Family Biz 101: Schools That Actually Prepare You for Your Stint in a Family Jewelry Store

Ready to take the reins at your parents’ jewelry store? Hone your business and interpersonal skills at these universities before you step behind the counter.

Plenty of independent jewelry stores are family operations, but what happens when a founder’s vision gets passed on to his or her children and future generations?

“Mixing business and family piles on another layer of complexity because family dynamics are added to the equation,” says David Ketchen Jr., executive director of the Lowder Center for Family Business & Entrepreneurship at Auburn ­University. Auburn is one of a handful of colleges and universities looking at their business and management programs and realizing there’s a demand for education that addresses these kinds of issues. Some of the schools offer majors in family business management; others let students graduate with a minor, concentration, or ­certificate in the specialty.

“A lot of the focus in business schools lately has been entrepreneurship,” says Daniel Van Der Vliet, executive director of the Smith Family Business Initiative at Cornell University. “There are ­probably less than 100 courses on family business in the U.S.”

Students in these programs generally learn business basics—budgeting, operations, cash flow, hiring and firing—albeit the emphasis is geared toward businesses where interpersonal relationships are truly personal. Can you tell your sister her inventory-management skills need work? Can you tell your uncle to lay off the expensive client lunches? What happens when a relative without the needed skills wants in—or when one who is a valued employee wants out?

“Family business education makes students aware of how key issues such as choosing an heir apparent and creating a succession plan can be handled constructively and with a minimum of family drama,” Ketchen says.

JCK surveyed the options at six of the best-known college and university programs offering academic courses on family business:

Just a corner of Auburn’s 1,875-acre campus

Auburn University  
Lowder Center for Family Business & Entrepreneurship
Auburn, Ala.
• Undergraduate major

Ketchen says Auburn switched to an approach that incorporates the family aspect of running a business throughout the curriculum, rather than having one or more dedicated courses.

“Based on feedback from our students and alumni, we shifted to discussing family business issues within each of our courses,” he says. “This results in an integrated rather than isolated treatment of family business.”

In addition to a major, Ketchen says the school would like to be able to add an undergraduate minor in the future.

Kennesaw State University
Cox Family Enterprise Center
Kennesaw, Ga.
• Undergraduate minor/concentration/certificate (coming in 2016)
• Executive education

The Cox Family Enterprise Center, part of ­Kennesaw’s Coles College of Business, offers the Family Executive MBA, an 18-month course of study that includes nine six-day residencies every other month, six at the university and three chosen by the class. These are supplemented by an online curriculum.

For business owners who can’t commit to the travel and expense of an executive MBA program, there is a two-and-a-half-day intensive program based on the longer program’s curriculum.

Starting next year, the center plans to bring undergraduates into the fold. In 2016, the university will offer a certificate program in family business management. “That way family business owners can send their kids, and they’ll graduate with a certificate in family business,” says executive director Gaia Marchisio.

Marchisio says the center also recognizes local family enterprises with its Georgia Family Business of the Year awards, a tradition launched more than two decades ago. Awards are given for businesses in various size categories as well as ones with more than a 100-year history.

Cornell University
Smith Family Business Initiative
Ithaca, N.Y.
• Undergraduate minor/concentration/certificate (in development)

Cornell put a toe in the water last year with its new Smith Family Business Initiative. A family business club for students interested in the field currently has around 75 members, and the university plans to roll out its first undergraduate course specializing in family business this fall.

“What we’re hoping to do is be able to offer courses, programs, and opportunities to help ­students in a family business learn more about why they’re unique and help them understand their own role,” says executive director Daniel Van Der Vliet.

The next step will be to add two to four additional courses so that undergraduates can graduate with a family business concentration in addition to their own major, he says. Course material would cover topics like business formation, estate planning, and succession management.

“As far as a degree program, I would love for there to be one,” Van Der Vliet says. “We want to be able to answer the question, ‘How do we get this beyond the founder and sustain it into the second, third, and fourth generation?’?”

Saginaw Valley State University
The Stevens Center for Family Business
University Center, Mich.
• Undergraduate minor/concentration/certificate
• Executive education

At SVSU, the first bachelor’s degree holders with a concentration in family business management will graduate in 2017.

“When we were putting our program together a few years ago, I did a lot of research into family business management education,” says management and marketing department chair Deborah Bishop. She found a handful of courses, but most didn’t seem to be a good fit. “Many were combined with entrepreneurship. There is quite a distinction between the two.” 

Bishop says if students show enough interest in the program, SVSU might develop a standalone family business management major. The Stevens Center also offers classes for professionals. Business owners who become paid members of the center get access to workshops, a resource library, and networking and discussion groups, plus larger events during the year.

A statue of Saint Joseph at his namesake university

Saint Joseph’s University
Initiative for Family Business and Entrepreneurship
• Undergraduate major
• Undergraduate minor/concentration/certificate
• Executive education

Saint Joseph’s has a broad range of offerings that include an undergraduate major and minor in family business and entrepreneurship as well as executive education through its Initiative for Family Business and Entrepreneurship.

The undergrad curricula teach students how to cope with day-to-day management, challenges, and growth and innovation, all with a focus on how the nature of the business world affects a family enterprise.

The executive education is offered on a membership basis; participants have access to a year-round series of presentations, workshops, roundtables, webinars, and networking events.

Stetson University’s 107-year-old Sampson Hall

Stetson University
Family Enterprise Center
DeLand, Fla.
• Undergraduate major
• Undergraduate minor/concentration/certificate

Stetson’s 15-year-old program is the oldest and most extensive in the country for undergraduate students interested in family business management.

“We developed the second minor and the first major,” says Family Enterprise Center director Gregory McCann, adding that when the student population is surveyed, more than four in 10 of the university’s business majors come from families who own a business.

McCann says the major aims to help graduates align the opportunities available to them in the family business with what they want out of a career, and learn to professionalize their relationships with family members.

Many graduates don’t go back to their own family’s firm right away, but when they do return, they’re equipped with the skills to navigate the complex issues that can arise, McCann says.

“Can you sit down with your folks and talk about, ‘Will I become an owner? What’s in your estate plan?’?” he asks. “We integrate the personal and professional.”

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