All in the family

Family business planning, until recently, wasn’t the subject of a plethora of discourse within the business community. Regardless, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that family businesses employ 62 percent of the nation’s workforce and generate about 64 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Marine industry leaders estimate that at least half of all marine businesses are family owned or operated, and family business experts suggest that that number could be even greater than 75 percent.
Luckily, there are a growing number of resources to help those interested in incorporating family members as fluidly as possible into their operations. Family-owned dealerships and manufacturers alike can benefit from learning what has, and hasn’t, worked for others.
Many colleges and universities offer family business planning classes, which can cover everything from diversifying and creating a comprehensive succession plan to compromising with parents and siblings in business situations.
The University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business in Minneapolis recently created a family business class different from most: only students with prior involvement in a family business can sign up, and they are required to bring an enterprise-involved parent or relative along to class sessions. Sharing a class has fostered discussion between the older and younger generations of the families participating.
While Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta has four undergraduate and graduate level courses on family business, the university plans to offer an executive M.B.A. on the topic beginning in 2009.
Beyond the classroom, there are also a handful of periodicals taking a closer look at the intricacies of family business planning. Family Business magazine is among them. The quarterly publication discusses an extensive number of topics, from wealth management to legal issues. The publication also puts out a twice-monthly e-newsletter with the latest news, tips and implications for companies and families. Family Business Review takes a slightly more scientific approach, combining scholarly research and practical experience in exploring the dynamics of family firms.
And, of course, there are hundreds of family business consultants out there to choose from. Mike Henning, Henning Family Business Center founder, is one that has experience working with marine industry family business issues. He specializes in succession planning, has consulted with Boating Industry Top 100 dealers on the topic. and also wrote a book on it for Marine Retailers Association of America members.
Whatever it takes to keep Thanksgiving dinner civil.
– Lisa Young

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