Back to Vermont in January, Again

My annual calendar of events is probably longer than that of many people.

Kicking off each year, there’s a unique event I’ve been honoured to be a part of, and regular readers will recognize it, as I almost always write about it here.

I’m just returning from the annual SG-FECC, the world’s only Family Enterprise Case Competition, where I’ve participated as a judge almost every year for the past decade.

The fantastic team at the Grossman School of Business at the University of Vermont has been doing this so well that they’ve truly earned the distinction of the “World Cup of Family Business Education”.

Student Teams from around the Globe

Every year in early January, a couple dozen teams of students descend upon Burlington Vermont to compete in a business case competition unlike all others.

Each case deals with a situation involving a family enterprise, and anyone who works in or with such companies knows they’re quite distinct.

Such cases are also quite different from the other 99% of cases taught in business schools.

During the two days I judged, I saw presentations from graduate teams from three different Asian countries, two from Europe, plus one each from Canada and the US.

And that’s been the type of global reach this competition has had since day one.

Such a Small World After All

Just as is the case with all the other events I attend annually, it’s all about the people.

The world of family business is very much a niche, even though family businesses are a huge part of the economy everywhere around the world.

It just seems like those who work with such enterprises, as advisors, consultants and academics, are a relatively small circle of people, and everywhere I go I run into people I know, which makes it that much more enjoyable.

And yet once again, as happens every year, I always meet new people too; I got to serve on judging panels with a handful of new friends again this year.

Leadership Roles for All

One of the aspects of this case competition that never ceases to amaze me is the quality of the young students I meet every time.

The judges and the coaches are the proverbial adults in the room, but everything else is done by the students.

In addition to several dozen competitors whose average age is somewhere in the low 20’s, those who do all of the legwork are student volunteers, over 60 of them every year.

In what is clearly a meritocracy, I’ve yet to meet anyone who was less than 100% professional in all my interactions with them over the years.

Students apply for these positions and the best ones move up the ranks in subsequent years, providing lots of leadership opportunities.

Hopes for a Bright Future

I always leave with a big smile, and high hopes for a bright future for the world, after being with a slew of bright young people who can and will change the world.

Add in the fact that many of these people will enjoy careers in the field of family enterprise, and it gets even better.

When I think back to when I was a student, preparing to take on a role in the business my Dad had started, there was no mention of family business anywhere around any university.

I suppose my timing just wasn’t good, as I finished my undergrad in 1986, which coincidentally is the same year that the Family Firm Institute came into existence, which can be considered the birth of the field.

Plenty of Winners, as Usual

The team that won the Graduate League was from the Sasin School of Management in Thailand, while the Undergraduate winners hailed from Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

While it is certainly nice to win, I really don’t think that there are any losers at this event.

Like so many things, the shared life experience for all of these young people is what it’s all about.

Part of me feels a bit guilty that I was able to drive back home in about an hour and a half after judging on Friday, while most of these teams face a long return back home.

Another part of me feels jealous though, that they get to do it with their teammates, searing in the memories of their once-in-a-lifetime trip.