Management of the Family Business

Course Number 1655

Senior Lecturer John A. Davis
Winter; Q4; 1.5 credts
14 Session short course

Family-owned businesses account for two-thirds of the world's businesses and generate most of the world's economic output, employment and wealth. In many regions of the world, family companies dominate the economy. While family businesses on average are shown to be stronger performers than other types of enterprise, they have distinctive vulnerabilities that need to be managed. This course helps students understand how to capitalize on the strengths, navigate the challenges, and guard against the weaknesses of these companies and of the families that own them.

Career Focus

This course is intended for HBS and cross-registered students including a:

  • Student whose family (or spouse's family) owns a business, whether or not the student intends to work in the business or will be a shareholder of it; and a
  • Student who may work with a family business as a non-family manager, consultant, investment banker, private banker or in other roles.

Educational Objectives

Management of the Family Business explores the management, ownership, family, career and personal issues found in family companies. The course develops a student's understanding of these organizations, as well as the skills needed to address the challenges family companies and business-owning families face. Students also have the opportunity to get to know one another in and out of class and to enter a lifelong learning relationship on this topic at HBS.

Students have the opportunity to get to know one another in and out of class and to enter a lifelong learning relationship on this topic at HBS. Students are encouraged to bring family members and other guests to classes.

Course Content and Organization

Management of the Family Business has 14 class sessions and requires a short final paper on a family business topic of interest to the student. Grading is based half on class participation and half on performance on the final paper.

Classes include case discussions of family company situations from around the world, engaging guest speakers from family companies, and lecture/discussions on real world topics, such as:

  • The dynamics of family-business-ownership systems and how they predictably evolve
  • Managing family work and shareholder relationships, including how to address family conflict and negotiate with family members
  • Achieving professionalism in the family business
  • Deciding whether to enter the family business
  • Developing family members as managers and/or shareholders
  • Women in the family business systems
  • Encouraging and managing change in the family business system
  • Managing leadership and ownership succession
  • Designing effective family business boards and family governance
  • Practices and principles of successful family companies and business families.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of office hour appointments with Professor Davis to discuss their family business system and career plans; students are also welcome to bring family members and other guests to class.