3 Different Audiences for Family Business Education

Stephanie Brun de Pontet

In a previous article on family business education, Amy Schuman and I suggested one critical task in planning education is to ‘Clarify your Purpose’ – and an important related construct may be ‘Think about your Audience’.  While there are many possible ‘audiences’ – the following three have very different ‘learning goals’ – yet all are very important, and investing in these individuals’ education will serve the long-term health of the family and the business well:

1) Those who aspire to leadership roles in the business – Education programming to support this purpose should be done in close collaboration with your HR department, and should also seek input from other key leaders in the business who will provide important insight on the skills and experiences that aspiring managers and leaders of the company require.  This learning program may include encouraging family members to pursue certain kinds of academic credentials or hands-on experience elsewhere, it may include summer or other short-term projects or internship opportunities at the business, and it may include comprehensive career planning within the company.

2) The next generation of owners – We often find families benefit from setting up a ‘next generation’ group that engages in regular learning about the roles and responsibilities of ownership.  Before young adults even come into ownership it is helpful for them to gain basic knowledge of the business they will own, learn skills like reading financial statements, learn about topics like ‘taxes’ and ‘wills’ – two realities that will be far more complex for them than for their peers, and begin to understand the importance of stewardship, or the responsibilities that come with the good fortune of ownership.  Not only does this group have similar learning needs, they also need to learn to make decisions together, so the process of working and regularly meeting together to learn – can provide an important benefit of bonding this group in addition to getting them used to collaborating.

3) Those who marry into the family – Marrying into a business-owning family can be daunting and is sometimes fraught with emotional landmines.  Families in business together are often close-knit, have many traditions of togetherness, and have all been brought up with this company in their midst, so they may not see the business-focused things they do as atypical.  A new entrant to this family must gain acceptance – but will be at a serious disadvantage of not knowing the company as well, and may fear that if they ask questions some family members will accuse them of putting their nose where it doesn’t belong.  Therefore an education program is an important way of providing some basic knowledge of the company to these new family members, while also giving them insight into family traditions and shared values to help them feel accepted and well integrated.

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