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For family businesses by family businesses: Formation of the Institute for Family Business in the UK

Barbara Murray (BM): Why have you established the Institute for Family Business (UK)?
Alexander Scott (AS): The Institute of Family Business (IFB), has been established by UK family companies who perceive that there's an opportunity to learn from each other's experiences. The group will bring together owners of family businesses in a forum where they can meet each other and exchange best practice and knowledge relating to key issues they face.

BM: What are these key issues?
Grant Gordon (GG): Family businesses in the UK often find it hard to access information relating to those aspects of their enterprises that are particularly influenced by their family-owned status. We are referring to issues such as preparing the transition of the next generation to take over the reins; getting the right corporate governance in place; the resolution of conflict in the family if it arises; and leveraging the benefits that are inherent to this form of business enterprise.

BM: Who and what are the driving forces behind the establishment of IFB?
AS: The approach we have taken is that IFB has been created 'forfamily business byfamily business'. This means that our group has been set up by family business owners who are together shaping the agenda that we will follow in the years ahead. We recognise and welcome support from other interested parties, such as consultants and academics who are specialists in the field and have engaged their advise on how to shape our group. The overall guiding principle, however, is that we will be directed by our members and these are principally the family companies themselves.

BM: What type of activities will you be providing to your members?
GG: We have received a lot of input from the family companies on this point. There are broadly three types of activity we think our members want. The first area is networking so that families can meet each other. We also aim to support the building of knowledge and learning programmes for UK families in business and we are in consultation with leading academics in the field on how to achieve this goal. Another area is to establish a programme for the younger generation to provide member families with opportunities to further the learning and skills of their future leaders.

BM: Learning and knowledge is your main focus?
GG: Yes, at the forefront of the IFB's mission is that the group has been established to help family businesses ensure their success and sustainability. To achieve this, family companies want to develop deeper and clearer understanding of the unique challenges they face and thereby improve their own ability to shape their futures. This is why so much of the accent will be placed upon education and training.

BM: Given the geographical diversity of the UK, does IFB plan to operate as a national group? How will you encourage interest in the Regions?
AS: IFB has been established to help family firms of all size, sector and stage of development to build on their track record of success and stay at the forefront of today's modern entrepreneurial society irrespective of where they may be located. We don't draw any distinction in terms of where companies are based throughout the UK and aim to operate as a national group. At the same time to support grass roots regional activity we already have plans for a series of local chapters covering some of the English Regions and Scotland. In the long term we hope to have regional groups covering the length and breadth of the United Kingdom responding to the needs and wishes of our members.

BM: How will the regional chapters be structured and what benefits do they offer their members?
GG: Usually a local family business activist takes the lead in recruiting a group of interested owners and forming a steering committee to mobilise support. The chapters also try to reach out to interested academic institutions in their locality to seek their support and interest. The most vital ingredient, however, is the membership itself where the family businesses themselves come forward to sign up and join the group. The members will automatically benefit by being able to network with other family companies in their locality to discuss and exchange best practice and talk about their experiences.

BM: What does IFB do at both national and international level?
AS: The IFB's national headquarters has a small staff to support the members needs and coordinate activities with the regions. The secretariat's job is also to organise the national conference and any other programmes the group wishes to activate on behalf of the members. Internationally we are formally recognised as the UK chapter for the Family Business Network. Being a member of this group allows our members to have access through conferences and other means to over 2000 family business members worldwide and to other Family Business Network resources, such as its website and the young generation jobexchange programme.

BM: What links does IFB have in the UK to organisations that support, and are generally interested in, the development of family firms?
GG: At the very outset we set up an Advisory Council made up of members who are significant stakeholders in the family business sector. The mission of the Council is to advise IFB on what steps we should be considering to achieve our overall goal in support of family business throughout the UK. Representation on the Council is spread mainly between distinguished academics from UK business schools and prominent advisors who have achieved a high status through the services they provide to their family business clients.

BM: How will IFB maintain independence – assuming this is your intention?
AS: We aim to stress the independence of the group, which is a not-for-profit organisation. We want to achieve financial independence through the member fees which are our major source of funding. We will accept outside funding from commercial supporters to help underwrite our activities programme. We want to be able to provide a high quality experience to our members at these events.

BM: What is the long term vision you have for IFB and where do you see the family business sector in the UK ten year's from now?
AS: IFB has been created to support the ongoing development of a dynamic family owned business sector in the United Kingdom. This sector is already making a powerful and enduring contribution to the overall economy. Ten years from now we'll see a UK family business sector that is thriving and that enjoys a positive reputation for the impact that the companies within the sector contribute on an overall basis. Generally, family business in the UK is stronger and is helped when it has a better appreciation of the special issues that the sector faces. It's stronger when it has more knowledge of the strengths inherent in this form of ownership and is able to exploit these strengths to the advantage of the companies. Last, but not least, there will be a next generation of highly trained and talented entrepreneurs ready to take on the mantle of responsibility in their family companies. 

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