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Past Forum Topics

Forum gatherings feature real family business stories narrated directly by the voice of the protagonists. At each meeting, one or more family member will explore the multiple dilemmas, decisions and factors that they faced as they prepared for and experienced the succession process. Each case study takes on the complexity of the succession process with a focus on different challenges. By engaging in the reflective processes of other families with the support of experienced facilitators, participants will gain insightful new solutions for their own contexts.


Fall 2016/Spring 2017 Forum Schedule

Forum 1: Thinking Beyond the Business - Presented August 25, 2016

Do I join the family business? How do I get ready to do so? What role should start in, and how should I plan to grow over time? Are there best practices for making strategic decisions with my parents and/or siblings? In the first session of the New Forum series, we will begin with some of key critical dilemmas you and your family may face as you approach transition. The case study guest, Todd Garretson, explores how he and his family answered these questions and what he would do differently if he were to do it all again.

Todd Garretson was a third generation successor in his family business, Elmar Inc., where, after graduating, he started working and became General Manager. Over many years, he worked with his father and brother in the family business, navigating the complexities of decision-making and growth in family contexts. After selling the business, Todd stayed on and served as the General Sales Manager at Hunter Douglas and later spent the last six years of his corporate career in a number of corporate leadership roles with Newell Rubbermaid. Todd then decided to devote his career to assisting other privately held businesses with strategy and future growth opportunities. As entrepreneur, he founded and currently leads CircleMakers, LLC, and today Todd helps businesses design and implement high-value strategy projects.

The Case Study

In 1946 Jim Salkovitz founded Elmar Inc., which was a custom manufacturer of Hunter Douglas Window Fashions. Forty years later, moving into its third generation, Todd and Ross Garretson took over the thriving business and continued to grow it. But when Hunter Douglas Inc. approached them with an offer in 2006, they took it. Now, a decade later, Todd reflects on those years in the family business. Specifically, how they handled the entrance of and training for the next generation, how they managed their career growth and made strategic decisions together with the previous generation, and finally, how they handled selling the company. He will share how his family came to the decision to sell, will contemplate what factors they considered (and overlooked) prior to the sale, and if they would do it again.


Forum 2: Making Tough Choices - Presented September 29, 2016

The obvious question "to sell or not to sell?" is not the right question to ask yourself and your family. Rather, the more effective questions are more complicated; "what are the condition to stay in business together and what is required to successfully keep the business?" In the second forum we will explore the implications of difficult choices for families in business. Narrowing in on the question of selling or growing, we will consider some of the sacrifices and rewards that come with each option, and the ways that our perspectives may change the path we take.

Giovanni Colavita, is a third generation member and the CEO of Colavita USA. Colavita, a privately held family business that produces and imports a variety of Italian food products, has received recognition as a market leader for their 100% Italian olive oils and has expanded into nearly 70 countries worldwide. Since it was established 75 years ago, Colavita has continued to evolve in pursuit of new markets and new opportunities, while continuing to nurture its roots in Italian culture and tradition.

In this Forum, Giovanni explores the choices that led him to his family’s current success & the dedication, passion, and hard work that went into the company’s expansion into the U.S. market. Giovanni will also explore the implications of business decisions to his immediate and wider family, and the impact of these decisions on his company’s success. For Giovanni personally, expansion also entailed moving his family to the United States.

The Case Study

Many families eventually come to a crossroads with their businesses where they must decide to either sell or grow. This decision is often a difficult one, with each option presenting its own range of sacrifices and life changes for the family. When faced with the decision, Giovanni and the other members of Colavita’s 3rd generation decided to push the international growth and Giovanni moved his family from Italy to the U.S. to do so. This decision carried with it a number of personal and professional challenges. Did they make the right decision for their business? Was it the right decision for the family?


Forum 3: Reconciling Differences - Presented November 10, 2016

What is the best way to manage differences between generations in business families? For Robert Blazer, author of Our World Market & The Generational Distinction, the answer lay in crafting a model to better understand and leverage these differences. In the third Forum, Robert and his wife Barbara show us how thinking differently about generations remarkably shifted their experiences working with their own family members, and we address how it could help you refashion discord or disconnect into strength and productivity.

