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Family Education: Strengthening Bonds While Learning Together Excerpt

By Amy M. Schuman and John L. Ward, Ph.D.

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Not long before Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. clinched the deal to purchase Dow Jones & Co. and the Wall Street Journal from the Bancroft family in 2007, one family member, Crawford Hill, sent an anguished, nearly 4,000-word e-mail to his relatives urging them to accept Mur-doch’s offer. Family member owners were “paying the price” for their passivity, which dated back a quarter of a century, he said.

 

In his letter, Hill recalled that neither his mother nor his grandmother, the family matriarch, “ever spoke of the legacy of Dow Jones, much less the possibility of actually working there or what it meant to be a steward of the business. There was no effort whatsoever at promoting legacy or educating the next generation.” He and his grandmother shared a love of biology, but when as a young man he accepted an offer to teach biology at the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, she stunned him by saying how disappointed she was that he was not going to join the family business. “We talked about everything under the sun…but never Dow Jones, much less why one would want to work there or learn about business strategy or how to make sure the business flourished into the future,” he wrote.
 

“Our real legacy was an inherited lack of awareness as to what it takes to nurture and pass on an effective legacy about what is really required to be responsible, engaged, and active owners of a family business,” Hill told family members.
 

If Hill’s assessment is correct, a lack of family education was in large part responsible for the Bancroft family’s loss of one of the most prestigious businesses in the world. The family had no teamwork, he concluded, and its members “never really figured out how to be owners.”
 

Sooner or later, wise business-owning families see the necessity and desirability of launching some form of education for family members. Many of them make family member education a central part of their missions. Consider, for example, the following excerpts of family mission statements from different families:

  •  “To support each individual’s efforts to develop [his or her] abilities.”
  • “To allow each person to develop his or her maximum potential in ways that serve others.”
  •  “To create an environment for lifelong learning.”
  • “To enjoy learning about business, philanthropy, and life together.”

The intentions of this booklet are to explore the purposes and benefits of family education for enterprising families, to suggest possible topics for family education and development, to note the many vehicles available to families to support their efforts, and to raise some of the important issues involved in implementing an educational program.
 

What we have found in our many years of consulting and teaching is that family education is a very powerful tool that positions the family and its business for future success. Done well, a family education program offers many benefits: helping people prepare for their future roles and responsibilities in the business and in the family, providing a way of expressing care and commitment to each individual, earning loyalty from family members that reinforces their commitment to long-term ownership and stewardship, and strengthening the bonds among family members as they learn together and share life experiences and interests.

 

Our aim is to inspire you and your family to initiate a family education effort that is distinctly your own and is suited to the specific needs of your family. If your family is already engaged in education, this booklet will provide suggestions for enhancing your learning experiences. Very specifically, you will gain ideas for establishing a program, selecting courses that can be offered, finding the right instructors, and budgeting and paying for education. You will also learn about the factors that lead to success as well as the greatest challenges you are likely to face. And you will increase your understanding of when and why members of business-owning families need to come together for education and how education evolves over time. If you have already decided you need family education but you don’t know where to begin, this booklet will get you started.
 

In many ways, family education is a team-building process. It will help the members of your family understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses. It can create a more level playing field for family members and strengthen their voices in the family and its business. It can—and, in our opinion, should—address the family as well as the business so that family members can be brought closer to one another not just to support the business, but also to reap the joy of healthier family relationships. In third and fourth generations (the “cousin” generations, when the family owners did not grow up together or in direct contact with the founding generation), we find that education can be the catalyst that enables family members to bridge old rifts and discover new friendships.
 

We have learned that the best education often comes from families sharing experiences with other families. Three chapters of this booklet and portions of other chapters provide you with knowledge that other families have gained in their own pursuit of education. What they have learned about conducting family education should be invaluable.

 

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