Transitions 2011 Family Business Conference

This past Thursday, I spoke at Transitions 2011, a family business conference. The event was hosted by Family Business Magazine and the Stetson University Family Enterprise Center at the Grand Bohemia Hotel in Orlando, Florida.

I was part of a three person panel that discussed the power of the family legacy and brand. The panel was moderated by Saybrook University professor, Dennis Jaffe, Ph.D., and included Tim Hussey, President and CEO of Hussey Seating; and Mark Peters, CEO of Butterball Farms Inc. It was a fun experience and based on the feedback, a positive one for the 75 or so family business members and family business industry members in attendance.

The conference focused on family governance, wealth, legacy, and generational change. I spoke about Horst Engineering’s legacy and reputation and how we have leveraged family ownership to strengthen our enterprise. The Livingston Family is extremely proud of our businesses’ 65-year heritage, and how our employees work together to uphold the reputation that was built by our founder, Harry Livingston.

I was happy to present, but was also excited to hear the other members of my panel. Tim and Mark have done wonderful things with their businesses along with the help of their families and their employees.

I heard many other interesting family business experts speak about their passions. There were many highlights:

Ross Born, Co-CEO of Just Born Inc. spoke about how his company built and use their family brand. Just Born is a candy maker and they are known for their main brands, Mike & Ike’s, Hot Tamales, and Peeps.

Lansing Crane, former Chairman and CEO of Crane & Co. Inc. spoke about family governance as a competitive advantage. Crane led an amazing resurgence for his family’s business with an emphasis on governance as a key part of the strategy. He launched a global initiative and ushered the business into new markets. Crane has been the long time source of the paper used to manufacture currency for the United States Mint.

Dirk Junge, Chairman & CEO of Pitcairn, led a strong panel discussion about family governance.

Harold Yoh, Chairman and CEO of Day & Zimmerman, Anne Eiting Klamar, M.D., President and CEO of Midmark Corporation, and Jim Ethier, Chairman of the Boards of Bush Brothers & Company, each spoke eloquently about their business governance. I heard Bush speak last fall at the University of Connecticut Family Business Program awards. In a more intimate environment, he shared some great information about his business and his family.

Greg McCann Ph.D., from Stetson University, led an excellent session about next generation successors. A lively group discussion about generational differences (Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y) ensued. This was fascinating. We explored how technology and communications have impacted the youngest generation in the workforce and what that means for family business succession.

Another excellent speaker was Thomas Bloch, who is the former CEO of H&R Block. He spoke about his family’s social capital and community contributions. Bloch’s father founded their family’s business and is recognized as an iconic entrepreneur.

The whole conference was supported by family businesses. We stayed at the Grand Bohemian Hotel, which is owned by the Kessler Family. We dined at Del Frisco’s Prime Steak and Lobster, which is owned by the Christner family, and we were transported by Mears Transportation, owned by the Mears family. Apparently, there weren’t any family owned vegan restaurants that can seat 75 people, but I got by alright…

It was an excellent conference and I got to meet people from dozens of successful family businesses. The best part of these education events are the networking opportunities. I met some fabulous folks from all over the United States, from India, Hong Kong, and Guatemala.

I spent most of my Orlando time in conference rooms, but I did get to run early on both mornings and explore some of the quaint neighborhoods not far from the downtown. I’m already looking forward to Transitions 2012.

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