Family business owners in the Roanoke and Lynchburg regions and the New River Valley can improve the skills that help their families--and enterprises--to thrive, thanks to Virginia Tech's new Family Business Forum.

The Virginia Tech Roanoke Center, in conjunction with the Virginia Tech Family Therapy Center, created the forum, which has just begun offering services to family business owners this fall. Family members in business who are interested in joining are invited to the Nov. 15 meeting on “Strategic Planning for the Family Business” from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center on the seventh floor of the Roanoke Higher Education Center.

Jim Pilversack, the services director for the Family Business Forum, will lead the strategic planning session. He has over 20 years’ experience working with family and privately held businesses to plan their futures and writes the Small Business Connection column for the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce publication, Business Connections. Jim has made over 100 presentations on strategic planning with a focus on family business. He is an active member of the Family Firm Institute and has presented at national conferences around the country.

As part of the ongoing program, leading experts in all areas of family business will be coming to Roanoke to present a variety of educational programs designed for individuals associated with family-owned businesses. The Virginia Tech Family Business Forum, the first of its kind in Virginia outside Richmond, is a response to a growing perception that family businesses face unique problems and opportunities. Two-thirds of all family businesses fail to survive to the second generation because of inherent difficulties with transition and strategic planning.

Scott Johnson, associate professor of human development and director of Virginia Tech’s Family Therapy Center, says “the forum addresses issues central to business families. Some common issues include how control is allocated between family members involved in the business and non-family staff and managers, how transitions are made from generation to general, and through marriage, divorce, child birth, adoption, and remarriage, and such businesses may or may not remain under family control.”

The forum contributes directly to the university’s academic mission in several ways, according to Johnson. “First, students in our Marriage and Family Therapy doctoral program repeatedly express interest in business consultation and working with family businesses. A family business forum would allow students to participate in program development for such businesses and learn about the problems and challenges such firms confront, as well as solutions to those challenges. The forum will also provide a resource for referrals to our center for business consultation.”

Members of the Virginia Tech Family Business Forum will be able to participate in owner roundtables – a forum to broaden perspectives, have thinking challenged, and stay focused on goals with peer accountability provided by other roundtable members. Forum members will also have access to personalized consulting services and to Virginia Tech’s Family Therapy Center to address sibling rivalry, opposing values, and other interpersonal conflict issues within the family and business that could be limiting factors to the health of both the business and family.

Family-owned businesses are vital to the American economy. They account for 50 percent of the U. S. workforce, contribute nearly 60 percent to the GNP, and create 78 percent of new jobs. Less than 33 percent of family owned businesses are successful in passing ownership to a second generation. Over a third of family owned businesses will experience a change in leadership in the next several years. The Virginia Tech Family Business Forum is committed to supporting and strengthening the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in every family business.

Rich Lasher, founding director of the University of North Carolina’s Family Business Forum in Asheville and successful business leader at Revco Scientific and Rheem Manufacturing Company, serves as director of the Virginia Tech Family Business Forum.

For more information about Family Business Forum member benefits or to register for the Nov. 15 strategic planning program, contact Lasher at (540) 767-6108.