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Family Business Symposium ‘very well done all the way through’

The recent Family Business Symposium at Mississippi College (MC), “Success and Wealth from Generation to Generation,” was the first conference in the state to concentrate on the special challenges and opportunities faced by family firms.

“The speakers spoke very candidly about their own organization both from the business perspective and how to deal with family matters,” said Katrina Pace, director of development for the MC School of Business. “One speaker, Joe Goodman, speaks at a lot of these kinds of family business workshops across the country. He said the speakers’ willingness to share with the audience was outstanding. They were very candid and repeated common themes.”

The half-day symposium that was co-sponsored by the college and the Mississippi Business Journal attracted approximately 120 participants from both inside and outside of the state. There were 14 corporate sponsors for the event. Pace was pleased with the response, and the feedback received about the helpfulness of the event. Comments from our alumni, partners and sponsors included: “Very well done all the way through. We were proud to participate as a sponsor.”

“We thought the response was very good, especially for a first-time forum,” Pace said. “The senior leadership of many family companies came. And senior financial and legal advisors came. We thought that was a good show of support from the business community for our first event.”

Themes emerge

Although speakers didn’t collaborate beforehand about what they were going to talk about, many of the themes regarding family business success were similar. Speakers said that it is important to keep a sense of humor, especially with family businesses. And speakers also stressed the lasting value of having a focus on serving other people whether customers or employees.

“All speakers stressed the importance of making service to others a priority in business — whether serving customers, employees or through philanthropic initiatives,” Pace said. “We appreciate the speakers’ support of the MC School of Business. Their participation in the event and their personal accounts of the family-business experience was the cornerstone of the symposium’s success.”

Speakers were open about their own organizations, and incorporated personal experiences as they discussed the challenges of balancing work and family. Pace said their willingness to openly share information with the event participants about their own companies and families made the forum a unique and beneficial session for all.

“Speakers focused on the shift in control that occurs in family businesses, transferring wealth and leadership to the next generation through succession planning, and the importance of establishing values and traditions in a business organization,” Pace said.

Jason K. Branning, CFP, a financial advisor for the Stanford Group Company, commended the School of Business at MC for hosting an outstanding symposium.

“The speakers were all exceptional and the information extremely relevant,” Branning said. “I was very proud that this type event was at MC.”

“The Family Business Symposium further demonstrated the ability of the MC School of Business to be a meaningful resource for the business community, which is a key component of our mission,” said Dr. Marcelo Eduardo, dean of the MC School of Business. “Our school’s objectives are of course to provide a comprehensive business education to our undergraduate and graduate students, but also to serve as a resource to the local business community and our alumni.”

Reluctance?

Some people shy away from attending a family business workshop, said Joe Goodman, CPA and attorney with Adams and Reese, LLP, of Nashville, Tenn., a featured speaker at the Family Business Symposium.

“There can be reluctance to attend a symposium like this because of fear that if they go, people will look around and say, ‘There is the Jones family. They must be having problems,’” Goodman said. “They are also sometimes reluctant to bring their families and open Pandora’s Box. But I think after the symposium almost everyone was pleased they attended, because they were able to see, hear and experience discussion about the topics in a manner that was non-threatening and informative. It was also probably comforting for them to see other business people in the room sharing the same priorities and concerns.

“I think the symposium is a watershed event for Mississippi. I doubt business families had an opportunity like this before. Participants left with enthusiasm and excitement. They have a fresh look at this topic. I look forward to what MC can do to develop a family business center, or partner with the Mississippi Business Journal to continue seminars, symposium and outside speakers.”

The main theme of Goodman’s presentation was “Don’t get stuck on the status quo.” Goodman gave members of the audience somewhere between 30 and 50 good reasons to move ahead.

One of the most important ways to move ahead is to make vital decisions in a timely manner for family businesses succession.

“Many family businesses are controlled by folks who are north of 60 years old,” said Joe Jones, publisher emeritus of the MBJ. “Those businesses must be either sold, transferred to family members or shut down over the next decade or so. Relinquishing control of a business is hard to do. Following in the footsteps of the founder is also hard to do. The difficulty of these tasks is compounded when the relinquishment of the business is to a child of the founder.”

When the parent is also the boss and the child also an employee, things can get complicated. Jones said in his experience it’s much harder to hand off the business to a family member than to an outsider.

“Parents just have a hard time realizing that their child is an adult,” Jones said. “In fact, my experience indicates that most family business fail within a short time of transfer to the next generation.”

Jones said the Family Business Symposium was offered to address these complex problems arising when family businesses are transferred to younger family members. How do you treat children fairly who don’t work in the business? Is a salary a birthright or compensation for work performed? How do you choose one child over others when several children work in the business?

“The list goes on and on,” Jones said. “The bottom line is family decisions lack the objectivity that is present in arms-length transactions with non-family members.”

The importance of this subject is illustrated by the fact that 80% of new jobs come from small business, many of which are family businesses. Jones said there is great pride when a Nissan or Toyota set up shop in our state. However, their impact on the state’s economy is modest when compared to the impact of small businesses.

When organizers first began discussing the MC symposium, the idea was to provide a forum where successful multi-generational family business members could address unique problems and how they were overcome.

“I am not aware that another forum like this exists in Mississippi,” Jones said. “I think the program was very successful and accomplished what it set out to do. Mississippi College is a first-rate institution and brought the program together with excellence. The beautiful old historic campus provided a great setting for discussing how to encourage longevity of family businesses.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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