Family Ties at INSEAD - The Wendel International Centre for Family Enterprise

As roughly 80% of all businesses are family/privately controlled, it is surprising that business education has been somewhat slow to get a handle on the uniqueness of family firms. This is not the case at INSEAD. Thanks to the foresight of the Wendel family, one of France's most prominent "business families" for over three centuries, INSEAD has been researching, publishing and teaching both to, and about, family firms for the last decade.

by Christine Blondel and Jane Banham
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

The Wendel family recently reiterated this support by creating the Wendel International Centre for Family Enterprise at INSEAD, inaugurated in January 2005. The Wendel Centre along with generous support from other family businesses and alumni (in particular Tetra Laval, Berghmans/Lhoist and André Hoffmann) has contributed to the creation and diffusion of knowledge in this area at INSEAD.

When thinking about family business, an image of the corner store, bakery or the local plumber and sons often comes to mind. While small business certainly plays an important part in the economy, it is at times surprising to realise that a good number of all large businesses are indeed family/privately controlled or owned. Just think about such brand names as Ford, Mars, Michelin, Bic, Tetrapak, Solvay… which all have in common the presence of a family as the reference shareholder.

Family business brings with it a unique range of challenges, from organisational to relational factors. This has gradually been more formally recognised within business education circles and INSEAD has been one of the pioneers in the field. As early as 1997, at the initiative of the Wendel family, INSEAD has been researching and developing educational programmes and organising various forums for those concerned with family business.

The recently inaugurated Wendel International Centre for Family Enterprise (WICFE) carries out research in a number of family business related areas, in particular regarding Fair Process and stock market performance of family firms in Europe. Their research, along with that of other Faculty and research groups within INSEAD, has also resulted in a large range of real-family business case studies, books and papers. (A number of these are available on this site, and can be accessed through the links on the right, or through the Entrepreneurship & Family Business menu link to the left.)

The first holder of the Wendel Chair for the Large Family Firm, and Solvay Chair in Technical Innovation, Professor Ludo Van der Heyden says: "Contrary to what people usually think and say, the "normal" firm is the family firm. Family firms represent a successful form of capitalism-one not obsessed only with quarterly results. Our research has confirmed that they can outperform companies with spread ownership. The family unites behind a common project, and its motivation is rarely limited to money. However, to be successful in the long run, we believe that families should pay particular attention to the process through which they reach their decisions, hence the importance we give to 'Fair Process' in our work on and with families."

Christine Blondel, Executive Director of the Wendel Centre continues: "The first element of Fair Process is communication. But family business issues are sometimes quite difficult to talk about, for instance succession. For participants in our programmes, the first discovery is that their issues are shared by others, even from very different cultures: 'I am not alone'. Our pedagogical cases, and the discussions with other participants, help put things in perspective and in a framework and we pay attention to make sure that participants apply class learning to their own situations. It is highly rewarding to see how some families benefit from the experience, and start unlocking their communication."

"In spite of cultural differences, there is a core of issues faced by family firms, regardless of their country of origin," says Randel Carlock, the Berghmans/Lhoist Chair in Entrepreneurial Leadership, and Academic Director of the Wendel Centre. "Our plans for the future include programme development and research in Europe, Asia, and America. We already launched an executive programme in Fontainebleau and Singapore. After several years in Fontainebleau we are now running an MBA course in Singapore, and we will also hold a first Global Roundtable for Family Firms there in 2006. One of our flagship projects is to also develop a leadership programme for family business owners."

Close to 600 participants have taken the MBA course since its 1997 launch, and 2005 saw a family business module successfully introduced within INSEAD's new Executive MBA. The centrepiece of INSEAD's family firms educational offer has to be the Executive Education programme-The Family Enterprise Challenge (FAME). Over four days, members of family businesses come together for a unique learning experience, which includes not only related competence building, but also individual coaching and group work. Subjects covered vary from governance, Fair Process and succession through to family and leadership dynamics and transitions within family business systems. FAME was launched in 2002 in Fontainebleau, with the first session on INSEAD's Singapore campus in March 2005.

Elizabeth Florent-Treacy, Research Project Manager concludes: "Business, family and ownership are three words that describe unique human relationships. The values and goals inherent to each of these relationships can be tremendously enriching for a family-owned or controlled firm, but they can also be a source of tremendous conflict. In our qualitative research, we often use a psychodynamic perspective to decipher the rationale behind individual behaviour, then apply tools from the family systems approach to help business families reach a level of optimum, sustainable performance in the business, and maintain harmony among individuals, across generations, in the family."

And this is what the WICFE centre at INSEAD is all about, helping family businesses guarantee optimum, sustainable business performance while maintaining the harmony of their very special family relationships over the generations… those same relationships that are the cornerstone of the family business entity.


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