In two weeks time the biggest global conference for family business advisers will descend on London for the annual Family Firm Institute conference. More than 300 professionals, educators and researchers, as well as family enterprise members, from at least 80 countries will attend the three day conference.
The event is the pinnacle of the work the FFI does every year, which has grown substantially since it was set up in 1986. Judy Green, the president of the Boston-based group, reckons that the influence of the institute’s work is now recognised globally and seen as the benchmark in terms of education, research and networking among advisers in the family enterprise sector.
“Growth doesn’t necessarily mean growth in numbers, although we have seen expansion here, but it’s growth in influence for the FFI that is probably more significant,” she says. “This can be measured in terms of greater visibility and the fortification of our position in the educational space through the global education network known as GEN.”
The professional educational side of FFI involves a number of courses that lead to certificates in family business and family wealth advising. There is also an advanced certificate of family business. “The FFI certificates have gained greater acceptance in institutions around the world,” says Mark Evans, the current chairman of the FFI.
“If you’re going to stand in front of a family business, you need to know what you’re talking about and having an FFI certificate shows strong commitment as well as broad knowledge,” he adds. “Families take more comfort from knowing advisers have obtained the FFI qualifications.”
Evans, who is also head of the Coutts Institute, part of Coutts, a UK-based private bank, says that out of the nine professionals working with him at Coutts, seven of them either have an FFI qualification, or are completing one.
The FFI is the also connected to the Family Business Review, the quarterly academic journal on all things to do with the sector. Green reckons that the research side into family businesses has moved on greatly since the institute was set up. “Twenty five years ago there wasn’t any research and now there is a lot of it. This is testament to how important the sector has become and the work of the FFI.”
One notable development in recent years, says Green, is the amount of FFI members coming from family businesses themselves. “We have seen many more members of family businesses take FFI courses. There has been the growth of the ‘internal consultant’ – someone who works in a family business, who may never want to consult outside, but feels the qualification can help them consult within their family or provide additional perspectives when choosing and evaluating outside advisers.”
Having spent four years as chairman, Evans is stepping down after the conference. He says about his departure that to work for an institute that talks so much about the importance of succession planning it’s imperative for the FFI to also be seen to be dynamic about succession.
Although it hasn’t been formally announced, the next chairman will be David Harvey, currently CEO of the London-based The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. Harvey has been treasurer of the FFI for a number of years.
In his new role, he’s likely to have little free time given the growing global importance of the FFI. But at least Harvey won’t have too far to travel to this year’s conference.