All in the family

- September 29, 2010

Elaine Sibson
Elaine Sibson is the executive director of the newly established Centre for Family Business and Regional Prosperity at Dalhousie. (Nick Pearce Photo)

In the Maritimes, names such as Bragg, Sobey, McCain, Irving, Shaw and Oland put the boots to the old adage that family and business don’t mix. Giants of the region’s economy, these families operate successful businesses, some with roots going back generations.

Yet operating a family business often comes with its own unique set of challenges.

“As with all things, there are positives and negatives,” says Ian Wilson, president of Wilson Fuel Co. Limited, a business that has been in his family for eight generations. “It can feel very personal. Your identity gets wrapped up in the business and, of course, there are family dynamics that come into play.

“On the flip side, you can be a lot more patient and content to take the longer term view in terms of business operations.”
Gaining a better understanding of how family businesses differ from other enterprises is the main goal of the newly established Centre for Family Business and Regional Prosperity.  Created by Dalhousie’s Faculty of Management, in partnership with both the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise (CAFE) and the Gaspé Beaubien Business Family Foundation (BFF), the centre aims to be a catalyst for research and education.

Succession planning

“There is an opportunity here to work together to learn, and to provide resources and tools to help businesses navigate through difficult issues,” says Mr. Wilson, who chairs the centre’s board.

Prior to working as the executive director of the centre, Elaine Sibson was a chartered accountant for more than 20 years and the past chair of the Canadian Tax Foundation. In those roles Ms. Sibson saw first hand the problems that can arise in family-run businesses during times of transition, such as when a business does not plan for succession.

“Over the next 10 years we will see a time of huge change for many of these family businesses as the baby boomers retire. For many of them, they are suddenly faced with having to figure out how to do that. Our goal is to help them make that transition,” says Ms. Sibson.

Whether it’s a small “mom and pop” operation or a large commercial enterprise, family-run businesses often face similar challenges when it comes to dealing with change.

Oland family

Supporting family-run enterprises through executive learning and training programs, such as the RoadMap program created by the Business Family Foundation (BFF) which helps businesses create a long-term plan for change and growth, will be on the centre’s agenda. The centre will also create a resource centre and network of like-minded organizations and advisors, people who can be called on to sit on an advisory board, offering practical experience on family business issues.

“I’m a big supporter of the idea of establishing advisory boards. We want to put together a roster of people who can sit on such a board. That is something that could make a huge difference,” she says.

On Wednesday, Sept. 29, the Centre for Family Business and Regional Prosperity sits down to celebrate the way families do ... by gathering around a dinner table at University Hall. Members of the Derek Oland family, owners of Moosehead Breweries, will be the guest of honour.

As well, on Thursday, Sept. 30, stay tuned for a major announcement regarding financial support of the centre.

LINK: Centre for Family Business and Regional Prosperity


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