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Vol 37  No 16
June 30, 2005


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Former media moguls find a home for family business issues at Memorial

Learning from a family vocation

By Aimee Sheppard

Dr. Axel Meisen (centre) recently discussed the proposed expansion of the Faculty of Business Administration with Philippe and Nan-b de Gaspé Beaubien. The de Gaspé Beaubiens, former owners of Telemedia Inc. and founders of the Business Families Foundation, were in St. John’s recently to help launch Memorial’s Business Families Centre, an initiative of the P. J. Gardiner Institute. The de Gaspé Beaubiens gave $75,000 to Memorial to help establish the centre which is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada. (Photo by Chris Hammond)

 

For more than 40 years, Philippe and Nan-b de Gaspé Beaubien have been traveling the world learning from business families. In June, they were at Memorial participating in the launch of the P. J. Gardiner Institute’s Business Families Centre.

Over the years, the de Gaspé Beaubiens have had a significant impact on the way family business is perceived and taught. The former owners of Telemedia Inc. and founders of the Business Families Foundation hope this new centre, the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, will increase awareness of family business issues in the region.

The de Gaspé Beaubiens were born into family business issues (Mr. de Gaspé Beaubien’s family has been involved in family businesses for close to 400 years) and continue to remain passionate about the subject. “Eighty to 90 per cent of Canadian businesses are family-owned firms; our economy is based on family business,” he said.

“Philippe’s family was good at starting businesses but not continuing them,’ said Ms. de Gaspé Beaubien. “That’s what we wanted to change. We went to consultants but they could only offer a fragmented approach to our problems depending on their specialty. Our tax expert could save us money but what did that mean for the next generation? That’s what was important to us.”

They looked to universities for answers and began with some of the Ivy league universities in the United States. “At one of the most prestigious U.S. universities, a professor bluntly told us family business is not a teachable subject,” said Ms. de Gaspé Beaubien. “I responded with ‘so we can live it, but you can’t teach it?’”

But the persistent duo did not stop there. Through their work with the Young President’s Organization, the de Gaspé Beaubiens met with more than 1000 influential business families around the world. They found many of these families had developed similar practices regardless of where they lived.

They started hosting weekend retreats at their country home to share their findings with other business families. “We were working harder on the weekends than we were during the week, that’s when we realized there is a tremendous need for this type of education,” she said.

They started team teaching with faculty members from the U.S. and Europe. “At first, families didn’t want to work with university professors because they thought they would be too theoretical and would not be able to teach them about real life. In this case, the knowledge is not in front of the room, it’s in the room, and we needed facilitators to extract this from the families,” said Mr. de Gaspé Beaubien.

Family business matters have typically been dealt with behind closed doors; however, the de Gaspé Beaubiens hope to see a group of families in the region that will want to work with the Faculty of Business Administration and the P.J. Gardiner Institute to share their experiences. “Faculty members will then have access to family business, and that whole world will open up to case writing and research so that we can build upon the skills in our universities and better understand the issues,” he said.

Memorial’s Business Families Centre now completes a cross-country network of similar centres. “One of our dreams is that each centre will develop their own strengths and will share with the others,” said Ms. de Gaspé Beaubien. “In Canada, we can’t afford this tremendous competition between universities. If universities help business families they get closer to their communities and that’s where we will see results.”

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