Family Business: IDEAL Industries
Role: Development & Education Committee Chair, Fund Co-manager
Institute: Stewardship Institute Alumna, Family Business Center
The journey begins
In January, I graduated from Loyola’s Family Business Stewardship Institute (FBSI). For anyone who doesn’t know, this program brings together a group of business owning family members and gives them training in six areas: relationships, governance, leadership, finance, strategy, and transitions. Six other IDEAL family members have gone through the program; I was the seventh.
My class totaled 14 people, the largest in the program’s history. A couple of my peers were unable to attend every module due to personal conflicts, but I was amazed at how close our group became after 18 months together.
We had everyone from CEOs to estranged family members with no involvement in the business (but who had lots of questions). During every module, I learned something new. My fellow classmates shared stories that made me think about my own family business history. They made me ask: why we do things the way we do? Very often I was thankful to the generations of family leaders who came before me; thankful for their insight. Other classmates talked about challenges. About how difficult it can be to convince family members to embrace change: to understand the importance of a family assembly or the value of professional outside directors.
Even though my own family business has a fairly mature governance system, I still came away from each module with a deeper understanding of what we do as an ownership group. There were things I felt I could do better. Ideas I could bring back to our group. I learned how to look at financials from a different perspective, other ways to set up governance structures, what business strategy is really about and how it relates to families and personal lives (maybe my favorite module).
The most dramatic thing I gained, by far, was building friendships and spending time with other family business owning people. At every meeting, I’d interact with my peers and those interactions would keep me thinking for the three months until our next meeting. For anyone who has not spent time talking with others who own family businesses, I cannot express how valuable it is. I’m sure we’ve all experienced those moments when you’re not comfortable sharing details; when it seems impossible to explain what it’s like. I’m telling you: the ability to talk in an environment that was confidential – where I came back again and again to engage with my classmates – was invaluable. For me, there was a freedom in FBSI that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
The value of peer-to-peer learning
By the end, I had friends from class who I felt knew me better than some of my friends from home. During our last meeting together, everyone gave a presentation – what transitions would each of us face as a business, as a family, and as individuals? And what strategies would we use to address these transitions? Over half of our group cried during this experience – even people who normally withheld emotion. The honesty, vulnerability, and candor with which everyone came to the table astounded me. One man, the last to present, announced a life changing decision made by his business’s ownership group. A decision that would take effect the next day and would affect his family for generations to come. Our group rallied around him. We listened and provided a balanced and positive perspective. In much less dramatic form, we did this with every person in turn.
All of my classmates brought their own valuable insights to the group; as an in-law I was able to contribute my own unique perspective. At the beginning of the program, I learned that one of my classmates didn’t see the value of in-laws in the business. Or in governance… in fact, he didn’t think in-laws should be allowed in any role. We had a conversation during an in-class exercise on relationships and difficult communication and by the end of the exercise, something had shifted. We understood that each family member, married-in or blood related, can contribute to the good of the family and the business. It was my first meaningful moment in FBSI. Going through this experience together and getting to know me changed his thinking completely. A 180° shift.
I took so much away from the experience at FBSI. I found a clearer understanding of what I personally wanted to contribute to my family and our business – and I developed the tangible means to go about doing it. Most importantly though, I had the fortune to make deep connections with my fellow classmates. It’s been about four months since we graduated and I think about them often – about our time together, sharing and learning. I miss them! Guess it’s time for a reunion!
Learn more about the Family Business Stewardship Institute