What’s more important in life than family? At Cornell University, family — more to the point, family business — takes center stage next month when the Smith Family Business Initiative hosts its annual Families in Business Conference.
The October 28-29 conference brings together students, business owners, and leading academics and practitioners of family business under one roof. Daniel Van Der Vliet, director of the initiative, considers the conference a celebration of all things family business.
“People see family business as small and insular and always fighting with each other. So, we really try to shed positive light,” says Van Der Vliet, adding that as many as 30% of students enrolled in the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management full-time MBA program come from a family business — despite perceptions of them as small and insignificant.
‘AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE CURRENT TOPICS & HELPFUL ADVICE’
Last year, Cornell’s Families in Business Conference was online because of the pandemic. That had one big benefit: reaching attendees and speakers all over the world. This year, the event will be hybrid, with a set of virtual and in-person events. Van Der Vliet expects between 70 to 100 attendees at the Statler Hotel in Ithaca, New York, where all will be expected to wear masks when indoors and provide proof of vaccination or a negative test result.
The initiative started in 2014, with a gift from John and Dyan Smith who started CRST, a trucking company, and the conferences started a year later, with only 75 attendees, including students and alumni. Attendance has tripled over the years.
Since businesses across the board have had to adapt in the last year, the theme of the conference will focus around advising family businesses on strategies to keep up with the changing times.
“It’s an opportunity to share current topics and helpful advice and, in many ways to showcase our students who come from family businesses,” Van Der Vliet says.
TOPICAL DISCUSSION: RETURNING FROM THE PANDEMIC
Kicking the conference off on Thursday morning, October 28, Cornell Johnson faculty will talk about the skills required to be a successful leader as employees return to the office and adapt to hybrid work arrangement models.
This will be followed by forums for women in leadership, emerging leaders, recent alum and senior generation CEOs.
After a lunch break and an opportunity to network, an advising panel will discuss the key issues families are facing right now and the lessons they learned surviving through a pandemic.
Cornell faculty will then present research related to family business, ending with an opening reception and dinner — where attendees will have the chance to “drink wine, have fun, or start a business,” according to the schedule.
FAMILY BIZ LUMINARIES TO ATTEND
On Friday morning, October 29, faculty will explore current issues in human resources, real estate, mental health and diversity, equity, and inclusion to prepare and inform businesses.
“This gives us an opportunity to really showcase some of the faculty members that are working in this space,” says Van Der Vliet.
Alan Suna, alumni and the CEO of Silvercup Studios, home base for The Sopranos, Succession, Jack Ryan, and more, will be at the “Exist Strategies: Sell, Partner or Just Finally Leave!” panel in the afternoon, joined by Evan Cagner, previously the president and CEO of Synclaire Brands, KidsShows.com, and BCNY; as well as John Zaruka, the founder and director of the Wedgewood Weddings and Z-Gold Food and Beverage.
After lunch, the Baker family, who have been in business for more than 70 years, will share their family legacy of creating the famous nugget and other poultry-related recipes as well as founding the women’s hockey team at Cornell University and Boston College.
‘A VERY MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCE’
The conference will end with keynote speaker James Clement III, the land recourses manager for King Ranch, a seventh-generation family business in Texas. “They’re kind of like royalty in Texas,” says Van Der Vliet. “Both he and his father are coming.”
The registration costs $50 and is open to all students, graduate or undergraduate, from all schools up until the conference. Colleges like Syracuse University, St. John Fisher College, St. Bonaventure University, and Wells College often participate, Van Der Vliet says. “The business owners love meeting students,” he says, which allows great networking.
“It feels good to be doing in-person events again. Some people are still a little sensitive to it, and so it will be a smaller group than in years past, but the upside to that is for those that are there, they will have a very meaningful experience.”
Read more about the Smith Family Business Initiative at Cornell here.