Sauder's Business Families Centre provides tools for multi-generational success

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Family dynamics can be tough. Even tougher is running a business with mom, dad or siblings. Clashes over who’s the boss, sharing profits and setting growth targets have toppled many a successful family enterprise.

In fact, only 30 per cent of family businesses survive into the second generation – a sobering fact, given 80 per cent of businesses in Canada are owned or operated by families.

To improve the odds, UBC's Sauder School of Business established theBusiness Families Centre (BFC) in 2001 with the involvement of more than 30 founding families, including those of Brandt Louie, Gordon and Leslie Diamond and Peter Bentley. BFC integrates services, education and research to address issues including governance, relationships, wealth preservation and succession.

The Road Map seminars, for example, provide family members with practical tools to chart a course for multi-generational success. Last fall, BFC unveiled Canada’s first national database to foster family business research and innovation. In addition, BFC pioneered the 10-month Family Enterprise Advisor Program (FEAP), now in its fourth year. Designed for lawyers, accountants, bankers, therapists and other family advisors, FEAP builds on their technical skills with strategies specific to the family enterprise.

This spring, FEAP graduated two groups of 30 students each in Toronto and Vancouver. One of the Toronto grads is Nora Jones – ranked RBC’s top private banker in Canada.

“I was curious to see how one could systematically study this complex labyrinth of family influences and determine how it impacts the business,” says Jones, who acts as a “personal chief financial officer” to high net worth RBC clients and their families, delivering sophisticated banking, investment and credit solutions.

“I have already started to talk to clients in a more meaningful way about dynamics in their businesses. Interestingly, many clients are surprised that anyone outside of the family recognizes the complexity and inherent conflicts that they face on a daily basis, due to the ‘family’ aspect of their business.”

Jones holds an MBA in finance and accounting along with designations that include chartered accountant, chartered financial analyst, trust and estate practitioner and certified financial planner. She has found in her two decades of doing tax work and her current role as a private banker that business owners are “profoundly affected by decisions that were made by their parents, decisions that they are making now for their own children and by relationships – often with legacy issues – with other family members.”

Identifying the conflicts and synergies among and between family members is a challenging exercise, says Jones. However, the FEAP curriculum at Sauder's Business Families Centre has helped to fill those knowledge gaps.

“The main skill that I acquired through the program was the ability to identify the different ‘buckets’ or circles into which business family members belong – first as members of a family, second as owners of a business and, lastly, as management decision-makers for the business. This course has shown me that this type of analysis is not only possible but can be an incredibly rewarding process for family members.”