Family business issues have been around since Cain and Abel.

The University of Cincinnati's Goering Center for Family & Private Business hasn't been around that long, but next year it will mark a quarter century of helping hundreds of Tristate family businesses navigate through thorny issues of succession, leadership and communication.

The list includes some of the region's best-known names such as Graeter, LaRosa and Busken. The Goering Center is among the largest, oldest and most diversified of more than 40 university-based family business centers in North America.

Last year it conducted more than 50 different training sessions. Its core family membership grew to 232 firms, up from fewer than 100 five years ago and more than halfway to its goal of 350 family companies by 2015.

Certificate Program

Best known for its community outreach, such as its Next Generation Institute on succession, it has expanded recently into academic research. This year, it began offering a 12-credit-hour family business certificate program through the university.

The first-of-its-kind family business certificate program was made possible by the $1 million endowed professorship from John and the late Gloria Goering, founders of the Goering Center.

Next fall, the certificate program will be open to non-UC students who want to deepen their understanding of family business either as a member of a family concern or a service provider such as an accountant or attorney looking to develop their expertise.

Three Keys to Success

Offering these three elements "” community outreach, research and formal education "” makes the Goering Center unique among the university-based family business centers in North America, says Larry Grypp, Goering Center president.

Still, he says, "We're just scratching the surface of the number of businesses we could help."

UC's market research has identified more than 4,000 family businesses in the Tristate with five or more employees and more than $1 million in revenue, says Grypp, the former CEO of Western & Southern Financial Group's Lafayette Life Insurance Co.

Although the center's title includes family and private businesses, Grypp says the focus is overwhelmingly on the family enterprise.

Complicated Relationships

They come in all shapes and sizes "” from small mom-and-pop shops to multi-national corporations. There are an estimated 5.5 million family businesses in the United States, and they employ more than 60 percent of U.S. workers, according to the advocacy group Family Enterprise USA.

"A family business has every issue that a non-profit, a publicly traded company or sole proprietorship has, but with the overlay of the family on it," says Grypp. "It can be complicated and messy."

To illustrate he draws three interlocking circles on a sheet of paper. In one circle is the family; in another are the employees of the business and in the third are the owners of the business. It creates seven different subgroups within the family business, each with its own set of dynamics and interests.

"For example, you could have an in-law who is not employed by the business, or an owner of the business but they have influence on others in the system," he says.

The complexity increases with the number of generations.

"Every family business is unique," he says. "But they have common problems."

It's something John Goering has known all his life.

The 79-year-old retired UC accounting professor grew up in Fairview and worked in the meatpacking business operated by his father and uncle.

He also helped run two other businesses with his two older brothers, Erlanger Lumber, and a Los Angeles-based manufacturing company.

It was those experiences and his exposure to other family businesses during his teaching career that included eight years as registrar that drew him to the dynamics of family businesses.

"We pretty much saw eye-to eye and got along well," Goering says of his family's businesses. "At the same time, I saw through friends and acquaintances with other family businesses some of the struggles there were between generations and between siblings."

After he retired from the university in 1981, Goering approached Leonard Aronoff, who was then dean of the business school, about making a gift to create a family business center.

ON THE SAME PAGE

Goering, who continues to serve as chairman of the center's board of directors, says there's one thing every successful family business needs.

"Communication is most important," he says. "So everyone has a full understanding and is on the same page on the relationship of the business to the family and the family to the business."

A key element in the Goering Center's success is its network of more than 100 volunteers, including professionals such as accountants and lawyers, and family business members who help run training programs.

"With a staff of four and a couple of interns, there's a limit to what we can do, but by leveraging our volunteers and family business members we can make a difference," says Grypp.

"We get calls all the time from businesses asking: We have a problem, can you help us? We're not consultants who can come in and work one-on-one with a business, but we do have educational programs that can help."

Sid Barton, who holds the Goering Center's endowed professorship in family and private business and served as executive director of the center for its first 20 years, says, "The center couldn't exist way it does without volunteers. We also have a lot of family business volunteers. They really make the center go."

Early on, he says, the center adapted an approach that allows service providers such as accounting and law firms to provide expertise, but not solicit members for business.

Developing Research

The center gives service providers exposure to family businesses without compromising it as a safe haven where members can talk freely about issues.

The center's access to family businesses and service providers also is important to developing its research in the field, Barton says.

"What we can do is utilize the constituents and members of the Goering Center for research.

"It's very difficult for most academics to get access to real practitioners. It's a real opportunity and competitive advantage we have."

A couple of research topics at UC have been accepted by leading journals.

One published last March in the Journal of Family Business Strategy focused on the value of independent boards for improving decision-making in family businesses.

This spring, the center will launch a new Roadmap Institute, using material from the Montreal-based Business Families Foundation, which has extensive education expertise on nurturing business families as opposed to just their businesses.

Also this spring, the Goering Center will move from the Lindner School along with six other business school affiliated centers to expanded space just off campus at the new University Square at the Loop commercial development between Calhoun and McMillan streets.

Founder's Legacy

In addition, Goering has made another $1 million matching gift to assure the center's future programming, provide scholarships and support research efforts.

Goering says he's happy to do it because the center has exceeded his expectations over the last two decades.

"It's my legacy," he says. "I've put more time, effort and money into the center than anything else I've done."
 

 
 

1 Outline policies on employment, ownership, compensation, , conflict resolution, and personal as well as corporate responsibility.

2 Develop, update and communicate a strategic plan that continuously measures results.

3 Develop and execute an employee performance management system. Include up-to-date job descriptions, goals and timely feedback and evaluations.

4 Implement leadership development plans for key positions and possible successors.

5 Establish either a board of advisers or board of directors that includes non-family members.

6 Create contingency and estate plans. Be specific about the organization's response to disability, death or voluntary resignation of owners and key officers.

7 Create retirement plans for owners that address lifetime security.

8 Experience continuous financial success over time in sales and profit growth.

9 Create a Family Council to communicate business and
family issues that will inevitably arise in the company.

10 Encourage company and individual community service by family members and employees.