Forum 3: Reconciling Differences

Robert and Barbara Blazer are the Founding Owners of Dekalb Farmer’s Market.  Robert started the Dekalb Farmer’s Market in 1977 as a small 7,500 sq. ft. produce stand in Decatur, GA. As pioneers in the business of directly distributing fresh and quality produce to consumers, Robert and his wife Barbara have grown Dekalb Farmer’s Market into an industry leader. Today, the couple is still in charge of operations. Along with their son Daniel, they have created sustainable network of suppliers around the world and a complex infrastructure that allows them to receive direct global shipments of fresh food without costly warehousing and distribution delays. The outcome of their passion is the highest quality, lowest cost and largest variety of fresh food products currently available in the region.

The Case Study

Based on his personal, decades-long quest to better understand family and organizational relationship challenges, Robert Blazer developed an important perspective on multi-generational relationships. He explored his thinking in the pivotal book Our World Market - The Generational Distinction.

Robert’s thinking on generational difference came out of his own challenges. But when he began to approach management and leadership equipped with his unique new perspective, he discovered transformational success. In the third Forum, we will consider his methods as they apply to his own family business and, in turn, direct them at our own businesses and families. Participants will reflect on a practical perspective which will allow them to reconcile differences in approaches and work attitude between incumbent generations and their successors. These perspectives will also help them to create more successful interpersonal relationships in their businesses and families.


Forum 4: Filtered Tips to Make Two Better Than One - Presented February 10, 2017

The adage that two brains are better than one is both very captivating and true, yet it does not picture what it takes or what is needed in order for a partnership to work at its full potential. Kirk Harpole and David Ankenbrandt, of Osprey Corporation, will guide us through this process in this forum. As brother-in-laws they originally "didn't choose" to work together, rather they were put together by the previous generation. Growing together through the years, learning (mainly by-doing) about the power of trust and collaboration, they developed a true appreciation of each other's differences. Today, after several years of successful partnership in business together, they are getting ready for the raising a generation of cousins who will decide whether, and how, to join the business.

Reflecting on their own experience, Kirk and David will share with the participants some of their most important learning about:

  1. The impact of decision making during succession, and the substantial effect that the chosen process has not only on individual but also on the family as a whole and on the business.
  2. Sharing common goals as the 'True North' that has allowed them to stay and grow together, while navigating through differences;
  3. How different and positive role of in-laws can be not only in a family, but also in a business context.

By leveraging what worked for them and recognizing the constructive lessons of their struggles, Kirk and David are now looking at the future wanting to create the best context and processes for assuring continuity for the business while taking care of the relationship among their children and with their family as a whole.


Forum 5: Southeastern Mills/G&L Holdings - Presented March 17, 2017

The hardest decision for families in business is choosing between a united family or a successful business. For years, even experts in the field presented families with the toughest question: family or business first?

Guests Davis Gizzard and Parrish Owens, 4th generation cousins of G&L Holdings, share their inspiring story of what is needed to trigger that essential virtual loop between your family and business dynamics over generations showing you how it is possible to keep your family and your business safe, strong, and able to nurture each other's growth virtuously without having to choose one at the expense of the other.


Forum 6: Benning Construction Company - Presented April 20, 2017

Have you ever worried about the day when your business will be transitioned?
You are not alone.

Transitioning the ownership structure of a family business is often a gut-wrenching experience, both for the people making the decisions and those that will be impacted by them. While there are different ways to transition a family business, they each require decisions that set events into motion. This often creates unexpected dynamics throughout the transition process, which can be intensified at key junctures requiring signatures that can't be taken back.

Join us to hear how Benning Construction Company, a 5th generation family business, decided to go the route of an employee stock ownership plan or ESOP. Current Chairman and 4th generation family member, Ted Benning, will walk us through the story of how his family business chose to implement an ESOP, from origination of the idea, to the processes and experts used to execute the plan, to the outcomes they experienced. This 20-year story, which closed its final chapter in March of this year, is one you don't want to miss as it will help you practically understand ESOPs as one of your transition options.