The Family Firm Institute: A Work in Excellent Process

Article excerpt

Did you know that more than 90 percent of the companies in North America and the majority of businesses located globally are family owned? This statistic could have implications for all types of businesses - public and private-because the challenges and issues that family businesses face are often different from other business entities.

The field of family business consulting and education has grown enormously in the last five years. Before I became executive director of the Family Firm Institute (FFI) in February 1992, there were fewer than 500 members and only a very limited number of universities offered programming for family-owned business. Publications were few and of mixed quality.

Today, there nearly 1100 members of FFI and more than 100 university based programs.

And publications? The proliferation of books and publications on family business are further evidence of the growing interest in the field - not to mention the explosion in online publishing.

Accompanying these dramatic numeric increases has been an equally dramatic growth in the sophistication which consultants and educators bring to the field of family owned business. Five years ago, succession was the main issue addressed at business meetings and at every FFI conference. Today, conference presentations focus on access to liquidity, philanthropic goals, cross-cultural issues and the role of a consultant's family background in the understanding of the family he or she may work with and advise.

FFI has tried to do its part to enhance the interdisciplinary skills of its diverse membership through conferences, educational seminars and networking opportunities. But, the effort must be combined with other organizations and professionals who share the same vision in order to reach their goals. A trend toward sharing knowledge that extends beyond traditional disciplines has developed and will continue to grow as more accountants understand "process" and therapists read balance sheets. In addition, the press has also become more sophisticated in its approach to covering family business. Questions need to be addressed and answered on governance and shareholder agreements as much as they do on estate planning and succession models.

Why are all the changes and growth occurring in this field? They are happening because a family-owned business is a complex and evolving form of enterprise. It requires advisors and educators who are acquainted with a variety of disciplines beyond their own profession of origin. It is precisely this multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) approach that cultivates and explores the heart of rapid growth in the consulting and educational arenas. …