Alison Ebbage finds out how a top French business school is empowering the family business leaders of tomorrow
Working with their peers from across the globe is proving a powerful tool for the next-generation of family business leaders. Improving the core skills of these future family business leaders is precisely the aim of the EDHEC Business School in France. The 15-month modular course is spread across six different locations in sessions at EDHEC’s integrated campuses in Paris, Lille, Nice, London, and Singapore, with students graduating from its Global Executive Master of Business (GEMBA) programme in May 2017.
Participants are already working in a family firm and are considered next-generation leaders, whether they are part of the family or not.
The business school believes, in the face of an increasingly complex, competitive, and globalised world, that family businesses are one of the few institutions which still succeed in transferring positive values and maintain a long-term vision for performance.
The programme is geared towards the development of innovative methods with a use in business.
CampdenFBspoke to two of the course’s latest participants; Miia Porkkala, chairwoman of the board at Aho Group Oy, and Risto Väyrynen, chairman of the board at Leipomo Väyrynen, both in Finland.
Miia Porkkala, Aho Group Oy
What is your role in your family business?
Porkkala: “I have been chairwoman of the board for Aho Group Oy since 2015. My aim during my three-year position as chairwoman is to form an owners’ strategy for Aho Group, including mission, vision, and governance, both for the family and business.
“Aho Group Oy is a second-generation business that is equally owned by two siblings. It specialises in tourism, running two ski resorts in Lapland - Ruka and Pyhä. It also operates within private healthcare under Aava Healthcare Ltd, running 14 private medical centres.
“Aho Group could be seen as an owners council where there are boards with outside members for Ruka and Pyhä as well as for Aava Healthcare.”
What have you learned from the course which will prove useful when returning to the family business?
Porkkala:“Before becoming chairwoman at Aho Group I had worked exclusively within tourism for a long time so I felt that a GEMBA would give me some additional experience and insights.
“This has certainly been the case; not only have I gained new insights for financing, strategy, and marketing, but I have also learnt about how they can most usefully be applied to structures and theory around family businesses.
“With a family business, the importance of the human factor and family relations is huge. Family can be the greatest resource or the greatest point of weakness for the family business. Good governance and communication is key.
“After GEMBA, I feel empowered to do my utmost to make it the former rather than the latter. This knowledge and understanding could not be studied in any other MBA programme.”
What impact has the international aspect of the course had on your experience?
Porkkala:“We all need to understand and respect the fact that we are all individuals with different thoughts and opinions according to our backgrounds.
“Being brought up as the eldest son in India, one of 40 cousins in a Saudi family business, or as the second daughter in a Scandinavian business family, really illustrates how different the perspective of different members of the same family can be.
“Understanding that members of the same family can have totally different viewpoints is crucial. So, at least for me, this cultural blend has really given a totally new platform to look at human relations and communication in general - accepting the differences we have and what it brings to our relationships and yet respecting the differences.”
How has the course requirement for significant work experience impacted your studies?
Porkkala:“I personally think that required work experience is very important. Obviously we have all come from different fields of expertise and business sectors, but we all have real-life experience which allows us to identify the possibilities, challenges, and limitations of a given situation.
“On personal level I think the combination of real-life experience and what we take away from this programme is a powerful lesson.”
The GEMBA programme includes a consulting project, which can be personalised to the needs of participants or their family business. Has that been your experience so far and has it proved useful and actionable in real life?
Porkkala:“So far no consulting has been involved. Instead the implementation reports we have done have proven to be a great tool in improving the way we work and taking valuable insight away. I appreciate the way we have been encouraged to handle the implementation reports; we do the work for ourselves, not for the professors.”
Risto Väyrynen, Leipomo Väyrynen
How has your role changed since you first became involved in your family business?
Väyrynen:“I come from a fourth-generation bakery family and have recently started my own bakery business with my cousin. We focus on artisan locally-produced premium bread that is manufactured without yeast.
“In the production we use the same sourdough that was started by my great-grandfather some 110 years ago.
“I work as the chairman of the board and I am in charge of the strategy and finances of the company. My cousin and his wife run the day-to-day operations.”
What have you learned from the course that will prove useful when returning to the family business?
Väyrynen:“I come from a finance background but feel that I learned a great deal more in regards to the practical side of running the business; especially understanding and optimising the capital requirements of the company.
“Apart from the academic side we had a very diverse group of excellent, sharp-minded people on the course. I underestimated how much we learned from each other and I feel this peer learning is probably the most important aspect of the whole course.
“Learning and hearing about other people’s real-life challenges and experiences and understanding that even if we all came from very different countries and backgrounds we all shared similar challenges in our careers has been valuable.”
What have been the positive elements of gaining and sharing work experience and how can they be applied once you return to the family business?
Väyrynen:“Everybody from the course had already accumulated plenty of real-life work experience which gave support to the pure academic learning. Sharing these stories and applying academic theories to them work very well. I strongly believe that without this, the outcome of the course would not have been as successful.
“I learned that even though we all come from different family businesses from all over the world, we all had very similar and identifiable family systems in place. It was useful to get outside viewpoints on these interlinked roles and relations that all families have and which can be very difficult to change when moving along the hierarchy within the business.”
GEMBA includes a consulting project, which can be personalised to the needs of participants or their family business. Has that been your experience so far and has it proved useful and actionable in real life?
Väyrynen:“I made my final consulting project on a new business venture that I am starting. This proved to be very useful as I could use the material directly on the new project and have valuable academic input while it was progressing.”