A new breed of ownership

More than half the U.S. work force is employed in family-owned businesses. In fact, 78 percent of all jobs created now are at family-owned companies.

Family-owned businesses are thriving, and for the next generation poised to take leadership, you’d think those statistics would offer, at the very least, security.

Still, the generation assuming ownership in the ’90s is taking more risks than ever with the family business. Stability, and a healthy track record, make no difference. The next generation is shaking things up.

“This generation that’s coming into their own in the ’90s are more likely to change the direction of the family business than their predecessor would have been — for lots of reasons,” says Susan Hanlon, director of the Center for Family Business at the University of Akron. “They’re more educated, more sophisticated, and of course, it’s a tougher business environment. You have to change.”

Hanlon says there’s a lot more time and thought put into succession planning now, and an entire industry has sprung up around advising family businesses, including university-affiliated centers for family business, such as the one at the University of Akron. She says two-thirds of these advisers did not exist 10 years ago.

The sudden emergence of this industry is due to the millions of companies started after World War II, which have been passed off over the last decade, she says.

The industry has encouraged new levels of training and education, and the next generation is armed and ready. Many new owners have even left their family businesses to work in other companies or industries — just for the experience.

The trend of gaining experience elsewhere has led to the attitude, “‘I’ve been out and I’ve seen other things, so I don’t have this internal view of, ‘This is the way things always have been,’” says Hanlon.

“It’s just like everything else, as academic knowledge of business evolved, we’ve come to realize that family businesses are a unique situation and they have unique sorts of management needs. It’s sort of evolution of the field.” How to reach: Center for Family Business, www.uakron.edu/cba/cfb. Additional resources: Family Firm Institute, www.ffi.org; Family-Business Roundtable, fbrinc.com; The Family Business Consulting Group: www.family-biz-consults.com; Family Business Forum at Fairleigh Dickinson University, www.fdu.edu

Connie Swenson