Helping to keep generations together

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 April, 2008, 12:00am

Some believe that work and family don't mix, but certain family-run businesses manage to make it happen, and many do so with the help of university training programmes designed specifically for the unique challenges that these companies may face.

Family-run companies that are working to gain more of a competitive edge in the business world, and enrolments in courses that offer family business training are on the rise.

Judi Cunningham, executive director of the Business Families Centre at Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia in Canada, said that every year more than 1,000 people attended the family business training courses and events that the school arranged.

Even Sauder's regular executive education programmes are seeing an increase in students who come from family-run businesses, at times up to 15 per cent of the programme enrolments.

This trend appears to be reflected in other regions, with the Instituto de Empresa (IE) in Spain reporting that 20 per cent of the students participating in the Advanced Management Programme and Senior Management Programme come from family-run businesses.

The reason for this growing trend seems to be due to the acknowledgement that family businesses are faced with a unique set of challenges that other businesses are not exposed to. Stephen Charters, professor of champagne management at Reims Management School in France, said: 'Family businesses have to focus on personal relationships and internal family dynamics in a way that most companies ... do not have to.'

He said that questions of succession and ownership could affect family-run businesses, and problems arose when there was a generation that refused to relinquish ownership but knew nothing about managing a business.

Ms Cunningham said that these companies needed to take into account the needs of the family, stressing the importance of staying attuned to relationships and working out personal conflicts that could affect the business.

She said that family-run companies tended to handle their businesses differently compared with other companies.

'They generally take a long-term focus to business due to their focus on legacy, as opposed to trying to maximise shareholder value in the short term,' Ms Cunningham said.

This long-term focus is probably why family-run companies tend to prefer conservative business strategies and, according to Manuel Bermejo, director of the Family Business Centre at IE, this conservative approach may end up hurting them.

'This approach often places them at a disadvantage when competing with businesses that base their decisions on a more short-term vision that allows greater flexibility,' Mr Bermejo said.

Ms Cunningham said many of these individuals joined the family business without first attending university, leaving a gap in their business knowledge about finance and accounting.

'Every family business member ... needs to be able to competently read financial statements and understand corporate governance,' she said. 'All of this, they can learn.'

The Business Families Centre at Sauder School of Business offers a variety of courses in family training that target preserving wealth through the generations and integrating family and non-family members in the business.

Ashley Armstrong was a student who attended these programmes, one of which was the Road Map course, which lasts for five days and teaches students how to run family meetings, manage conflicts and prepare for generational succession.

She said that among the things she had learned from the programmes was how family businesses could be run with maximum effectiveness, the importance of strategic planning and the role of family plans when considering business strategies.

IE offers an eight-month part-time course called Advanced Management Programme in Family-Run Companies.

Mr Bermejo said all the students were from entrepreneurial families or worked in family-run businesses.


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