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Next gens take centre stage

Does this sound familiar? "When I joined the family business took on a unique role. There was no one in the same situation could talk to or go to for advice. Most of my friends find it hard to see I have problems, they just see me as privileged because have a family business to work in and they have to struggle in their corporate careers. So for me, and most people working within the family business, it is a big asset to meet other people in the same situation as you who simply understand," says Thilo Wersborg, vice president of the Family Business Network's Next Generation committee.

The committee, which brings together next generation members of business-owning families aged between 18 and 40, is designed to help people like Thilo. Organising the next generation activities are the nine members of the committee. They are from across the globe and represent a diverse mix of roles within the family business, as Thilo explains: "We have people who are in the business, people who are outside the business and those who haven't decided yet. We try to have a committee that represents all the different shades of the family business network."

Their main aim is to bring together next generation members from all over the world who can share their experiences, learn from each other and utilise the next generation network to develop their own business and skills.

The committee organises three events a year with anything from 50 to 150 members attending. Networking is a vital aspect of these events. It is important for next generation members to have a support network because their situations are quite unique and often present challenges that are not understood by many. "It is important to have a network where next generation members can meet peers they can talk to. They often find out that some of the challenges, fears and hopes they have are not specific to them but specific to their role," Thilo explains. 

Aside from networking much of the conferences are focused on education, but with a very specific family business theme. To ensure the sessions are tailored to family business needs the committee use specific family examples as well as expert business speakers. Thilo says: "A family will get up and tell their story. They will say this is how we started, this is the problem and this is how we solved it. So you learn both the theory and a practical example."

Although he is careful to point out they understand every business is different: "Everybody understands that although it is a completely different family and business the challenges we face are often the same and it is very interesting to see how someone else did it. First it makes you feel good because you don't feel so alone in the world, then you also see there are ways to tackle the problems you are facing."

An informal way for members to learn from the previous generation is through CEO roundtables. "We visit a company and the older family member shows us the company, then we get together and talk about stuff. They often give us advice and can talk more freely than at the conferences because the setting is private," Thilo says.

Business education is not all about leadership skills and problem solving though, especially in business families; philanthropy plays a hugely important role in the lives of next generation members and this is reflected in the actions of the committee. "Although there are a lot of challenges that come with owning a family business, in most cases there are also a lot of privileges," Thilo says. "Young people should understand that the real joy in life is not only spending money but giving it away, helping others and doing charity work."

As part of the programme at the main next generation events delegates are offered a social entrepreneur day where they visit projects that their money is helping. "In India we went to visit a school for children who are HIV positive. We also saw a company that recycles garbage and makes useful things from it then sells it for a bargain price to the local people. It is a very important part of what we do. You cannot be a great leader without understanding your role in philanthropy and engaging in philanthropy helps you become a great leader."

In fact, the importance of philanthropy seems to be increasing within the next generation. "A lot of the family businesses are so big that a sizeable part of the next generation are more involved with philanthropy than with running the actual business," Thilo adds.

Other training programmes run by the committee include Building the Future, an international programme that offers members the opportunity to work for a family business in another country, and Making a Difference, a programme specifically about philanthropic opportunities.

For more information about the next generation international committee or becoming a next generation member see

To keep up-to-date with the latest news about next generation members of the world's leading family businesses, visit

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