'An amazing way to acquire entrepreneurship knowledge'
Two-thirds of the world’s businesses are run by families. This reality is reflected in the economies of Italy and Canada, where family firms are major contributors to the GDP.
But in both countries, the majority of family business owners are aging and will soon have to transfer ownership. A 2012 CIBC study suggests that this will be the biggest transfer of business that Canada has ever experienced.
Italy is facing very similar demographic trends, and according to PwC, only 9 per cent of Italian family businesses have a formal succession plan.
A course for the future of family firms
This changing context is what inspired the creation of a new course at the John Molson School of Business (JMSB), offered this past summer.
The two-week intensive course, Developing the Next Generation of Family Business Leaders (Mana 499), brought together students from Concordia and two Italian universities, Università di comunicazione e lingue and Università Carlo Cattaneo, to familiarize them with issues that family business leaders will have to confront.
“It is imperative for academic institutions to prepare incumbent and future generations of family business owners for the major shifts that are happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future,” says Alexandra Dawson, associate professor of management at Concordia and one of the course organizers.
JMSB student Rachel Rubbo called it the best course she’s taken at Concordia so far. "With the variety of perspectives and experiences brought to the classroom every day, it was an amazing way to acquire entrepreneurship and leadership knowledge."
And the Premio Venezia goes to…
Last week, the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada (ICCC) awarded the course a Premio Venezia, which honours outstanding Canadian businesses, people and institutions that maintain or develop working or business relations with Italy.
"Winning the Premio Venezia is meaningful for two reasons,” Dawson says. “First, it recognizes JMSB's teaching and research focus on next-generation family business leaders. Second, it reinforces Concordia University's ties with the Italian Canadian community in Montreal."
‘Analysis, problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills’
The award-winning course covered subjects ranging from leadership and strategy to cross-cultural communication and entrepreneurship.
“These are crucial topics,” says Dawson, who is also director of JMSB’s National Bank Initiative in Entrepreneurship and Family Business.
“We felt that bringing together students from two different countries would help them learn and understand important topics against an international background. This is more and more relevant for businesses today, which are increasingly operating on a global level.”
Dawson adds that Canada, and Quebec in particular, has a long tradition of Italian immigration and several examples of successful entrepreneurs and family business owners. Therefore, it seemed ideal to bring together students from these two countries.
The course included a site visit to Saputo Inc., where CEO Lino Saputo Jr. discussed what it takes to lead a successful family business. “Meeting the CEO of Saputo was a one-of-a-kind university experience!” says Rubbo.
Students also got to participate in a case competition where they had to analyze and provide recommendations for a family firm. “This allowed them to integrate the notions learned throughout the course and build their analysis, problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills,” says Dawson.
According to her, 17 of the 20 students in the class were either already involved in a family business or would be in the future. “Over the past 10 years, JMSB has invested a significant amount of energy building expertise in family business. The school is now positioned as a world leader in this area.”
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