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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Innovations in Family Business Education by Melanie Stern

from FAMILIES IN BUSINESS MAGAZINE, April/May 2003 issue
(EUROPEAN MAGAZINE PRODUCED IN OFFICIAL ASSOCIATION WITH FAMILY BUSINESS NETWORK)

As academic provision for family businesses reaches critical mass, more innovations are being developed that provide an alternative or add-on choice for the sector

Setting the Stage for Family Business Success

It seems almost logical that, knowing how much drama can be involved in many aspects of running a family business, educators in the sector have taken a leaf from the thespian's book. The Massachusetts-based UMass Amherst Family Business Center is one such advocate of this approach, having run two previous plays on the strains of family business life, including "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home." Admittedly, this sounds a little unorthodox at first, and perhaps doesn't have the expected executive education ring about it- but UMass director Ira Bryck has had nothing but positive feedback from his audience, which has included members of MassMutual and family business sector advisor Dennis Jaffe, as well as large and medium-sized US family businesses. Bryck is to the point about why he chose to use drama to facilitate his message. " It was my observation that business-owning families were not getting to a deep enough level of discussion about their conflicts and inner struggles, even with speakers broaching the 'soft topics'," Bryck explains. "Drama has a way of getting under the skin, and by analysing the problems facing a fictional case you can point out what is affecting 'those people' without risk to you. Case studies seem too academic and many people don't read them carefully or at all; but with a play, everybody sees it simultaneously and feels the pain of the characters. A surprising number of people were proud to be similar even to the unsympathetic characters in the plays, but better understood why certain behaviours from that character were problematic, and how changes might be necessary to get better results. Entertainment is key in a learning situation."

Bryck's show, "A Tough Nut to Crack", based on the true story of a father and son company, toured the family business centres of universities late last year and will see more universities and family businesss forums throughout the US in 2003.

So, educators are clearly focused on providing some very creative learning opportunities- there is little excuse for a dragging of heels on the families' parts. Bryck, however, concludes that the latter has been somewhat of a personal bugbear: "In nine years of putting on events for family companies, I've found that people like the topics best that challenge them the least. People who really need to discuss intense competition between siblings would much rather hear about mezzanine finance." THE PLAY'S THE THING

from FAMILY BUSINESS MAGAZINE, SPRING 2003 issue

A two-character play is captivating members of academic family business forums throughout the country as it stimulates discussion about succession, business leadership, and other hot-button family business issues.

A Tough Nut to Crack, by Ira Bryck, director of the University of Massachusetts Family Business Center, is traveling to other family business forums across the country this year. The play, which Bryck describes as "edu-tainment," follow father and son Will and Bud Rosenbloom through 18 years among the racks and shelves of Rosenbloom's Department Store. Will and Bud spar and joke with each other as they struggle to peacefully coexist while fending off competition from major retailers and deep discounters and watching the neighborhood change.

The Rosenblooms are Jews who own a children's clothing store, but their battles and reconciliations will resonate with anyone who works alongside a relative in any type of business. Playwright Bryck spent 17 years of his adult life in his family's fourth-generation childrenswear retailer on Long Island, N.Y., which obviously inspired the play. A Tough Nut to Crack is his third family business drama.

For information, visit www.umass.edu/fambiz/biztheater.html

Other media coverage of the family business plays:

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