A weekend of family business experiences and research filled the Renaissance Asheville Hotel in early June, bringing together attendees from 27 countries. The 13th annual Family Enterprise Research Conference was hosted by the Family Business Forum at UNC Asheville.
Held annually, FERC brings together family businesses and representatives from all over the world who spend a weekend learning and sharing what has worked for them, while also finding out how business is done in the hosting town. Each year, the conference is held in a different country, with the 2018 FERC planned for Mexico.
“The people and the attendees have come from so many countries, so it signals the confidence [that] family business scholars from around the world have in this program and their ability to put together a world-class conference,” said Pramodita Sharma, co-founder of FERC and University of Vermont family business professor.
“I hope people take away many things from this [year’s conference],” Sharma said. “One is the location, the quality of programming from here. Certainly, they will take away the networks and the strength from research that comes from showcasing their work with others. So, there is a lot of multidimensional takeaways from here. I don’t think anyone is ever going to connect you, I mean non-U.S. people, with UNC Asheville like this conference does.”
With Asheville being a town full of family-owned and local businesses, such as Wicked Weed Brewing, The Hop Creamery and The Biltmore Co., hosting the highly regarded, international conference in the 828 was a natural fit.
“UNC Asheville, Cindy Clarke and a team that represented UNC Greensboro and UNC Charlotte put together a proposal,” explained Allison Pearson, co-president of FERC and Mississippi State University business management professor. “It was a winning proposal because they could connect the idea of the conference to the family businesses in the area — whether it was from the craft brew industry, to the Biltmore, to the farm we will be going to — they could really connect why we talk research about family businesses better here because it is a family business community. It was a compelling proposal they put together, and they have delivered it wonderfully.”
Pearson said FERC goes through a process of soliciting for schools and universities to host the conference each year. Both Pearson and Sharma said the planning phase for this year’s FERC took about three years, and UNCA’s proposal instilled the most confidence for success.
FERC 2107’s theme, “Bridging the Gap,” focused on the gap between generations in family business, looking at the research, practice and academic disciplines available to improve the understanding what makes a family business thrive.
A panel discussion about preparing the next generation to lead family businesses featured four panelists: Dini Cecil Pickering, The Biltmore Co.; Don Parker, SAS Software; Tom Oreck, Oreck Vacuums; and Trevor Astey, Togar Rugs. Each panelist spoke about the struggles and success their family business experienced and how every battle resulted in triumphs.
The Family Business Forum, which hosted this year’s conference, provides professional education to help businesses succeed across generations. Annual membership is based on the size of the company. FERC 2017 demonstrated “how the Family Business Forum works here and … can be translated into other communities. It is a living, strong case study of success,” Pearson said.
While the excitement of FERC 2017 was in play, attendees Fernanda Canale, Luis Jumenez and Luis Diaz-Matajira, described their efforts to help organize FERC 2018, which will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“We have been working on this for about two years now,” Canale said. “We have monthly meetings and we have the schedule already prepared, the keynote speakers and the academia for next year.”
“We are going to go to a tequila factory,” Jumenez said. “So, we are going to take all the active missions to the tequila factory. The host university is going to give the annual Gold Award, which will be a gold coin.”
“I think bringing forth the topic of values, legacy and traditions is important,” Canale said. “I hope the families leave with our values and understandings as a country. I hope to give the Mexican experience with our music, the dancing, the colors, the people and the surroundings.”
“We want people to reflect on succession, family firms and how to manage that,” Diaz-Matajira said. “We want people to learn what family firms bring to the world and the legacies they will leave, all while continuing to create value long term.”