This week I attended a two-day program in London Ontario, at the fantastic Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre. The course was put on by the Ivey Business Families Centre, which is run by David Simpson.
David has been running the “Leading Family Firms” program for 6 years, bringing in families who are in business together, and getting them to learn about, and start talking about, some of the important issues that so often get too little attention.
We had an eclectic mix of people in the room, including a couple of brothers who are part of a third-generation company along with some of their cousins; two brothers-in-law who work along with two of their other brothers-in-law; as well as a Mom & Dad, & Son team.
In addition, we had a father with his recently graduated Ivey daughter, who does not work in Dad’s business, but who has been helping guide him in many ways thanks to her Ivey degree, as well as a handful of current Ivey students who come from family businesses to which they will likely eventually return.
I never get tired of hearing people’s stories about working with their families. There are always similarities to other situations, but then there are huge differences too. But because of this, there is always something we can learn from others in this field. Some is “what to do”, and some is “what NOT to do”.
Simpson started off the first day by congratulating everyone who was there. He clearly recognized that making the effort to take two full days away from your business is not a step that everyone is prepared to make, but that he was happy that they had all taken a couple of days to work ON their businesses (and their families!) instead of IN their businesses.
The course itself is based on the Roadmap course put together by the Business Families Foundation, which includes a series of videos about the ficticious Dupont family, and the trials and tribulations they face in running their hotel business. The videos are a bit dated and over-acted, but they do a great job of depicting situations that participants can identify with, and thus are wonderful conversation starters.
And conversations are the single biggest key to most of the issues that business families face. Actually, maybe I should say that conversations that have not happended are often the source of most of the problems that arise in family businesses.
While I was doing the Family Enterprise Advisor program this year, we used many of the same videos, and covered a lot of the same topics. One thing I can attest to is that the people who live in a business family are much faster at learning this stuff than most advisors.
Simpson told me beforehand that he accelerates the material when teaching families because a slower pace just isn’t needed. Having gone through it with him now, I get his point. But he gets it because he has been involved on all sides in family business with his own family and as a teacher in the Entrepreneurship program at Ivey.
On Friday afternoon as we were wrapping up, each person was asked to commit to one or two things that they were going to do in the coming months. There seemed to have been lots of progress made over two short days, as people were committing to some key steps that they were planning on taking very soon, which otherwise might have been left to “someday”.
All in all, it was an interesting, fun, and educational program, and I am certain everyone who was there found it worthwhile.