding guests. Luckily, through both nurture and nature, these skills continue to evolve in me and contribute to my success. Through her, I learned to lighten up. To bring levity to stressful situations and to find ways to make people smile. Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite qualities about myself and I owe it to her.

Toughen up

I can be a real push over. Recognizing this has been critical in my business success. I want people to be happy and get attached easily. I bend over backwards to make their dreams come true. This is especially true with clients and employees… let’s not even mention my dog. Caring a lot, however, creates vulnerability. One thing a mama doesn’t like to see is her daughter getting hurt. So, she took on the job of watching my back and helping me recognize when things had gone too far. She stuck her neck out time and time again to help me save mine. She taught me to toughen up and protect myself. This lesson took me and my business to new levels, gained me more respect as both person and professional, and made me a better boss and business person.

No one will ever have my back like my mom. I consider working alongside her over the last 9 years a privilege and an honor. The lessons I’ve learned from working with her in our family-owned business will never leave me and I’ll cherish the memories forever. More than anything, the example it set for my daughters will surely impact my relationship with them indefinitely. I am looking forward to just being her daughter again and I know she’ll be cheering me on in business from the sidelines.

Aisle Planner Northland Special Events

Want to see more from Mariah? Visit the Northland Special Events website!

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