University of Louisville Family Business Center supports generations of businesses
By Remy Sisk
Photos by Christian Watson
“There’s a sense of comfort in talking to someone else in a family business who understands some of the dynamics. There’s a feeling of, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one who has these issues.’” – University of Louisville Family Business Center Board Chair Bob Koetter Jr.
The classic idiom “mom and pop shop” refers not only to the charming and familiar nature of a businesses but also the idea that its operators are somehow related. The family business can be one of the finest institutions of an economy – members of the same family harnessing synergy and working together toward a common goal. However, the passion and emotion that is inherent in the very definition of a family can sometimes hinder the success of that business or worse by creating a divide between family members. The University of Louisville Family Business Center helps prevent family businesses from stepping into the pitfalls that are all too common by offering an unparalleled myriad of resources so that they thrive with constant vivacity for generations to come.
“The role of the Family Business Center and how it can help this community is basically keeping these businesses in the community,” said Family Business Center Board Chair Bob Koetter Jr. “That’s important because statistically, only 13 percent of family businesses survive and make it to the third generation. … What the Family Business Center does is provide those tools to teach and prepare and make sure family businesses can survive throughout many generations.”
Some of the resources provided by the Family Business Center include education forums, individual business assessment and frequent, active networking. According to members, the greatest asset, however, is the roundtable option the center offers. “We go by adult learning theories that adults retain and learn information more in a peer-to-peer setting,” explained Interim Director Brittany Boone. “We have quite a few services, but our most valued service is the roundtable. We have four categories of roundtables, and they’re really peer-to-peer support groups.
“It’s a lot of similar people sitting around the table discussing things that are either going on in their family or their businesses. And either someone is experiencing what they’re experiencing at the same time, or they’ve already experienced it and they’re able to give advice.”
The four categories of these roundtables are CEOs, next generation, women and non-family executives, all of which are highly specialized groups that help foster robust development in many areas of family businesses.
The roundtables offer mentorship and education that professionals cannot find elsewhere. “There’s a sense of comfort in talking to someone else in a family business who understands maybe what some of those dynamics are that they’re dealing with,” Koetter said. “There’s a feeling of, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one who has these issues.’”
It’s not hard to become a member of the Family Business Center. There’s a simple online application to fill out and submit. Once a member is approved, they simply pay their dues, which are different for businesses of different sizes, and are then able to begin taking full advantage of the center’s resources.
Currently, most members are second generation, but Boone said the more than 100 members are made up of everything from first generation business owners to eighth generation, which means those who have been around for multiple generations are able to impart wisdom to some of the younger businesses.
“Businesses that are in later generational ownership, they kind of become advisors to the other family business owners,” Boone explained. “It’s almost like a nurturing sort of characteristic they take on in that they really do take pride in being able to help the earlier family businesses.”
And the success is evident. Although Boone admits it can be somewhat difficult to specifically measure the triumphs of the center, the very survival of these business may be testament enough, which is extremely important for the vitality of the community.
The members collectively employ over 13,000 individuals and generate almost $8 billion annually, said Koetter, who is a prime example of the efficacy of the Family Business Center. His company, Koetter Construction, is one of the region’s most renowned family businesses, and what the center has given Koetter has led to him now wanting to be a resource himself.
“They’ve helped me, so this is an opportunity for me to give back and hopefully help someone else,” he said.
As one of only about 60 family business centers in the U.S., the University of Louisville Family Business Center provides extraordinary resources for businesses but also, perhaps more importantly, families.
“I’m very proud because I have an opportunity to help family businesses to survive and also for the families themselves to be able to peacefully have holiday dinners together and spend time together,” Koetter said. “I see families that get torn apart and can’t even go to Thanksgiving dinner together, and it’s just so disappointing to see that the business has torn them apart.”
Boone agrees: “They always say never mix business with emotion, but you can’t do that when you’re working with your family,” she said. “There’s always going to be those emotions there, but at the same time, it’s so rewarding because the families are able to build wealth, build a legacy and we want to make sure that they are able to maintain that.”
Looking ahead, the Family Business Center is considering incorporating more education into its pool of resources but will regardless continue ensuring the community is aware of the singular opportunity of being involved. “We’re always told that we’re the best kept secret in Louisville, and we don’t want to be a secret necessarily anymore,” Boone said. “We just want to make sure we’re impacting as many people as we can.”
Family Business Center
College of Business
University of Louisville