How can a family business survive if its patriarch kept the kids in the dark and the most capable successor doesn’t know the first thing about finance? It isn’t a story line from Dallas or Duck Dynasty. Rather, it’s an everyday dilemma for many of the 5.5 million U.S. family firms employing 63 percent of the workforce.
Academia has been slow to offer solutions, as debate raged about whether family business was worthy of scholarly pursuit. But that’s changing. Ten schools offered family business as a specialized concentration for undergraduate students studying entrepreneurship or small business in 2012, up from just two in 2002, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
“Preparing people to work in a Fortune 500 company is no longer the expectation,” says Saybrook University professor Dennis Jaffe, Ph.D. “More and more bright young people are seeing family businesses not as something to escape from, but as something to think about for their future.”
Students who grew up in a family-business environment graduate with a sense of identity and an external validation of their worth. As Stetson University professor Peter Begalla puts it, when they go back to work with the family, these students aren’t just following the family script—they’re helping write it.