Stetson University is the first school in the USA to offer a degree in Family Business. The program focuses on next-generation members of family businesses, and one of its goals is to encourage them to take ownership of their own lives and careers.
Peter Begalla is the Outreach Director of the Family Enterprise Center, Adjunct Professor at the School of Business Administration at Stetson University and an expert in next-generation leadership development. This is what he has to say about the next generation, leadership and making things happen for oneself.
What, in your experience, is the main problem that next generation members of family businesses face?
It tends to be credibility: within the family, within the enterprise, as well as marketability of their skills in either the family enterprise setting or out in the real world. So the idea is that because they have a family business they may not be as they have to be in their own right. They have to be recognized as credible and marketable themselves separate from their family so that their own identity can be established.
The program stresses the need for the next generation to be proactive and create their own future. How does the program support its students to help them to achieve that?
The introductory course kind of sets the tone for the whole program. It’s the one that’s the most intensive. The course is divided up into thirds. The first part of the course is a whole segment devoted to who you are: personality assessment, values assessment, and a discussion about what you know about yourself from a personality dynamic. What you believe about yourself.
The second section of the course is what is your family story. So there’s some gene gram work, some work on the family values, there’s an interview process in which the students ask their family members, their mom and dad, why did they choose the career that they did. What kind of family dynamics. What was important for them in terms of their business or their career choice. How has that affected the family. By doing that, the student works with the family to determine what kinds of messages have been important to the family, for a couple of generations. What their family story is and how it might impact the student.
There’s also some identification in that same time period as to what role they play in the family in terms of birth order and everybody’s influence to birth order.
And then the third component is what do you want to do. Now that you understand a little bit about who you are and what your script is, what do you want to do with this? Is it work within the family business? Is it work outside? How does your plan match up with reality? How does it match up with the reality of the family? How does it match up with you as a person? Are your values in line with what those plans are? Is your personality in line?
One more piece is that all three of those segments are then collected into what we call the Life Plan. It tends to be about 50 pages long. It’s designed for the student to essentially define success as they see it within the family business or outside. It basically changes how they view themselves and what they are going to do and how they are going to go about doing it in the world.
Do you have more students going to work in the family business or outside it after finishing the program?
It’s different for each person. I can’t say that the rule of thumb is that they all go back to their family businesses and I can’t say that they all bail out. It’s a fairly decent mix. However, it tends to lean more towards the student going outside the family business for a period of time. I can’t say we’ve done any research to support what I call “Gut Check.”
What would be your advice to those next generation members living in “golden cages,” meaning, working in the family business with a good job title, good salary but no real responsibility, accountability and lacking preparation to take over the leadership of the company. Living in fear about what is going to happen in the future when their parents are not around anymore.
First is to “know thyself”; know exactly what your skills are. Know what you have to bring to better the situation. That way you know where to start and you shop on your technical skills or on your soft skills. For example, if you’ve got an accounting issue, or if you’ve got a marketing issue or a financial issue, you can always ask for help. Although the responsibility in that situation is ultimately yours, know how much guidance you need in order to make the right decision, know your capacity, know your abilities and your strengths and weaknesses so that you can call for help when you do have to make the decision (because again, you’ve got the title, you’ve got the responsibility) but you have guidance.
The other thing we stress with the program is that getting unbiased feedback is advice that often leads to a profound change in the individual. The feedback is such that it just kind of says “hey this is what I see” kind of holding up a mirror “this is what I see you doing”; it allows the student to make some choices about a different behavior versus “hey, you know what you should do?” which nobody really likes. If somebody who is in a position of responsibility within an organization doesn’t have feedback then they are kind of looking in a vacuum.
What is the profile of your students? What kind of family companies do they come from?
We have a mix of students; some have family businesses and some do not. One of the ways in which we talk about the program is that if you don’t have a family business, you still benefit from it because 90% of businesses in America are family businesses. So you’re probably going to work in one. The other thing we do is stress an advisory track as well towards the end of the program. We train students on some basic advising type of skills working with companies.
So in terms of the students we have that have family businesses, it spans a pretty wide range. I’ve had students with international holdings that are fairly vast where their families come from two generations deep in South America and in the Caribbean. Everything from real estate to restaurants, mining, aggregates, and land family grocery store holders here in the States. It spans from annual revenue exceeding 1 billion to the little mom and pop jewelry store worth half a million a year or even restaurants.
They have been working for the family company or it’s a bit of both?
They definitely have exposure to it. The ones who don’t have exposure to it the parents are in a business that tends to be more advising. For example like financial services, a dad owns financial services and he has 2 or 3 guys working with him like an insurance business; the student doesn’t work in it. If it’s the construction business, the student has worked in it. If its manufacturing, the student has worked in it. If it’s a distributor of some sort, the students have worked in it.
Is this a unique program in the U.S. that you are managing?
I believe so, it’s one of two majors in the world, its basically the first major in the world. We think we have something that is very promising. We essentially are having a dialogue about family businesses that no one else is having with students at a time in which they are forming identities and forming a sense of where they want to go in the world. And we promise them, what my college Greg McCann says and why he founded the program the way he did, “Look, you get a discussion with your peers and your family for four years about who you are and where you want to go. If that’s within the family business that’s great, if not that’s great too. But essentially you get to write your own story versus just being pushed along by the family history and by the family’s script of the business.” Especially if it’s a large successful business, it can override the identity of someone who is trying to form and carve himself out a sense of self and where he wants to go.
In your experience, what are the main traits of successful next generation?
They tend to want truth and honesty. They tend to want everything to be exactly as it is and for everybody to know it and what’s going on. So there’s this level of transparency that I think is required personally as well as about the organization, and about the older generation and the next generation. And again, it is to “know thyself.” What your strengths and weakness are and to be ok with that to say, this is what I bring to the table, this is what I don’t bring to the table, and how are we going to make this work.
Any tips or words of advice for next generation members of family businesses?
No matter what you do, start now. Start thinking about who you are, what you are about, what you bring to the table, and how that’s viewed by your family. Also, how it’s viewed by non-family members within the business. Start the dialogue A) with yourself then B) with your family about what you bring to the table and what you want to do next. How you can contribute to the business.
So, next generation, what are you going to do to make things happen for you?
For more information about the Stetson University Family Enterprise Center, please click on: http://www.stetson.edu/business/family
Written by Carmen Lence, MBA
NextGen Consulting & Coaching
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