Local family business heritage secures international event

March 21, 2011
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ViChem, Roman Manufacturing, Padnos, Bissell, Meijer, Nucraft, Haworth, Proos Manufacturing, Crane Orchards: All represent wonderful stories of enterprise in its most human form — the family.

These are only a few of the family-owned businesses in this region, each representing entrepreneurship, innovation, philanthropy and community leadership. Their stories tell of creativity and courage with global impact, felt nowhere more clearly than right here at home, through employment, art and culture, environmental protection, and countless other qualities foundational to the American dream.

This May, many of our family business leaders will share their stories with scholars from around the world at the Family Enterprise Research Conference, produced by the Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business’s Family Owned Business Institute. Last year’s conference was held in Cancun and next year’s will be in Montreal.

Although West Michigan may not compete with the climate of Cancun or the historic architecture of Montreal, the family business heritage in West Michigan has no rival. In fact, the governing body’s choice of GVSU to host the 2011 conference is clear recognition of this community’s rich soil for the growth, prosperity and generosity of family-owned businesses.

This year’s FERC conference will be devoted to discussing “Strategic Entrepreneurship in Family Business: How Do Family Businesses Promote and Manage Entrepreneurial Activity?”

Duane Ireland, Distinguished Professor and the Foreman R. and Ruby S. Bennett Chair in Business at Texas A&M University, will deliver the keynote address.  Family business scholars from around the world will lead discussions and evaluate doctoral student research. They will be joined by members of the West Michigan family business community, leaders in the future of our state and region, many of whom have a global presence.

The Family Owned Business Institute is hosting this conference as part of a three-year international rotation. Scholars, doctoral students and professors representing more than 20 countries will visit Grand Rapids to share their research and to learn from family business leaders. The family business community will lend its experience and expertise through presentations and conversations with these scholars, collaborating to integrate real world experience with empirical data to forward the goals of the family business. Such goals might include the development of a strong governance structure, succession planning, or managing innovation and entrepreneurship.

Agriculture to vacuums, office furniture to u-pick orchards — all will be represented in the Friday, May 6, afternoon program. Guest scholars and local business owners will have the opportunity to share research and ask questions. The conference is designed to enable scholars to design and develop research projects that are theoretically sound, empirically accurate and of practical significance to family firms.

The scholar to family business leader connection design of the May 6 segment will include a panel discussion of entrepreneurship and innovation let by Bissell, Haworth and Meijer. The DeVos and Van Andel families, whose foresight and generosity provided the seed money for the GVSU Family Owned Business Institute, will speak to a multi-generational perspective in a global economy. The afternoon will close with parallel sessions devoted to topics such as women as leaders in the family business, generational issues and the impact of globalization. These smaller group discussions will be led by leaders from RoMan Manufacturing, Nucraft, Cascade Engineering, ADAC Automotive, Padnos, Proos Manufacturing, Crane Orchards and The DeVries, Freeburg, and Mraz Group at Merrill Lynch.

Saturday and Sunday, May 7 and 8, will be devoted to academic research proposals, panel discussions led by the editors of a special edition of the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, and discussions of graduate work in the field of family business. These sessions will be led by board members of the Family Enterprise Research Conference, internationally recognized scholars in the field, or conference co-chairs Jaideep Motwani and Paul Mudde from GVSU, Tom Schwarz from UC Fullerton, and Ritch Sorenson from St. Thomas.

During the conference, the Family Owned Business Institute will announce the award winners of four grants for academic research in the field of family business, who will join past Family Owned Business Scholars also honored at the conference. The competitive proposal submission process through which these winners are selected further supports the Family Owned Business Institute and its internationally recognized faculty in its pursuit of scholarly research and service to community business.

The Family Owned Business Institute was born out of a collective belief that family businesses, large and small, are the cornerstone of the West Michigan community’s prosperity and quality of life. Our history has demonstrated this fact at every level. Fueled by this belief, the institute has laid the groundwork to become an international leader in the development of the next generation of research within the family business field. Through partnerships with organizations from around the world, extensions of the FOBI Scholars Program and the creation of a visiting Scholars Program — together responsible for supporting more than 40 research projects and 66 researchers from around the globe — the institute has developed a national and international presence within the research community.

Housed at the downtown campus of GVSU, the Family Owned Business Institute was founded when the collective efforts of the Seidman College of Business and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce (working with its Family Owned Business Council) raised $301,000 from a salute to Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos.

The institute is particularly proud of its collaboration with the Family Business Alliance, a nonprofit membership organization, which embraces a true public and private partnership between the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, GVSU and the family businesses of West Michigan.

For further information on the FERC conference, please go to www.gvsu.edu/fobi.

Candace Dugan is director of the Family Owned Business Institute. She may be reached at (616) 331-7246 or duganca@gvsu.edu. Inquiries regarding the Family Business Alliance may be directed to Ellie Frey at freyel@gvsu.edu, (616) 331-6827, or at www.fbagr.org.

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