Proud members of the Babson College community, Charlie Nulsen ’79 and JoAnn Kocum Nulsen ’81 knew that when it was time to start thinking of a succession plan for their real estate firm, Babson would be the place to go.
So, in March 2019, the Nulsens returned to the very place where their careers, and their family, began roughly 40 years ago—not to reminisce, but to head back to class.
Through custom work with Babson Executive Education and the Institute for Family Entrepreneurship (IFE), the pair and two of their four children participated in an intensive, two-day program designed specifically for them and their transgenerational family business needs.
“We started the conversation (with Babson) a couple of years ago . . . right when the Institute for Family Entrepreneurship was just beginning,” said Charlie Nulsen. Once it was fully up and running, “they put together a customized program that our family could participate in. . . . It was great.”
This experience, and the family’s newfound relationship with the IFE Executive Director and well-known family business leader Lauri Union, helped catapult a desire to be involved in the institute’s early efforts to transcend generations of entrepreneurial family leaders, and to ensure the successful transition from one generation to the next.
The Nulsen family’s generous $2 million gift will endow Union’s executive directorship at the IFE. JoAnn Kocum Nulsen also has joined the institute’s impressive Advisory Board.
“One of the key principles emerging from Babson’s ongoing strategic planning efforts is the importance of engaging entrepreneurial leaders at all stages of their careers and lives,” said Babson President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD. “Successful family enterprises and entrepreneurial leaders must continuously learn and grow as markets shift and the world and workplace rapidly evolve. The generosity of the Nulsen family enables Babson’s Institute of Family Entrepreneurship to extend our support for multigenerational entrepreneurial families and create lifelong connections and learning opportunities.”
Today, approximately 50% of Babson students come from a family business. And, interest in experiential, entrepreneurial family programming is growing.
In the year and a half since the IFE’s launch, more than 400 students and their families have engaged in the institute’s signature Family Entrepreneurship Amplifier Course and other programs.
According to the IFE, “the business, investment, and philanthropic activities of entrepreneurial families are significant drivers of the global economy.” Consistent with Babson’s leadership in entrepreneurship education, the College’s commitment to family entrepreneurs recognizes that families, not just family businesses, drive entrepreneurial behavior.
Here, entrepreneurial families are “addressing a set of needs that are otherwise not particularly met at a college or university,” said Union, who notes that the IFE engages the entire family, not just the student.
And, that full family engagement is important, now more than ever, as new research from the Successful Transgenerational Entrepreneurship Practices (STEP) Project finds that only 30% of all global family businesses have a formal succession plan, but the time has come to pass the baton to millennial CEOs.
In thinking about the future of family entrepreneurship, Union said she’s most excited about Babson’s opportunity to help create and lead a global network of multigenerational families, and to “facilitate their ability to learn and network together.”
The Nulsens may have attended Babson at the same time, but it wasn’t until they ran into each other at a Washington, D.C., restaurant a few years later that they would become friends, and then ultimately, family.
After graduation, JoAnn Kocum Nulsen worked for Honeywell and then joined Microsoft during its inception. Charlie Nulsen became a successful real estate developer, co-founding Atlantic Realty Companies, and then Washington Property Company.
“I graduated in 1979, and I tell my kids that my last résumé was in 1983,” he said. “I think it was very important that I had the education and guidance from Babson to go out and start a company at an early age and have confidence to continue to run my own company over the next 30 years.”
“The icing on the cake,” he added, “is that my bride also went to Babson.”
“Babson is really critically important to us now with our family (and) with this company being eventually handed down to our children,” said JoAnn Kocum Nulsen. “Making the transition (while) Babson is aiding us and providing guidance during that process,” she shares, is something for which the family is very grateful.
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