Institute Seeks to Help Family-Owned Businesses Flourish for Future Generations

From the northern tip of the state to the southern border, West Michigan has one of the largest concentrations of family-owned businesses in the state of Michigan. For a decade and a half, the Family Owned Business Institute — housed in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University’s downtown Grand Rapids campus — has been dedicated to supporting them.

“The creation of the Family Owned Business Institute … is borne out of the collective belief that family businesses (large and small ) are the cornerstone of a community’s prosperity and a vital ingredient in its quality of life,” states its website.

The Institute was founded by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and Grand Valley State’s Seidman College of Business. J. Kevin McCurren, executive director at Seidman’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, is its acting director. He came to Grand Valley State three years ago with more than 15 years experience in new business development and 10 years of entrepreneurial experience.

McCurren believes family owned businesses are unique. “They live and work in the same community,” he said. “Not only do they represent their businesses, but also their families.” Because of this, they’re “slower to let go and quicker to come back. They’re in it for the long term.”

And the Institute is dedicated to serving them for the long term, too. It offers quality online academic research, curriculum and information pertinent to family businesses. These include videos on topics universal to running a business, like leadership development and strategic planning, to those specific to running a family business such as succession planning and continuity, family issues, family meetings, and many other videos. It sponsors seminars and workshops, and provides journals, books, magazines and research from notable world-wide experts.

In 2010, the Institute took on the task to build a better database of family-owned businesses in West Michigan. They sent out a survey to businesses asking them to identify the nature of their business.

Encouraged by the response to that survey and seeking to better study and assess the needs and impact of West Michigan’s family-owned businesses, in 2013, the Institute teamed up with Ellie Frey, director of the Family Owned Business Alliance — a division of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce — and Laurel Ofstein, assistant professor of management at Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business to conduct a more robust Family Business Survey Contact Questionnaire.

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