George de la Torre Jr. inherited his father's canning factory more than 30 years ago and transformed it into Juanita's Foods, a multimillion-dollar company that makes canned menudo and other Latino foods.

De la Torre is thinking about retiring soon from the day-to-day operations, but he won't be turning over his canned-food company to his sons. Instead his eldest daughter will assume the reins of the Wilmington-based enterprise.

"Everyone's in agreement that I'm the one who's going to take over," said Gina Harpur, general manager of Juanita's Foods and soon-to-be president and chief executive. "It has taken a lot of time and a lot of emotional conversations to come to this decision. But I'm the one."

Juanita's Foods is just one example of the growing shakeup in the traditional father-to-son succession that has been particularly strong in the Latino family business world.

"We've had to understand that it is not just about power struggles and sibling rivalry, but what is best for the company," said Harpur, 40, who won out over her 37-year-old brother Mark de la Torre, the plant manager, and her 28-year-old brother Aaron de la Torre, a management trainee.

Family power struggles like this are seen all the time at USC's Family Business Program, a division of the Marshall School of Business. "What we are seeing is that when a company goes through a transition and someone has to decide who is better qualified to take over, it may not be the first-born male," said Annika Sieler, the program's associate director.

It could be the second-born daughter, or the wife.

Sibling relations

At the Family Business Program, about one-third of the 28 participating companies are falling under female control.

"Not knowing who is going to take over has a tremendous effect on the relationship between the siblings and the future of the company. Are they going to grow or are they going to sell it to someone else?" Sieler said.

To solve that problem, USC specialists recommend that family business owners write up certain rules of succession, such as requiring a sibling to work outside the family operation for two years to learn more about another business or get an advanced degree.

An advanced degree was one of the determining factors at Juanita's Foods. Harpur is the sibling with an MBA from USC and has worked in the family business for a longer period of time.


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