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The role of family

Our adventures in family business began when we held our first 1-day seminar on succession. It has now been running for 15 years.

The international aspect began in 1993 when we organised the 4th Annual World Conference at Bocconi University in Milan, in conjunction with The Family Busines Network (FBN). The main Conference included approximately 80 delegates with 7 small workshops – ideal for group discussions. It also included the first Research Forum in the history of FBN, with 8 paper presentations. There was a general air of excitement from both family businesses and associated professionals in the knowledge that this was something new and enterprising.

Eight years later we have the pleasure to be involved again, as academic hosts, together with the Italian Association of Family Firms (AIdAF), in the organisation of the 12th Annual FBN Conference 2001 taking place in Rome this October.

The field of family business has grown enormously since 1993. The figures for the FBN conference show the extent of the growth.

- 400–500 expected delegates from 40 countries and four continents;
- 20 workshops as part of the main Conference (61 proposed);
- Approximately 30 paper and PhD presentations for the Research Forum (59 proposed);
- Presenters from around the world, representing Europe, the Americas, Australia and Asia.

From a quality perspective, the FBN Conference programme and attendance reflect how the internal and external context of family business has developed. The Research Forum has grown in parallel with research itself, in terms of the number of researchers and institutions involved, the variety of topics, research methods and other disciplinary perspectives. The main Conference features contributions from the various infrastructures of family businesses that have proliferated over the years. These include family firms' national associations, such as AIdaF, that have been created for educational and lobbying purposes in several countries within Europe and outside, consulting firms and financial institutions, now offering an increasingly broad range of services. Last, but not least, the number of family business delegates from both the leading and next generation has increased considerably. This demonstrates how owning families are progressively aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are keen to meet others who are encountering similar experiences –from other countries as well as their own.

We can read analogous trends through our family business experience with Bocconi University Business School. Research has been conducted on a broad range of issues from family business values and management succession to strategic and organisational change, ownership transitions, governance systems and their dynamics, financial products for business and families, growth and internationalisation strategies, estate taxes, succession agreements and related law. In parallel with this research, a network of associates have been developed with relevant stakeholders in the field such as national and international business schools, eg IESE, employers' associations, consulting companies, investment banks, and auditors.

The training aspect began with the fore-mentioned one-day seminar on succession and then evolved into a more articulated package for different target audiences (young successors, entrepreneurs, but also family and non-family directors and managers, non-managing shareholders and professionals working for family business). The courses vary in length, from evening seminars to an MBA for successors, and are all available on the open market and on a tailor-made basis for single families or companies. Partnerships with international business schools like Loyola and Kellogg have seen the introduction of recent courses on successors'development and strategic renewal.

The field of family business, however, is far from a consolidated one. There is still a lot of work out there for those serving family business needs. A solid knowledge base exists, but there are many issues that still require research, and further collaboration between experts working in different countries and different disciplines. More progress needs to be made to recognise these issues in the academic world. Steps forward are being made but more frequently family business issues tend to be overlooked. From a macroeconomic viewpoint, family business has become more legitimate, but the debate on long-term sustainability is still in question. A number of law reforms are still needed at both national and international level.

This year's Conference theme is 'The Role of Family in Family Business'. It will be a good opportunity for family business members, researchers and practitioners to reflect together on the many angles of family-firm relationships – the main goal being to discover what makes a family a strength or a weakness for the company. This will be done by exploring the variety of roles that family and single family members can play in cultural and business contexts. A significant part of the Conference will be a number case studies addressing experiences from members of family offices.

Experience has shown that one of the most relevant issues in the protection of both business and family success is to maintain a flexible approach, ie to recognise that the family role is something that may evolve over generations. New associates and partners from outside the family may join the business, family members' roles may change, and family members may even leave the company altogether.

It will be an enriching experience to see how the role of the family has evolved and resulted in successful, albeit differing, family business models from all over the world. We thank all the families and colleagues that are helping to make this happen in Rome. 

conference, fbn, role of family, rome
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