Krista Elo-Pärssinen is communications consultant at Eurofacts Oy, a Finnish public affairs and communications agency operating in the Baltic Sea region.
Renata Bernhoeft-Urbasch is a second generation owner and partner in Bernhoeft Consultaria, and is also a family therapist.
This year's FBN conference saw the biggest attendance in its 13-year history, with delegates from 30 countries. While the largest single delegation came from Finland, some countries, such as Brazil, showed up in record numbers. Despite being at opposite ends of the earth, both the Finns and Brazilians came to the same conclusion: the FBN conference is well worth attending and no matter where you live, family business issues are the same the world over
Over 200 Finns attended the FBN conference held in their homeland this year. Amazingly, the majority had never participated before in an FBN World Conference despite the large size of the Finnish FBN chapter. Those who had attended an FBN conference before knew that they could expect rewarding presentations, abundant international involvement and an atmosphere of cohesion and solidarity – and after attending only a few sessions, the newcomers quickly concurred.
View from the north
For Nea Vikström, third generation member of Isku, a furniture manufacturer, the conference provided more than she anticipated. "I liked the entrepreneurial grasp that the American presentations in particular brought to the occasion. However, the accumulating community responsibility being rolled over to business enterprises piqued some irritation in my mind."
For first-timer Johanna Lohivesi, third generation member of technical trader Atoy Oy, this world meeting was a positive surprise: "Regardless of who sat or stood beside me, there was always plenty to talk about. It really felt like we were all part of one big family."
In the view of the Finns, the main message of the conference was linked with company values: no matter what the enterprise, values are highly important to its success. In family businesses, long-term prosperity is propped up by a foundation of values and community responsibility is important to family enterprises.
However, the speeches remained first and foremost in the participants' minds. "The talk presented by Pekka Ala-Pietilä, President of Nokia Corporation – challenges of the global business environment for future multinational companies – left a strong impression," declared Robert Lindberg, CEO and third generation owner of Oy Ekstrom Ab, a technical trades and services business. "The same for the combined presentations of the large Finnish corporations – Ahlström, Hartwall, Fazer, Tulikivi and Oras Groups."
Lohivesi particularly liked the workshop on corporate governance and social responsibility, where the case study focused on the Australian Dennis family. "The family presented themselves quite openly and were supported by three generations telling us about their progressive environmental policies."
The workshop, The Upbringing and Education of Women Successors Across Cultures: Finland, Italy and the United States, also made an impression on Vikström, as it brought into play several new ideas for her. "I've at least raised discussion on raising children with an entrepreneurial attitude early enough. They should be taken along to the firm and given small business enterprise tasks."
The Finns were well-represented at the conference as both speakers and delegates and tried to share their Finnish culture with other delegates as much as possible. "At least one elf made by the Aarikka company left with a Lebanese delegate for the Middle East," Lohivesi revealed.
The venues also reflected Finnish culture. The conference was held at the Finlandia Hall, designed by renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The evening locations gave expression to the proximity of nature and the simplicity that represent an integral part of Finnish culture.
Lindberg noted one other Finnish dimension. "I'd like to believe that the Finnish speakers – among others, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen – succeeded in conveying an image of the relatively harmonious operational environment of our country, in which there is admittedly room for improvement; for example, in regard to income tax and inheritance-related taxation."
In the opinion of Juha Valkamo, CEO of the Primula Group, a bakery and restaurant business, the message of the Finns to the world was: "We are a straightforward group of people, who are more fun than often thought – even if we live far away from everything."
There's no doubt about it – the FBN conference is a gathering of people from very diverse backgrounds. However, it is able to unite them on one front, once a year to exchange thoughts and experiences – all while having a good bit of fun.
View from the south
The Brazilians were unanimous in theirjudgment: this year's conference was a great experience due to the warm reception, the impressive professionalism and organisation. The Brazilian delegation consisted of 20 representatives of family enterprises and professionals – the eighth largest delegation to attend the conference.
Brazil's economy is based on family business. Our latest research reveals that in 2001, 182 out of the 311 largest Brazilian groups in the private sector were owned, controlled and managed by family members. The process of opening up the economy to international competition has required these family members to act more conscientiously as shareholders, focusing on adding value to secure their standing in the marketplace
What impressed the Brazilian delegation was the relevance of the presentations. Patrice Gaidzinski, who attended the conference with her brother, is a 38-year-old psychologist and third generation member of a large tile manufacturing company founded in 1960 by her grandfather, a Polish immigrant.
"The first moment we heard the stories at one of the conference programmes of three women from Finland, Australia and Greece", she said, "I was touched and thought to myself: I am a case as well! All the questions I asked myself, the dilemmas about commitment, the aspirations and desires are reproduced here."
Despite the differences in culture, the same dynamics were in place. Solutions may vary significantly, but the presentations inspired and indicated "best practices". Or as another participant noted: "We realised, with all the presentations and case studies, that we are in fact implementing best practices considering the state of family business worldwide. And that is very rewarding."
In 1995, Patrice and her 23 cousins saw their parents change roles, from executives to board members. The third generation then recognised that they had to establish a new relationship model. They founded the 'Third Generation Association', holding monthly meetings and further their sense of mutual cohesion.
At the conference, Patrice realised the value of this initiative: "According to presenters and other families in business, family members do not need only formal education. Family members' behaviour, the stories and the possibility of communicating openly are the seed to perpetuate values. And values can play the most important role when it comes to keeping the family and the business successful."
The feedback from the entire group was positive; they were exposed to familiar issues and dilemmas, and had a chance to see new perspectives and approaches. Above all, the event revived their faith in the continuity of family businesses inspired by successful real-life cases. The FBN has come to be seen by the Brazilian participant group as an ideal forum to exchange ideas.