25 Years of Educating Business Families

Conflict. Entitlement. Dysfunction.

Often the view of a family business. And unfortunately, often the outcome. But with the right education, support, resources and professional help, a family can manage conflict, professionalize, become pillars in their communities and create long-lasting sustainable businesses.

In 25 years, 1682 people from 621 family businesses have come to the University of St. Thomas Family Business Center to better their families and businesses, and become those community pillars. Learning on more than 170 topics, ranging from succession planning and conflict management, to determining pay for family members and using family capital to grow the business, families leave the center with the education to implement decisions the same day.

“We see education strengthen our family businesses across our community on the individual, family and business levels,” said University of St. Thomas Family Business Center Director Jon Keimig. “And with that, come stronger families, stronger businesses, stronger employees and a stronger economy.

“Think of the ripple effect from 25 years of educating these more than 600 business families at St. Thomas and what the impact that’s had on so many lives in our region.”

And it’s thanks to the vision of two family businesses.

In 1991, owners of family businesses and University of St. Thomas trustees, Harry McNeely and Gerry Rauenhorst, recognized the value of the business family. Their families sought education and worked with advisers to professionalize their family businesses. Realizing the impact, they provided the leadership and stewardship to launch the Family Business Center to impact other family businesses facing similar, but unique challenges.

“Our family has learned how to talk about succession, governance, strategy and the larger impact that a family business can have in a community,” said Paddy McNeely, Harry’s son and current Family Business Center Board Chair. “Some of these conversations are hard to initiate, but the center has helped us come together and talk about challenging and important topics.”

160 members of 55 family businesses learn about HR policies and paying family members at a December 2 event.

160 members of 55 family businesses learn about HR policies and what to pay family members, at a December 2, 2016 event.

In its 25 years, the center’s programming has earned the respect of experts and specialists around the world, and its benefits to the family business community are multifold and multigenerational. The families the center serves range from first generation to fifth. And families that attended decades ago, are coming back to educate the next generations of leaders.

The center was among the first of its kind in the country, and was the first to teach family business classes to students. To date, more than 300 St. Thomas students have taken classes in the discipline, with one caveat: they must bring at least one family member to class with them.

“When two or more family members attend class together, they’re better able to discuss how those concepts apply to their business family,” said Dr. Ritch Sorenson, the St. Thomas Opus Endowed Chair in Family Business. “Together, they are better able to adapt the learning to their families.We’ve seen that the ideal learning occurs when the entire business family attends class together. They hear the same things, engage in discussions with the whole family, and formulate plans together.”

As one of the top-respected centers across the country, the Family Business Center will continue its mission to educate business families, from around the Midwest.

Golf icon Jack Nicklaus shares his family business story on September 30, 2016.

Golf icon Jack Nicklaus shares his family business story on September 30, 2016.

With new programming, driven by the center’s research and the needs of family businesses, it continues to evolve and grow. 345 individuals from 98 family business attended at least one of this fall’s three Family Business Breakfast Series events to learn about getting the most out of family meetings, how to structure pay and HR policies for family members, and as a kick-off to the 25th year, heard from golf icon Jack Nicklaus, as he shared his family business story.

“I’ve participated in other business-improvement groups and seminars, and have found value in each, but the St. Thomas Family Business Center has been especially wonderful,” said Jodi Boldenow, second generation owner and CEO of Industrial Door Company, and member of the Family Business Center. “It helped us cast a vision for ourselves, our families, and has given us wonderful examples of what the multigenerational future can look like for our business.”

As the center looks forward to the next 25 years of educating business families, it looks back on the words of its founders as inspiration to continue impacting families, their businesses, employees and the economy:

“I have often said it’s very difficult to raise a family, very difficult to run a private business, and it’s geometrically more difficult to run a family business — but geometrically more rewarding, too. So if you can do it, you should." – Gerald A. Rauenhorst, founder, Opus Corp.

“To develop a business family instead of a family business, you start with education with hope that your children begin to think affirmatively about the business and the contribution the family can make to it.” – Harry G. McNeely Jr., Chair Emeritus, The Meritex Company.

For more information on the Family Business Center and its programming for family businesses across the Midwest, visit StThomas.edu/FamilyBusiness.