Business Program Aids Family Enterprise
Every family business has an origin story. Maybe it’s two brothers with an idea or a dream. Or maybe it’s a long-held legacy company, carefully passed down from one generation to the next.
Often overlooked in that narrative, however, are the intricacies of what it takes to not only start a venture with relatives, but also to sustain it.
“We as families don’t inherently have a manual on how to operate as a business-owning family,” says Kim Schneider Malek (MBA ’90), an assistant professor of the practice at the Daniels College of Business. “Nobody says, ‘Here’s what you do to balance the complexities of integrating family dynamics with ownership decision making, management strategy, succession, wealth transition, and governance and here’s how to address the inevitable conflicts that arise along the way.’”
As a matter of fact, Malek says, most families simply avoid these difficult conversations. They may regularly discuss a topic or two at the dinner table, but they never formally meet to discuss what it means to proactively create an enterprising family culture.
Funded by a $1 million donation from the Paul T. Bailey estate, the Bailey Program for Family Enterprise (BPFE) is guiding those conversations for not only those in the inner family circle, but those who work with them, including business management teams, family office executives and staff, governing boards, succession planning advisors, accountants, attorneys, wealth planners, and human capital professionals. Malek serves as the program’s inaugural director.
Since its creation in late 2019, BPFE has developed a diverse slate of start-up programs including webinars, seminars, speaker events, workshops, courses and networking opportunities to benefit students, alumni, and community stakeholders among country’s 5.5 million family businesses and more than 6,000 family offices.
“My dream for this program is that DU is known as one of the preeminent resources that provide innovative and insightful knowledge and experiences for students who come to us,” Malek says. “I want the Bailey Program for Family Enterprise to be the source of education that holistically inspires the learner to be able to go back into the family enterprise system as family member, non-family manager, or an advisor and elevate it because of the interactive and experiential way we teach — not just what we teach.”
The program’s pedagogy is rooted in an interdisciplinary approach that evolved from collaboration with the Sturm College of Law and the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP), among others.
“When you get at [the question of], ‘What are the unique strengths and challenges of family businesses?’ you can’t get away from the need to understand family systems,” says Shelly Smith-Acuña, dean of GSPP. “When you think about communication, when you think about conflict resolution, when you think about how to do long-term planning in a business that really takes into account the needs of individuals and family members, there’s just a lot of complexity there. Psychology has something really unique to add.”
In everyday work as a psychologist, Smith-Acuña says, it’s almost impossible to avoid discussions about family business. Whether it’s a prenuptial agreement or tension over a child’s chosen career path, issues around relationship and family development have ended up in her office.
Because of her position at DU and expertise in family systems, Smith-Acuña has been at the table as BPFE took shape. GSPP faculty joined professors and practitioners from other disciplines — such as finance, accounting, management, organizational development, career planning, and philanthropy —in proposing the program’s foundational content and targeted learning outcomes.
“Part of the beauty of the Bailey Program is being very intentional and explicit about maximizing the health of families and family businesses both,” she says. “The differentiator for DU is to be very thoughtful, sophisticated, cutting edge, innovative. This is expanding our knowledge of business to really saying, ‘How are family businesses unique?’”
For Marty Katz, the answer to that question is the frequent informality around some roles within a family business. Often, Katz says, people enter a family business with little to no training. Those who do may be less experienced playing psychologist or family counselor as they navigate unique interpersonal dynamics.
“Most often these things evolve with a trusted friend or someone who had been working for the family for a while,” says Katz, a professor and dean emeritus at the Sturm College of Law. He helped found BPFE with Smith-Acuña, Daniels College of Business dean Vivek Choudhury and former Daniels dean Brent Chrite. “The Bailey family had this great vision of DU as the place where we train the next generation of leadership for folks starting and running family businesses and family offices.”
Experts from the law school in tax, corporate, property, trusts and estate, international, corporate social responsibility and family law, have provided BPFE learners with crucial insight into legally complex planning practices that secure, sustain and grow multigenerational family businesses and family offices, many of which employ attorneys.
The Bailey Program’s success lies in its balanced approach, Katz says, as well as its funding. The $1 million gift from the Bailey family offers financial leeway as DU tinkers with ways to provide the best possible educational experience while simultaneously building necessary infrastructure, engaging renowned content experts and guest faculty and launching innovative multi-mode programs.
Malek originally began to learn about the family enterprise specialty from her father, Frank Schneider (BSBA ’55, MBA ’60) who team taught a family business management course with professors from DU’s School of Accountancy and the Graduate School of Social Work. After earning her own DU degree and working in the cable programming industry, Malek took a lengthy backpacking trip around southeast Asia, where she soaked up the stories of local family business entrepreneurs. When she returned, she turned down a job offer to return to the cable industry so she could partner with her father and, ultimately, advance the emerging field of family enterprise education and consulting forward.
The Bailey Program also partners with established programming providers such as Entrepreneurship@DU and the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce as well as the University of Denver Parent Leadership Council.
“We’re committed to offering education, experiences and engagement opportunities that allow all BPFE learners who affect and are affected by family enterprise to make and support decisions, so their business thrives, family flourishes, and community benefits from the resulting economic, job creation and social contributions,” Malek says. “We strive to be the go-to resource for relevant knowledge, shared insights, and proven practices for the enterprising families and DU students who embrace the value of lifelong learning and create a culture that encourages it.