Family business tip #8 – “Never Stop Learning.”

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article entitled “The Family That Goes To School Together…” touting the benefits the classroom and executive education. Although family businesses outdate most other forms of business (think Abraham), Family Business as a course of study is still relatively new. The Family Firm Institute estimates there are currently 182 school offering family-business courses. Considering there are approximately 633 AACSB accredited business schools, and perhaps double that many non-affiliated school, that number is staggeringly low. Especially when most surveys report that between 80-90% of all businesses are family owned. Higher Ed seems to be doing a great disservice  to both students and professionals from family-owned businesses.

Yet, there are a growing number of choices to continually challenge yourself, grow your network and never stop learning. The only question is, what do you want to learn? Some may choose to focus on family business related issues, in which case, consider joining a family business center, typically affiliated with a state university or school. Here in Vermont, of course, is the Vermont Family Business Initiative (, but there are over 50 of these centers throughout the United States and Canada. for a complete list, go to:

There are high-end intensive programs affiliated with Harvard, Northwestern or Loyola. Kennesaw State has recently launched an Executive MBA program specifically for Families in Business. Many of these are tailored to the class and feature relevant case studies coupled with readily applicable exercises.

Closer to home, executive education programs at the University of Vermont are more targeted at management and leadership principals, and Leadership Champlain is a nine-month immersion in community based leadership and networking.  The more intimate affinity groups offered through the Vermont Family Business Initiative for both CEO’s and Next Gen leaders offer a custom fit which is a mix of education, consulting and peer-to-peer coaching.

Regardless of your interest or need, do your research, ask many questions, and find someone who has been through the program or is currently enrolled. While you may be able to afford whichever program you enroll in, you will never be able to replace the time lost if your needs are not met.

Why is continual learning so important?

  • Taking time to educate yourself and family about the particular issues that face your business will lead to more informed decisions.
  • The landscape of business is continually changing; therefore it is imperative for leaders to stay ahead of shifts in practices and technology.
  • Building network – Network is critical to long term success of any individual.
  • Learning together builds family unity and assists with improved communication.

Why do some families resist additional learning opportunities?

  • Privacy – Families are reluctant to “air their dirty laundry” in a classroom or forum setting, and often feel they may be exposing a company weakness by attending a program on conflict or financial security, etc.
  • Time – Taking time to invest in yourself often takes time away from the office and work place.
  • Cost – Some programs can range up to nearly $40,000, however, most are based on a per course fee or annual tuition. The State of Vermont helps to offset myriad trainings through the Vermont Training Program.
  • Already have an education – There is a belief that college should have prepared you for everything.

Where to begin?

Family business classes:

  • UVM offers a “Leading and Managing the Family and Closely Held Business” course that is open to both college students (credit) and early stage professionals (non-credit). The fall 2011 course starts on September 2 and runs each Friday through the semester.

Family business peer groups:

  • For either the CEO/owner of Next Gen member in a business, these peer groups offer custom designed learning opportunities from both local experts and your business peers. (click here to lean more)

Executive education:

  • UVM offers a “Professional Certificate in Leadership and Management” which is built on the core MBA subjects of finance, marketing, strategy and leadership.
  • Many intensive programs exist that specialize in certain areas of family business:
    • Harvard – Families in Business
    • University of Southern Maine – Governance
    • Stetson University – Transitions Conference

Community based leadership:

  • Leadership Champlain offers a nine month community based leadership program that is excellent at understanding the socio-political aspects of leadership and decision making.

Some relevant stats:

  • The Family Firm Institute (FFI) lists 182 schools offering family business courses, including 2 dozen targeted executive education programs throughout the world.
  • The Five Phases of Family Business Education (Schuman & Ward 2009):

1. Education for future employees and managers.

2. Education for sibling team effectiveness.

3. Education for governors and owners.

4. Education for inheritance.

5. Education for life.

For a video link to this tip, please go to:

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