Family Capital is running an occasional series on how the world’s top business schools are adapting their efforts in the family enterprise sector as the fourth industrial revolution gathers pace. This week we look at Switzerland’s IMD, the first major business school to commit to a core focus on family businesses within its overall curriculum.
Professor Peter Vogel was recently appointed the new director of IMD’s prestigious Global Family Business Centre. Vogel, whose full title is professor of family business and entrepreneurship, and is also the holder of the Debiopharm chair for family philanthropy, represents a big part of IMD’s efforts to drive the business school’s reputation in the family enterprise sector forward.
“The first family business program was started at IMD, and we want to build on those strong foundations, but at the same time grow in other areas,” says Vogel, who joined the Lausanne-based business school three years ago from the University of St Gallen.
Today, the field is suffering a little bit from the syndrome of ‘what’s new now?’, and not knowing precisely what that is
“We are moving more into being a long-term, trusted learning partner for family enterprises. But at the same time, we want to work holistically with an integrated, transformative approach. So this means working with the family – and the non-family members of the board of directors and top management.”
Vogel wants to integrate the considerable depth of talent across the board at IMD more closely with its family enterprise programs. He’s also keen to develop long-term relations with family businesses, even at an advisory level.
“Yes, part of our efforts are taking on a more advisory role with family enterprises, but without saying these efforts are consultancy-led. We will always engage with family enterprises from a pedagogical perspective. We create fully integrated learning journies for family enterprises.”
IMD’s business education programs have for many years stood out as its world-beating centre of excellence. In the last three years, the business school has ranked number one in open executive education in the Financial Times annual ranking surveys of business schools.
Within these open programs is IMD’s core family business program: the Leading the Family Business (LFB) course. Started in 1988 with the backing of three legends in the field of family business studies – professors John Davis, Ivan Lansberg and John Ward – thirty-one years later the five-day-long course continues to attract family business leaders from across the world.
Out of the LFB program came a more bespoke approach to working with family businesses and the business school introduced custom programs.
Always wanting to stay ahead of the competition, six years ago IMD became the first business school to introduce an open program for family offices. It has also recently added Navigate your Family Enterprise program, which is designed to help businesses deal better with disruptive pressures and innovate more successfully.
Its annual global family business award, launched in 1996, further enhances IMD’s family enterprise credentials. The industry considers the award as the most prestigious in the sector. Every year it is presented at the Family Business Network conference. The award also underlines another beneficial relationship in IMD’s family businesses connections – and that is with the FBN, the world’s biggest membership group for family businesses.
The FBN was set up in 1989 as a special program for IMD’s family business alumni and is based in IMD’s Lausanne campus.
Part of the evolution of business schools’ efforts in the family enterprise world is also the need to admit where there are weaknesses in curriculums.
Vogel is brave enough to admit to these weaknesses, at least from the perspective of overall family enterprise studies at business schools. “The first wave of rock stars in our sector are the John Davis’s, Ivan Lansberg’s and John Ward’s,” he says. “They have created all the foundational frameworks of our field which, until today, serve as a basis of all the other work that is being done. Today, the field is suffering a little bit from the syndrome of ‘what’s new now?’, and not knowing precisely what that is.”
He adds: “Compared with 30 years ago, family businesses have for the most part improved their governance and strategic efforts, and even with the next generation coming through things like family constitutions, etc., are still in place. At most, family constitutions and similar structures only need tweaking, rarely do they need reinvention.”
IMD’s efforts in integrating its family enterprise curriculum with a more holistic executive approach might go some way to answering the question: ‘what’s new now?’ Besides, the fact that IMD’s open programs are ranked the best in the world will continue to drive growth in the family enterprise sector.
The emphasis on purpose, sustainability, and family businesses being a force for good in society is also being integrated into IMD’s programs and is driving new thinking in the sector. Vogel is also keen to further IMD’s efforts in Asia in the coming years.
But perhaps the entrepreneurial part of Vogel’s title is where much of that new thinking will come from. Vogel has a keen sense of entrepreneurship. He has been involved in a series of startups alongside his academic career.
And as family enterprises deal with, in many cases, old-economy business models, how to stay relevant with the fourth industrial revolution upon them is uppermost in the minds of most of them.
Vogel has strong opinions on how they can do this, but is sometimes sceptical of the startup culture many of them are trying to embrace. “They don’t always understand it,” he says.
Why? Well, that needs exploring in another article for a later date.