Dueling Perspectives: Family education programs

By Barbara Spector

MacLean Fogg Co., a global enterprise that makes engineered components for the electrical, telecom and automotive industries, has 23 family stakeholders. The Mundelein, Ill.-based company has been conducting family education for eight years. Fourth-generation member Gillian MacLean Growdon, executive vice president of shareholder relations, leads MacLean-Fogg’s family education effort.

Vermeer Corporation, a global manufacturer of industrial and agricultural equipment based in Pella, Iowa, has presented family education programming since the 1980s. Allison Van Wyngarden, a third-generation family member, chairs the ownership council education committee for the 70-member Vermeer family.

We asked Growdon and Van Wyngarden: What major topics are covered in your family education program?

Gillian Growdon, MacLean-Fogg Co.:

“My generation began its education journey eight years ago with professional coaching that helped us understand the key constructs of family business and developing our mission and values that we would then take forward to educate the NextGen with.

The main [setting for] our NextGen education program has been our family assembly. We’ve had our third annual assembly. We typically gather around Chicagoland for 2½ days.

“What we’ve done for the NextGen is a values-based curriculum that spans multiple years, starting with legacy and stewardship the first year. The second year, [the curriculum focused on] ‘What is work?’ Some work you get paid for, some work you don’t. And then the third year was communication.

“It’s very intentional that we’re not describing the business at great length. We’re talking about values and doing workshops together with them, to teach them about communication and all the legacy and stewardship values that we hold dear.

“On top of that, there is some coaching and mentorship that we’re doing with some of the older young adults. They are starting to work in our business and thinking about what jobs they would like to have. We allow them to have some leadership positions within the family assembly planning, so that we can understand what kind of work they like to do and be able to coach them, as well.

“Right now one of my objectives for the year is doing some work with my generation on transfer of ownership and trust configuration. I like to call it just-in-time learning or decision support — helping them get what they need in order to make the decisions that they need to make.

“We do the sessions all together for the most part. But we do have some programming for 18 and older, about the business itself, and sometimes we do workshops where we have something for the 8-year-olds, something for the 10s, something for the emerging adults.

“At the moment the family assembly is run by our family office. I put it on. As we go further from my generation and move to more of a family council model, I would think that this is a project that could be handled outside the family office. In order to get there, we have somebody from each household who has been on the committee. Even if they’re 10 years old, they participate in the phone calls, and we support them, meet them where they are to get the work done. This year I put on a scavenger hunt for the younger kids, all around Chicago. The younger kids like to help with those activities.

“We fund it through the business. We firmly believe it’s a shareholder activity. We’re gathering so that our family is a strong, capable working group to support the business.”

Allison Van Wyngarden, Vermeer Corporation:

“We started in the late ’80s with family education — discussions around what it means to be an owner and the three spheres of family, business and ownership. What triggered that was our third generation, which I’m part of, coming of age.

“Over time, we developed an annual family camp. We will have our 10th one this summer. That is a more multigenerational education time.

“Some key areas of education are around ownership. What does it mean to be an owner? Especially as you join the adult assembly, what are the things that you are going to need to be good stewards, and expectations around that?

“For little kids, when we talk about ownership, we’ll help them understand about what being an owner is. What does it mean to own your dog? My dog’s named Klondike. Would I be a good owner if I never did anything with him and didn’t make sure he had what he needed to be healthy? Am I a good owner if I’m making sure I’m feeding him and walking him and doing the things I need to do to care for him?

“And then we also talk about employment. What does it mean if you want to be part of the business? What [other] ways can you be engaged? But then also helping them understand what the business encompasses. For example, last summer we focused a lot around business acumen. We had them develop lemonade stands, and come up with marketing plans for that, and understand their costs, and different things like that. We also married that with talking to [employees in] those areas of the business. So talking to people from finance, and understanding what they do. And then talking to people from sales, and talking to people from procurement, so that they could understand those aspects of the business and translate it over to the lemonade stand methodology. It was really fun.

“From a family standpoint, we do a lot of work around relationship building — how all of us together can operate together as a team, even though we may come at it from different angles and different perspectives.

“Stewardship is extremely important to us. So understanding about our charitable foundation, the importance of giving back, the importance of being a good steward of our business and all of the lives that are affected by owning this business.

“Our family camp is our big education event of the year. Everyone comes to Pella for it, to our headquarters. We’ll break it into tots’ camp, a kids’ camp, the NextGen group and the adult assembly. Each year, we’ll try to have a different theme. The past family camp, we talked about building for the future. Our company was hit by a tornado in 2019, so a huge part of what has been going on for us as an organization has been the crisis that happened, and then rebuilding the business and coming back and building for the future.

“Number one, we learn some things about Vermeer, especially for the kids; two, we have fun together, we build relationships; and three, we give back. Those are three big elements that we try to incorporate in every single family camp.

“We’ve used family business consultants [to present] specific topics. We’ve developed some of the programming on our own and utilized local teachers in the summer to help with the kids’ program.

“We’ve [also] collaborated with our corporate training group. This is our second year of being fully immersed in collaborating on family camp. Working with our corporate training group has made it a lot more cohesive and easier to keep it sustainable long-term.

“We offer two learning forums a year. We do a one-hour session in an evening on a real specific topic. It may be about a company we just acquired, or teaching your kids about financials, or it could be about some estate planning work that needs to be done. People can come in person or they can connect via webinar. We record them.

“Within our ownership council, we have an education committee, and I chair that committee. Our committee meets monthly. We have a shareholder relations budget that our ownership council manages, and out of that budget comes the family camp development.”

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May-June 2020

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