Why a family business center at Cornell University?

cornell-logoAre family businesses any different? I feel confident that John and Dyan Smith believe family businesses are quite different. “It is in the best interest of family businesses and the country for these businesses to be carried on for many generations,” Smith said. “With a focus on family businesses at Johnson, good research will be conducted, educational seminars will address the unique needs of family businesses, and prospective students will be drawn to Johnson because of the family business expertise on campus.” Family firms like CRST International have proven to be resilient, innovative and enduring, all while layered with the complex issues of family dynamics, leadership and family succession, family legacy, and managing the complexities of wealth over generations.

The Johnson Graduate School of Business at Cornell, one of the premier business schools in the world, with research expertise and institutes that serve innovation, sustainability and finance, will now be a significant leader in family business as well. Even Ezra Cornell was a family businessperson; having hired both his brother-in-law and sister as his Erie and Michigan Telegraph Company began to grow. Also of note, the S.C. Johnson family business, whose name is permanently affixed to the Johnson School of Business, is still today one of the most recognizable global family brands.

The academic family business landscape is quickly becoming crowded as many business schools are now rushing into this space. A recent Wall Street Journal article (Rubenfire, July 2, 2014) detailed the Loyola program as well as made mentioned of the newly formed Smith Family Business Initiative. Business owners as well as their offspring are seeking out every possible advantage, and quality education, either for credit or professional development, is often the preferred starting point. “The demand is there in the marketplace; we see the demand from students, so I think it’s only healthy that professors from the elite schools are excited to work in this area,” shares Johnson Dean Soumitra Dutta. Cornell University, and in particular the Johnson Graduate School of Business, with over 13,600 alumni spanning the globe, will make an immediate impact.

There is fertile ground at the Johnson School to build prosperous partnerships and help to launch the SFBI @ Cornell. Housing the SFBI @ Cornell in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute makes wonderful sense. The current research in family business is now focusing on trans-generational entrepreneurship as a measure of success (Zellweger, et al. 2014), moving beyond the numbers based approach of success or failure in family firms, which has been long disputed and nearly impossible to accurately measure. Both the Parker Center for Investment Research and the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise would also intersect with family enterprise and offer the SFBI @ Cornell existing audiences and expertise from which to grow our global reach.

We are just beginning the Smith Family Business Initiative @ Cornell. We do not even have a website yet, but we have a strong vision of where we want to go. A Family Business Club has already been formed for Johnson and Cornell students and will launch on September 29. Several programs are beginning to take shape and will be announced accordingly. Stay tuned, follow us on Twitter (@fambizsuccess) or Google+, and feel free to share your thoughts as well. We look forward to the journey ahead.

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