UB's CEL to launch family business program

December 2, 2013 Updated Dec 2, 2013 at 10:14 AM EDT

By Matt Chandler, Editor for The Buffalo Law Journal- Business First

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UB's CEL to launch family business program

December 2, 2013 Updated Dec 2, 2013 at 10:14 AM EDT

If you are like many Americans, you survived the Thanksgiving holiday with all of your relatives in the same room. And if you were lucky, you made it out relatively unscathed.

If you think holiday gatherings are tough, imagine running a business with your siblings, parents or extended family. Such ventures are fraught with potential disaster, experts say. Luckily, help is on the way.

The University at Buffalo Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership is partnering with Buffalo attorney and author Scott Friedman on a program titled "Taking Care of Family Business." It focuses on families already in business as well as those looking to launch one.

Friedman said his new book, "Family Business and Positive Psychology" (2013, American Bar Association), was the impetus for the program. It combines his decades of experience in working with family businesses in his law practice with studies about the impact of positive psychology on companies of every size and in every industry.

He credits a chance meeting last summer with the center's executive director, Tom Ulbrich, for taking the concepts in his book and turning them into what both men hope will be a long-term, in-depth program to help family-run businesses prosper.

"I went over to the university one afternoon to find some quiet time to work on my book and I bumped into Tom in the parking lot," Friedman said. "As I was telling him about the book on family business, he said that was something the school was focusing on, and things went from there."

Ulbrich said he had been talking with CEL officials for some time about putting together a family business program. With Friedman's book being released, the timing was right.

"About a third of the companies that come through our program are family businesses, so we knew there was a need for this type of program," Ulbrich said.

They developed a program with a 10-week initial offering.

"There are lots of centers out there that deal with the legal and accounting issues of family business," he said. "While we will certainly touch on those things, this is much more about the family as a family system."

The program will kick off in February, and Friedman and Ulbrich say they hope to bring a national family business conference to Buffalo in 2016.

They want to involve multiple family members in the program, they added.

"We are looking to bring families into the center, whether it is two people, three or four, and take them through this course, which runs every other week for 10 weeks," Ulbrich said.

He and Friedman will facilitate the program along with Amy Habib Rittling, a Buffalo attorney and family business adviser.

The focus will be helping families achieve a balance as they work to grow their business while planning for the long term.

Ulbrich said the CEL has a broad, five-year plan for the program, which he expects will include peer support groups, national speakers, expanded training programs, networking opportunities for families and a leadership program for the next generation of participants.

"Family business entrepreneurs have long played an important role in invigorating the Greater Western New York economy," he said. "But they have unique challenges and needs."

Friedman, meanwhile, said national statistics show that family ventures are a big part of the corporate landscape here in Western New York and around the country.

"Many of our most visible businesses in Western New York are family-owned," he said. "Look at Delaware North, Rich Products, New Era Cap and you get a sense of what a major role family-owned businesses play in the economy."

To that point, many of them would benefit from a program tailored to their unique circumstances.

"Even though, as Tom said, there are a lot of places out there offering advice to family business owners, the statistics on family businesses failing really haven't changed much over the years," Friedman said. "So I think that speaks to the need for some new tools."

The Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, which has offices on Goodell Street in the heart of the downtown medical corridor, plans to bring those new tools and a fresh way of thinking to area families and their companies.

"For people involved in a family business, just getting together to talk business isn't enough," Friedman said. "With this new program, we are using the science of positive psychology so that these families aren't just coming together. We are teaching them to come together and have constructive conversations that will grow their business."

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