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Kingery & Crouse PA

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Florida Entrepreneur and Family Business Center Giving Business a Boost

By Carol Cortright

Florida Entrepreneur and Family Business Center Giving Business a BoostAs much as the silver minarets symbolize Tampa’s skyline, these familiar Moorish domesatop the University of Tampa also represent a shining example of the entrepreneur’s can-do spirit and the endless possibilities of the ambitious businessperson.

The university stands as a testament to an earlier entrepreneur, Henry B. Plant, a railroad and shipping magnate who branched out into luxury accommodation-building to foster the growth of his other industries. The 511-room winter resort, completed in 1891, became an institution of higher learning in 1933.

Now the university is home to the Florida Entrepreneur and Family Business Center, open not only to students, but to anyone interested in making his businesses grow and thrive. Illustrating the breadth of its resources, the center earned the Family Firm Institute’s prestigious 2006 Interdisciplinary Program Award after merging with the Tampa Bay Family Business Forum, a previously independent network of family businesses and professionals.

The high percentage of long-term family-owned businesses in Florida helps give it a solid foundation, according to Dr. Dianne Welsh, Director of the Florida Entrepreneur & Family Business Center, under the auspices of the university’s Sykes College of Business. Her colleague, Dr. Joseph McCann, provides some noteworthy examples right here in the Tampa Bay region. “Evatone and Creative Recycling were both nationally recognized, award winning, family-owned businesses,” he says, “and Raymond James and Tech Data have those roots and have become giants.”

One of the goals of the center is to promote those success stories and help the community gain inspiration from knowing that it is entirely possible for newer companies to thrive. Some of those recognized in the past include K-Force, Outback and Sykes. In fact, the Outstanding Florida Family Business of the Year Awards program is the center’s flagship event, honoring top family companies from around the state. Watch for it to come around again in March 2008.

Because of the high quality and variety of resources offered at the center, business owners can reap the benefits of an extensive network of skilled professionals, sometimes enjoying one-on-one consultations with experts in highly specialized fields. Some of the advice, says McCann, is even provided directly from the staff, since many involved in the business school have started or run companies in addition to teaching and researching.

When business owners find themselves too wrapped up in the daily grind to worry about long-term strategies, help is available, for a nominal fee, in the form of the Strategic Analysis Program, prepared by students of the business school’s Naimoli Institute. Since 1993, student teams have analyzed participating companies and their industries and provided comprehensive consultations, including recommendations for improvement.

“We also have a wonderful internship program,” Welsh says. Students share their current classroom training and have the chance to put it into practice, while business owners get the advantage of fresh ideas and can show the students how things work in the real world. The program strives to match students with interest-appropriate businesses.

The center’s family-owned business component aims for next generation succession planning. All too often, family members who fall into the “me generation” experience real uncertainty, plagued by questions such as, “Do I really want to stay in the business?” and “What can I contribute?” Those answers might be found by participating in a new program coming in 2008. Growing Force: Leadership Development for the Next Generation is specifically targeted to sons and daughters in line to run the family business. McCann says this program will be unlike any other in the nation.

“A third to a half of our business school students are in line for a family business,” Welsh points out. “They are a real asset if the business has been operating the same way for too long. They are at a prime point in their lives to take the business to the next level so the marketplace doesn’t pass them by.”

The center helps family enterprises see the two distinct realms in their operations. Half of it is the family side—the relationships, the culture, the home and hearth. The other side is all business—the numbers, the product, the nuts and bolts. The key is learning to make both sides work together in harmony. Sometimes, a personality analysis of the family members can shed light on opening up more effective communication.

Furthermore, the next generation needs to be savvy enough to take the family business into the future—and into an ever-increasing international economy. They must be prepared to work with clients and vendors across global cultures. “Indian culture is very different from Middle Eastern culture,” she says. “How do you deal with that?”

For starters, you get in touch with the Florida Entrepreneur and Family Business Center at the University of Tampa, ASAP.

For more information, visit www.ut.edu/academics/business/fep or contact Dr. Dianne Welsh at (813) 253-6221 x1760 or e-mail dwelsh@ut.edu.