Magazine article The CPA Journal

Family Businesses Willing to Take Their Problems to School

Magazine article The CPA Journal

Family Businesses Willing to Take Their Problems to School

Article excerpt

One encouraging trend for professional advisors looking to penetrate the family business world is that many family business owners have come to recognize a need for outside guidance. In an effort to minimize the high risks of failure, some family businesses are attending a nationwide network of university-based family business centers.

A few years ago, these centers did not exist. Now, some 60 universities in nearly every major metropolitan area of the nation have family business centers in operation or planned for operation, or they offer some academic program designed for family businesses.

One reason for this rapid growth of academic centers is that they promote open and frank communication. Feelings are communicated more readily than in the past, and there is greater license to talk openly about things that formerly remained hidden.

Family business centers facilitate discussions about the issues and situations peculiar to family businesses. Owners are told they are not alone; other family businesses share their problems. They can all learn from one another. Once they become involved, family business members receive advice from accountants, academics, attorneys, and other professionals on issues like leadership succession, ownership transfer, and conflict resolution.

Family business members are often candid and revealing in discussing these issues. For example, participants at Northeastern University's Center for Family Business have talked openly about personal events such a prenuptial agreements or the devastating consequences one family experienced when one sibling was chosen over another as successor.

The Value of Sponsorship

Accounting firms and other professional service providers are key players in developing these centers, which are often funded through sponsorship by these firms.

The centers provide family business members access to extensive educational and research capabilities. They also provide the sponsoring professional service firms an opportunity to meet the key players in family businesses in a setting where they are discussing issues that these professionals deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Advisors participating in family business centers learn a great deal from the experiences being related by family business members. …

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