Small business editor Caitlin Sykes this week interviews a handful of small business owners about how they manage family succession.

Anita Turner-Williams is the owner and designer at wedding dress design firm Vinka Design, which she took over from her mother Vinka Lucas.

Did you grow up knowing you were going to take over the family business?

Right from when I was a little girl of three or four I was imitating mum in the workroom. My parents bought me a little sewing machine and I would be alongside her making my dolls dresses. I never imagined doing anything else and my parents encouraged that. I learnt how to do everything in the workroom, from the smallest jobs right through. When I was older I'd work there in the school holidays; I was always pretty keen to get into it.

How did you transition to owning the business?

The decision was literally made for me when my mother collapsed with a stroke on her way to work. So really there was no transition; I had to step up and do the job because she was no longer capable of doing it, but the business was still ticking on. That was about six years ago. It was one of those 'now or never' moments.


So Vinka had been fully running the business up to that point?

She was. I was quite involved with it anyway, and we'd talk through business ideas and discuss things, but she was still the boss and I was working for her. When it happened I'd just come back from my honeymoon. It was a terrible shock, but I wanted to continue her legacy, and to keep the business focused on the clients and delivering for them. I just had to step up and get on with it.

Given that was the way the business transitioned, what helped you through?

Being busy! We didn't want our clients to worry about our crisis, so we had to keep focusing on what we had to do. I had to be the front of house, as well as make sure everything was ticking along nicely in the workroom, so the challenge was finding the time to make that commitment. I had to talk to my family and tell them that me taking on the business was going to be a massive commitment. I could have easily turned away and said it's all too hard. But I said to myself I'd never know if I was good enough if I didn't try, and I'd rather do that than wonder what might have been. It's so easy to design behind someone else's label, but when it's your money on the line it tends to matter a bit more.

What advice would you have for someone else taking on a family business?

Respect the past and what's been achieved to that point in the business because it matters. It's something to be proud of. When I took over, the salon and collection had to reflect me as a designer but it also had to be true to Vinka's design aesthetic and standards. That meant from the outside it didn't look like there had been a big change; perhaps I have a different design perspective, but the business still has Vinka's design DNA.

I'd also advise listening to the staff because you don't know everything. They want the business to succeed as well, and you have to respect other points of view and listen to wise heads. You don't have to do everything your way and put your stamp on everything to feel like the business is yours. Don't change just for the sake of it.

How about the future of the business in terms of succession?

We're still young here but it would be lovely if there was another young talent who shared our vision and would come along at some point and design for the label. I'd like to think it was a brand that someone else could design for, which is why I didn't make the label all about me because what happens when you're gone?

Coming up in Small Business: What do small business owners do when they have a baby? If you've got a story to tell about how you've handled your own parental leave as a business owner drop me a note at