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Family feeling

17 May 10

Report of the inaugural meeting of the Forum of Family Business Advisors

by Laura Malcolm

The inaugural meeting of the Forum of Family Business Advisors, in the council room of the University of Strathclyde Business School on 19 April, took a “Question Time” format. About 70 interested participants from the worlds of accountancy, law, banking and other financial institutions met to discuss with and question a panel of business people. Ken McCracken (Wright Johnston McKenzie, and Family Business Solutions) chaired.

The panel represented a sector of business clients which has come together to seek and inspire increased awareness from all their advisers of the specific need in the family business sector for understanding and targeted advice. Not only that, they want us, having appreciated the gap in the market, to hone our skills and plug that gap.

At the three previous round table discussions jointly hosted by the Society and the Scottish Family Business Association, a range of business representatives (“potential clients” to you and me) expressed their view that the legal profession, rather than accountants, bankers or others, possessed the broad range of skills they most wanted to access. They also candidly stated that their experience generally was that not all solicitors or firms understood the family business sector’s particular concerns, or had fully developed the skills to help the businesses drill down beyond the presenting problem to find the root cause.

It speaks well of our individual reputations as solicitors when clients seek us out. It speaks volumes when potential clients seek us out and ask us to adapt our knowledge and skills to help them meet challenges, for example of corporate governance and generational transfer, which they recognise they have, but which, in their eyes, our advice does not yet adequately meet.

My impression was that many of the accountants who came were keen to take up this challenge, and took the opportunity to ask numerous questions and share thoughts of their experience. Solicitors were more reticent, with some notable exceptions, though present in large numbers.

The opportunities and models envisaged by the various bodies associated with the family business sector are twofold. Closest to home, the Society is leading the way among the professions represented at the Forum, in already providing initial training to members so they can take the opportunity to better represent the interests of these clients now, albeit on the understanding that to fully appreciate the complexities of this sector, deeper and more sustained study is needed.

Secondly, in parallel with the Society’s initiative, the Business School is considering designing a specific certificated course with the intention of fostering sustained academic interest, research and training in the field. This would be of interest to practitioners who wished to position themselves as family business advisers and perhaps attain an accredited status.

Those who attended the Forum will have received from the university a request for feedback on the format of further involvement and training that interests them. For members who have an interest but were not able to get to the meeting, further details can be obtained from Professor Sara Carter: sara.carter@strath.ac.uk

 

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