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, but the business was at a crisis point,” says Union. “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. “You don’t have to go into your family’s business,” says Union, “but if you understand your family’s entrepreneurial legacy, you can use that to achieve your own goals.”
That passion for family entrepreneurship eventually brought Union to a place founded on the very idea of helping families in business together: Babson. And her work at the College has resulted recently in her being named one of The Top 100 Family Influencers, a prestigious honor from Family Capital, a leading family enterprise publication.
Union came to Babson in 2018 as the College was launching the Institute for Family Entrepreneurship. IFE is Babson’s hub for research, resources, and programming dedicated to entrepreneurial students and their families. Its mission is to increase the capacity of enterprising families around the world to create economic value and social impact, and to build those efforts on a foundation of stronger family relationships.
Union serves as IFE’s Nulsen Family Executive Director, and she believes that the institute’s work has far-reaching implications. Half of Babson’s community has a family business background, and, beyond the College, entrepreneurial families drive more than 70% of global GDP. “We see so many challenges and opportunities in the world today,” says Union. “These families, and, in particular, their next generations, are one of the greatest forces for driving positive change.”
One of IFE’s signature programs is the Family Entrepreneurship Amplifier: Entrepreneurial Families Course. Created and led by Matt Allen, associate professor of entrepreneurship, the immersive program engages students, along with their families, during their entire time at Babson. Students and their families learn how they can create value together through increased understanding of each other and a shared vision of their family’s entrepreneurship.
“We see so many challenges and opportunities in the world today. These families, and, in particular, their next generations, are one of the greatest forces for driving positive change.”
Lauri Union, Nulsen Family Executive Director of the Institute for Family Entrepreneurship
Since launching in 2018 with a pilot cohort of 20 students and their families, the program has grown substantially. Today, more than 100 students, together with their families, have taken part. “This is something no one else is doing in an academic setting,” says Union.
Another signature program is the Peer Forum, which helps students build the emotional intelligence needed to successfully navigate family entrepreneurship. Because of the pandemic, IFE also has hosted nine virtual events since March in its series How Entrepreneurial Families Can Lead, Now and in the Post Crisis World. Some 600 members of the Babson community have participated in the series. “There is a want and a need for the work that we are doing,” says Union.
Considering all that IFE has accomplished, Union was recognized by Family Capital as among The Top 100 Family Influencers, and she was one of only 13 academics named on the prestigious list. Union says the honor reflects not only her efforts but that of the entire IFE team. “To me, this means that the work of Babson’s faculty in this field has been recognized because of our unique approach,” says Union.
That unique approach focuses on how families can create social and economic value through a foundation of stronger family relationships. “This is quite different than the more common family business approach, which tends to focus on the structural questions such as succession planning, governance, and ownership,” says Union. “We do believe those topics are important, but we see relationships as the missing link that fosters the capacity of families to problem solve together.”
That enables families to think beyond their existing business to consider other opportunities that they could pursue. “It opens the door for new kinds of value creation through startups, transformation of existing businesses, social entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and more that many members of the family can engage in,” says Union.
This article was originally published in April 2019.
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