The Smith Family Business Initiative Turns 1.


It has been a great first year for the Smith Family Business Initiative (SFBI). After the gift from John (MBA ’74) and Dyan Smith was announced in January 2014 to establish the program at the Johnson School, the doors officially opened on September 10, 2014.

Development of the Smith Family Business Initiative in year one has focused in three primary arenas; inreach – our ability to connect and educate students, outreach – our ability to grow the global network of business owners, and scholarship – our ability to create and disseminate new knowledge in the family business space.


Our first major accomplishment was to launch the Johnson Family Business Club. Already with 95 members and four meetings during its first year, the club is poised for 2015- 2016 with the election of four officers and recruitment of future leadership. The club focuses on three primary pillars: networking, education and recruiting. This would not have been accomplished without President Christopher Pletcher and his leadership team. Nice work.

The presence of the SFBI at Cornell has heightened the interest in Johnson for numerous current and prospective students from family enterprise, as well as many alumni. As courses are developed, programs launched and opportunities expanded, we fully expect family business to be a real differentiator for not only the Johnson School but for all of Cornell. Consider only a few of these interactions from year one:

  • A prospective MBA student from Pakistan shared: “This initiative was one of the many reasons I was attracted to Johnson’s MBA program as it not only provides access to learn about other family businesses across cultures and geographies but being housed within Cornell, it serves as a good launch pad to develop a global network.”
  • A recent Cornell alumni who completed the inaugural iLEAD program. Her grandfather, also a Cornell alumni and one of the pioneers of founding the E @ C program, sees herself as a pioneer much the same way her grandfather was and looks forward to future engagement opportunities with the Smith Family Business Initiative.
  • An Executive MBA student working as a non-family executive in a family business and seeking opportunities to learn, participate or contribute.
  • A current student in Dyson, whose grandparents and mother are all Cornell alum, seeking to join the Johnson Family Business Club. His family’s business is a 5th generation insurance business in New York City.
  • A Cornell alum of a 3rd generation family business in NYC, with two children now attending Cornell. He learned of the SFBI through an article in a jewelry industry trade publication – his quote: “This is so long overdue at Cornell and we cannot wait to be involved in any programs or courses you offer.”


The SFBI played a significant role in the campus-wide Entrepreneurship at Cornell Celebration in April. Hosting the opening session – “Entrepreneurship, Family Business and Going Global,” we invited Peter Cuneo, Managing Principal of Cuneo & Company, LLC. He shared his story of turning around Black & Decker and then Marvel Comics, as well as the many connections between entrepreneurship and family enterprise.

This June, in partnership with China’s Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), we launched the iLEAD program, a pioneering international exchange and leadership program for high-achieving young business leaders from American, Chinese and other international family enterprises. Twenty students, including one Cornell alumni and one current student, became our first cohort.

In partnership with the Family Business and Office School, the SFBI will offer three-day, executive-level programs in governance, M & A, and family business to an extensive network of LATAM family businesses owners. The first program is scheduled for December 2-4, 2015. For 2016, we plan to deliver anywhere from 4 – 6 family business courses for owners, officers and advisors in family enterprise in New York City as well as additional offerings in Miami.

Already, the Smith Family Business Initiative has garnered global attention in the media as well.

  1. The 25 Best Business Schools for Family Businesses
  2. Family Biz 101: Schools That Actually Prepare You for Your Stint in a Family Jewelry Store
  3. B-Schools Take On the Family Business


In April of 2015 the SFBI offered an opportunity for Johnson faculty to submit proposals for research that focused on family business. This effort was to stimulate current faculty to begin to explore areas of family business and enterprise that are tangential to their current areas of expertise. To date, two proposals have been funded and research has commenced on the following:

  1. “Family Matters: A Proposed Research Agenda on Family-Business interactions in Emerging Markets” by Professor Wesley Sine (Johnson)
  2. “Production Efficiency at Family-owned Floricultural Firms: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Ethiopia” by Professors Hyuncheol Bryant Kim (College of Human Ecology) and Hyunseob Kim (Johnson)

What has been so encouraging during the first year have been the many touch points for family business to nearly every facet of Johnson and more importantly Cornell wide; prospective students, current students, Executive MBA students, faculty, alumni, global reach and future programs. As more progress is made to establish connections with other Johnson centers and institutes, faculty members and student programs, the Smith Family Business Initiative will play a significant role in touching Johnson and Cornell students and educating all on the importance of family enterprise, both in the United States and globally.

The synergies between what happens on campus with students, off campus with alumni and business owners, and the continual pursuit of new knowledge in this space will position Cornell and the Johnson School near the front of the pack. As this space is still rapidly red-number-1emerging, the SFBI has the resources necessary as provided by this gift which allows the Smith Family Business Initiative to be innovative, bold and well positioned to set the standard of family business education.

Come see for yourself. We invite you to join the Smith Family Business Initiative on October 8 & 9 as we celebrate “Families in Business across Cornell,” the inugrual gathering of students, alumni, business owners and affiliates to explore the breadth and impact of family enterprise.

Happy 1st birthday!

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