At 27 and fresh out of business school, Lauri Union took over her family’s business, Union Corrugating Company. The company was not doing well, and her charge was to turn it around so it could be sold.
“I intended to never get involved,” said Union. “But, the business was at a crisis point. It ended up being a fabulous opportunity.”
Union held the position of president and CEO for 14 years—growing the family business many times over before it was sold to a private equity firm. Through that experience, she became passionate about helping other family businesses grow and prosper from a new angle: family entrepreneurship.
“You don’t have to go into your family’s business,” said Union, “But if you understand your family’s entrepreneurial legacy, you can use that to achieve your own goals.”
The Institute for Family Entrepreneurship at Babson
That passion for family entrepreneurship brought Union to Babson.
In April 2018, Babson College launched the Institute for Family Entrepreneurship (IFE) with Union as its executive director. IFE is Babson’s hub for research, resources, and innovative programming dedicated to entrepreneurial students and their families. The institute brings Union’s idea of understanding and experiencing your family’s entrepreneurship to life.
“At least 70 percent of the world’s GDP comes from family businesses,” said Union. “Half of Babson’s community has a family business background.” With this thriving community and Union’s leadership, Babson is uniquely positioned to offer programming and support for students in entrepreneurial families.
Building Capacity for Conversations
The energy around IFE in its first year has been electric. “We have created a significant number of programs and have engaged with 250 students,” said Union. “Almost every program has sold out immediately; there is a want and a need for the work that we are doing.”
The Family Entrepreneurship Amplifier course is a unique offering that engages students, along with their families, in a three-year program to grow their family’s entrepreneurship. “This is something no one else is doing in an academic setting,” said Union. Students are able to work with their families to create a shared vision for how they can together create economic, social, and family value.
It is becoming clear as the year goes on how powerful this platform is for students and their families. Many of the students are having these tough business-related conversations with their families for the first time during our programming.
The process of running businesses within a family is loaded with conversations around legacy. These topics are different across generations, and IFE is creating a structure so that the conversations are productive and successful.
Union is looking into the future of IFE and seeing capacity for a globally recognized brand. “Babson’s program is so international,” said Union. “In the near future, I would like to see our program recognized in all 119 countries our students and alumni are from.”
If the first year is any indication, IFE is going to continue to grow its offerings and impact on Babson’s campus. Programming also will soon be available to Babson’s alumni population, to continue creating an impact in the world of entrepreneurial families.
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