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This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail. Read the original article here.
The Beedie family’s donation of $22 million to Simon Fraser University’s School of Business in 2011 will fund new research and change the lives of many future SFU students through bursaries and scholarships. The donation also made it possible for the newly renamed Beedie School of Business to bolster its position as a global thought leader in areas such as sustainability, international business and risk management.
British Columbia’s largest landlord of industrial space, the Beedie Group began operations when Keith Beedie built his first building in 1946. Today, the group’s residential division, Beedie Living, is at work on the
extensive mixed-use redevelopment of Station Square Metrotown, as well as on an almost sold-out high-rise development in Coquitlam.
Keith’s son Ryan Beedie took the helm of the group’s new development business in 1994 at only 25, after completing his bachelor of business degree at SFU and an MBA at UBC. Since then, the family enterprise’s revenues have grown by more than 800 per cent.
Sadly, statistics show that only about 30 per cent of family enterprises make a similarly successful transition to a second generation. And as the Beedie family story illustrates, that has an impact on communities and Canada’s economy as well as on business families.
For example, in addition to their many philanthropic initiatives, the Beedie family contributes to B.C.’s economy as a mezzanine lender to many companies, with a focus on the technology sector, through Beedie Capital
As well, the Beedies’ commitment to the success of other business families helped inspire the family’s support of SFU’s Beedie School of Business. “Family businesses make up a huge percentage of the economy,” says Ryan, now president of the Beedie Group. “We’re focused on adding value to the enterprise and the community over the long term.”
Specialized education and professional guidance can help business families improve their chances of long-term success, including transitioning leadership across generations.
Ruth Steverlynck, a consultant and member of the advisory board of the Business Families Centre at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, says professional advisers can help increase those odds, but only if they understand the complexities of family enterprise. “Family businesses are made up of three inextricably linked systems – the family, the business and the owners – so it’s essential to understand systems thinking,” she says.
Without such an appreciation for this complex dynamic, there is a risk that technically excellent, well-intentioned advice that is good for a business and its owner could have a less desirable impact on the family, she explains. “The family enterprise has much more at risk than other organizations.”
Family relationships and cohesion can be strengthened or threatened by recommendations from advisers says Ms. Steverlynck, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Family Enterprise Advisors,
which helps families identify advisers who are fully versed in such complexities.
The institute also educates advisers who serve family enterprises by putting them through a rigorous designation process, providing “a new lens through which they can best advise their clients – understanding that the advice to one part of the system will impact other parts of the system, and ensuring that the impact is
positive,” says Ms. Steverlynck.
Another resource that can help family enterprises flourish across generations is an independent board of directors, says Dave Zimmel, vice president of private enterprise at professional consultancy MNP LLP in Calgary.
“An external, private company board has a mandate that isn’t operational, but has a governance focus,” Mr. Zimmel explains. Board members can bring different perspectives and experience to frank discussions.
“Family enterprises put a board in place so that they can sit down on a quarterly basis to go through
their business plan and talk about business and family issues and their prospects in the marketplace. It helps bring a more well rounded management style to the business.”
Finding the right board members starts with identifying individuals with the right expertise and experience, says Mr. Zimmel. “Who are the people you’d like to talk to about all the aspects of your business, whether it’s human resources, market, operational, financial, banking or international expansion?”
It’s essential that they invest the necessary time and be good listeners and frank communicators, he notes. “You don’t want wallflowers, and you don’t want yes men. You want individuals who are going to come forward
and say, for example, ‘Here are the issues to beware of.”
Business owners tend to struggle privately with issues, adds Mr. Zimmel, but that sense of isolation is removed with the right board of directors. “It affords you different perspectives from other people who have been there.”
Fortunately for the Beedie family and the many organizations it now supports, the family’s crossgenerational
transition is proving successful.
Ryan Beedie, who was named the Pacific Region’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009, says his father gave him latitude to make decisions and do deals at a relatively young age. “It allowed me to grow and learn, and to develop confidence and authority.
“There was a lot of debate, which forced me to make the business case. But he never once said, ‘No, you can’t do that.” Now 86, the elder Mr. Beedie remains chairman and CEO and still comes into the office every day
he is in town. “I value his opinion, and we have a great working relationship,” says Ryan.
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