2022 Conference Recap: Young Alumni: Governance from the Ground Up

By Winnie Hui ’22

Nandini Garg ’19Director, Rajdarbar Group
E. Smyth McKissick IV ’17President & CEO, Alice Company
Martim de Mello ’21Associate, McKinsey & Co.
Marc Rosenberg ’21Director of Finance, PIM Brands, Inc.
Winnie Hui ’22Co-President, Family Business Club

About this session
Young Columbia Business School alumni leaders across the globe and from diverse industries shared their thoughts and insights on how to best position themselves in their family businesses. They also gave students invaluable advice on what they can do now to pave a successful path for themselves at their family businesses in the future.

Navigating Uncomfortable Conversations
In any job, it is inevitable that one will have to encounter difficult conversations around salaries, benefits, and start dates. However, these discussions may be even more tense when you report to your parent or other family member. To navigate these situations, panelists emphasized the importance of doing research, gathering data, and getting third party perspectives (sometimes from external headhunters) before presenting their cases to their (family member) bosses. When there are benchmarks or specific information that support their arguments, they tend to be more successful in getting a raise or a desired start date.

Preparing for a Career in the Family Business
Many of the panelists spent their entire lives gaining the necessary skills needed to join their family businesses. This can come in forms of choosing specific roles at outside companies that allowed them to bolster their strengths or deciding to work at a particular location in order to build a network where their family businesses are based. These outside experiences are helpful, as they can serve as examples and guide them to appropriately think about how to improve their family businesses going forward.

Formalizing Governance Structures
Many second- and third-generation family businesses do not have strict governance structures, as most of the decision-making process still lies among the founders. The panelists noted that they kept all the files taught in Columbia Business School’s Family Business Management, Family Enterprise and Wealth, and Managing Conflict in Family Businesses to implement or revise the appropriate structures (in terms of a family constitution, board of directors, and succession planning) at their family enterprises when the time is right. Taking a proactive instead of reactive approach is crucial to mitigating conflict.

Starting Refreshed
The panelists agreed that working at one’s family business is a lifetime commitment. At any other ordinary job, it is easy to log off when your hours are completed for the day. However, when you work at a family business, you are typically more invested in the company’s performance. With that said, it is challenging to completely decompress once you start working at your family business, which is why taking time off and starting off fresh as well as recharged is key.

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