This essay lays out an approach to educating family business owners that builds on the authors’ experience as consultants to complex family enterprises for over 30 years.
Education is seen as an essential precondition to effective continuity and succession planning. Essentially, it provides awareness, language, direction, and hope—all key ingredients for planned generational change. We conceptualize two interrelated approaches to education: a deductive or “outside-in” approach through which concepts, models, and ideas are used to elevate the owners’ understanding of their family enterprises, and an inductive or “inside-out” approach through which owners are encouraged to reflect on their direct experience—i.e., how they are actually doing things—to extract a deeper understanding of their family enterprise and their approach to it. If well-orchestrated, these two types of learning reinforce each other.
New experience is followed by reflection, which generates ideas that can be tested through subsequent experience. We provide many examples of how education can facilitate planned change in family enterprises undergoing complex transitions. Education is viewed as an ongoing capacity-building process that ought to be designed strategically so as to continuously anticipate the needs of both the enterprise and the family.