A: With an idea.
Q: What does it take to launch that business?
A: Capital. People. Products. Customers. Determination.
Q: How do you sustain that business?
A: By creating value for your customers.
The students at the first Family Business Club meeting in the Johnson Graduate School of Business convened and thus helped to launch the Smith Family Business Initiative at Cornell University. These were the questions I first posed to them. Six students, each with a story to share and more to learn. Taking time out of their schedule as finals loomed. They found value in hearing each other’s tales of family business. Some had worked in their businesses, others took careful steps to avoid becoming the “nepa-toad” – the child who comes back to the family business and never looks elsewhere for opportunity.
Small businesses (10 employees) and large (300+), domestic and global, manufacturing and service. One family had lost several businesses due to political unrest and terrorists bombings. Another helped lumberjacks and line workers scale trees and telephone poles. “Corporate headquarters was at the dinner table each evening,” for better or worse, a common occurrence for many family businesses.
After the meeting, I spoke with another student who could not make the meeting but remained interested in attending future events. Her family business was no more, having been sold and the family relocated to the U.S. from Columbia. “We were getting too big and well known. People knew we were accumulating wealth and therefore our family was in danger” she shared. How does one plan for the future when your own lives are threatened?
Thus, the need for the Family Business Club and for peers to find solace in sharing their concerns and needs. The value added for a place where students understand that each business faces challenges and individuals need to understand their role in the future of each enterprise, whether by working in the business or working with their family.
Cornell students will be critical to the Smith Family Business Initiative as we move forward. It is here that we can build our audience and strengthen relationships. Students beyond Cornell will also be essential. A New York Family Business Task Force has been formed, of which the SFBI will be a participating member to identify areas in which we can increase programs and opportunities for family business members to connect, learn and share.
Envisioning the Smith Family Business Initiative as a business will allow us to continue to add value to students, owners and stakeholders – our customers – and sustain this enterprise for future generations.