Children holding a golden trophy

The Case for Friendly FamBiz Competition

This week’s blog is one of the occasional instances where I leave an open spot on my blog calendar because of an event that I’m attending, and I allow something from my participation to inspire me in real-time.

The event in question this time is the Global Family Enterprise Case Competition at the University of Vermont (UVM). I just returned from my trip there, where I was pleased and proud to serve as the lead judge on one of the four judging panels on day 1 of the competition.  

This was my fifth time as a judge, and every year I come away impressed with the caliber of the students; not only the competitors, but also the dozens of UVM volunteers who run the event, under the watchful eye of Pramodita (Dita) Sharma, who remains the heart and soul of the event, as she has since she created it.

 

Friendly Competition, Global Participants

If there was an “A-Ha Moment” that arose for me this time, it certainly was not the global nature of the competition, and, by extension, the family business world.  I’ve commented before in some of my posts relating to my membership in the Family Firm Institute (FFI) that the FamBiz community is truly global in nature.

What really struck me on this visit was the friendly nature of the competition between teams.

The dinner after day 1 of the competition involves each team (3 student participants plus 1 coach) going to the front of the room and taking the microphone and introducing themselves in a fun and creative way.  Think of it as a gigantic icebreaker exercise.

It is very friendly in nature, and it is also competitive.

In fact, the entire event truly brings together both friendliness AND competition.

 

Neither One Alone Would Suffice

What I realized was that neither one of these traits (competitiveness and friendliness) would be enough in and of themselves.  Imagine if it was all friendliness and nobody really cared who won. Or, the reverse, if it turned into a dog-eat-dog fight to the finish.

But then I also started to think about the parallels this competition has with a real family business.  Bear with me here for a minute.

If you’re part of a family business and it’s all friendliness, all the time, that might be nice, but how long will it last, if you aren’t competitive enough? And I mean competitive as a business, but also internally with colleagues.

Likewise, if it’s all about competition and people aren’t even friendly with each other, what’s the point? Isn’t life too short for that?

 

The Pentland Case

The case that was used on day 1 was centered on Pentland, a UK business that was preparing the transition from the second generation of the Rubin family to the third.

It was written after Pentland had received an award for the being the best family business in Europe a few years ago, so it clearly wasn’t one of those typical business school cases where there are all kinds of obvious problems.

The setting for the case was a Friday evening family dinner where various family members had recently returned from visiting different branches of the family company, and they were about to embark on some key discussions about where the family was going to go from here.

 

Finding the Right Friendly / Competitive Balance

The key to this and many family business situations is finding the right balance between the friendly family dinner and the business meeting aspects of the important discussions that also need to happen.

Some families have difficulty with this balance, where every family dinner becomes a business meeting, much to the dismay of those around the table who aren’t involved and don’t wish to be part of any such meetings.

 

Coaches and Judges Mingle…. After Work

Personally, I also needed to work on balancing my serious role as a judge with some friendly after dinner discussions with some of the dedicated coaches.

I’m pleased to say that everyone got along very well and professionally, and my own network of family business contacts continues to expand..

I hope to return again as a judge next year.

 

And the Winners Are:

The winning schools at FECC 2020 were:

Undergraduate Division: Wilfrid Laurier University – Canada

Graduate Division: Universidad Francisco Marroquin – Panama

Congratulations to all those involved, participants and organizers.