Vermont, a Global Hub? What the FECC?

Burlington Vermont is not a place most people think about when globalization is the subject. But once a year, that all changes, and people involved in Family Business congregate there in January for a one-of-a-kind experience.

The Global Family Enterprise Case Competition (FECC) just wrapped up this weekend, and the fourth annual edition was better than ever. The folks at the Grossman School of Business at the University of Vermont can truly call their event “Global”.

I had the privilege of serving on the judging committee at this competition for the third year in a row, and as always, it was an enriching experience. So how global is it?

Well on Thursday I served on a panel with another Montrealer, but he happens to hail from Mexico (as did a couple of the Undergraduate teams participating). That same panel featured a woman from Switzerland, who was born in Czechoslovakia (which is now 2 countries!)

There were 24 student teams competing, with 16 in the Undergraduate section and 8 in the Graduate portion, and these teams hailed from 10 different countries, but if that weren’t enough, the students themselves came from even more diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds.

I don’t have vital stats for all of the participants, but from just the eight teams that I saw, here are a few examples:

A team from Sweden featured at least 2 competitors who were German, which they clearly used to their advantage on the case of the Juchheim company, which, suprisingly (or not) was about a Japanese family enterprise.

Another team, from Texas, featured students with both Latin American and Asian roots, and a team from Spain featured one presenter with a Middle Eastern background.

I could go on, but I think that I have already given you a flavour of what the event is like, and I have probably already used some terms that will have offended some people who are more politically correct than me.

So what is it that makes Family Enterprise such a great field for a global competition? That’s an easy one.

The languages and the culture change from country to country, but the prevalence of family business is pretty well widespread around the world. And not only that, what parents want and hope for when they go into business with their family members is not very different from one location to another.

Furthermore, the issues that come up in family enterprise situations that you can find in one country will invariably show up in just about every other country too.

The good news here is that you can learn a lot about the big issues and how you may want to handle them simply by studying what has gone on elsewhere. You know, learn from other people’s mistakes.

The field of family business as a discipline, to be studied, researched, and taught in schools is still relatively new. The related field of family business advising is also still considered pretty new.

What this means is that the families who are eager to get involved with examining their own situations by opening their eyes and themselves up to what is going on with other families, are still part of what one would term the “early adopters”.

Family Business is not yet seen as “mainstream”, and is not taught as a separate discipline in very many business schools yet.

Likewise, many people like me who call ourselves Family Business Advisors are still looked at as a little bit odd (OK, I confess, you got me there) and we are sometimes met with questions like, “Is that a thing?” when we describe ourselves as such.

Things are changing, slowly but surely, in the right direction. If you have any interest in the field of Family Enterprise education, I invite you to check out the FECC at UVM and get involved in next year’s 5th annual edition. I know that I am already planning a return trip.