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Family Enterprise turns 15; celebrates global reach

FECIn 1998, skeptics questioned both the need and staying power of a center wholly devoted to family business, even though the idea was proposed by Paul Dascher, Ph.D., then dean of Stetson University’s School of Business Administration.

They were wrong on both counts.

Now 15 years old, Stetson’s Family Enterprise Center (FEC) is a beacon of global influence for family businesses and a powerful training base for the next generation of family business leaders.

“We’re on the world stage and the work we do is disseminated to family enterprises globally,” said Thomas Schwarz, D.B.A., dean of the School of Business Administration. “For a small institution like Stetson, that is no small feat.”

FEC will celebrate its anniversary with an Oct. 30 dinner for students and its community of supporters.

Greater confidence in the need for the new center came on the heels of its creation when a published survey revealed unknown facts that raised eyebrows: significant numbers of Stetson students not only sprang from family business homes, but also expected to have careers in the family business.

About half the business majors came from a family that owned its own business, as did a third of the entire student body.

“Suddenly we saw the giant elephant in the room – family business. Almost no school had recognized that,” recalled Greg McCann, J.D., a business law and ethics professor who Dascher asked to create what is today’s Family Enterprise Center. “Very quickly we realized that all these students have this profound common issue in their lives, and we asked ourselves, ‘Why haven’t we helped them?’”

Today, the question is moot.

Still a relative youngster, the FEC’s influence penetrates academic institutions across the continent and beyond the hemisphere as its success is emulated and its achievements mount. It offered the country’s second family business minor, then a major – the country’s first. It has garnered numerous prestigious awards, national and international, as has the “holistic model” created by McCann and advisors, and adopted by many similar programs.

At the core of the model is development of the next generation of family business leaders. Its strategy is fixed in a strong trifold foundation of teaching, research and outreach.

“All the pieces affect one another,” says McCann, now FEC director.

The first course for a Stetson Family Enterprise major requires each student to create a dynamic life plan. As students advance, the life plan grows to include continuing dialogues with family, mentors, and intern work experience. Refined by one-on-one coaching with faculty, the plan becomes a portfolio of confidence, understanding and vision that demonstrates their worth in the marketplace.

That plan, graduates say, changes lives.

Research by FEC scholars permeates the fabric of America’s family enterprises as current data and experience is mined by faculty and associates, then analyzed to improve teaching and outreach.

Outreach itself takes many forms, but is epitomized by the Transitions Conference, held each year in Florida and California and co-hosted in partnership with Family Business Magazine. The conferences attract a broad-based gathering of foremost family business figures to engage, learn and teach one another. All through the year, members of the FEC faculty are involved in seminars, workshops, consults and speaking engagements at universities and family businesses. (Pictured at the Transitions Conference in Orlando in 2012, Caroline Davis, director of Keller Enterprises of Alexandria, La., participates in a large group discussion, while Jesse Brotz, a Scotia Investments Limited shareholder, listens. That holding company is based in Nova Scotia.)

It would have amazed those 1998 skeptics to know that a group of European universities recently asked the FEC to assume the role of knowledge partner in an international research consortium focused on family enterprise.

Just to be asked, said Schwarz, illustrates the lead worldwide role of the FEC. “As I travel the world and meet colleagues, Stetson’s Family Enterprise Center is a point of pride.”

by Ronald Williamson