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School Helps Latin American Family Businesses Meet Unique Challenges

June 29, 2015
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Juan de Dios Sanchez-Roselly, head of investments at Banco
Santander, served as a guest speaker during the Family
Business Certificate Program.

When Sergio Aldana tried to employ some distant relatives at his family’s Chevrolet dealership in Mexico, things didn’t work out as anyone had hoped. “We were trying to give them a job because they didn’t have a job, but they didn’t have the skills required for the specific jobs they were assigned,” Aldana recalled. “We had to let them go, and that created conflict in the extended family.”

Now, after he and his father took part in the first intensive Family Business Certificate Program at the School of Business in May, they have a plan for introducing family members to the business, among other things. 

The program, sponsored by Banco Santander among other sponsors, brought the Aldanas and 28 other family business owners representing eight Latin American countries to the School’s Executive Education Center for three days to learn how to avoid the common pitfalls of running a family business and how to successfully pass their companies on to the next generation.

They discussed ways to balance the emotional needs of family with the financial needs of a business, how to manage conflict and how to develop effective governance and ownership structures.

“There are many challenges in family business,” said attendee Alicia Tejada, who remembers her entrepreneurial father mixing and tasting ingredients in her family kitchen more than a decade ago, searching for the ideal chemical-free sweetener.

Today, she’s vice president of marketing and product innovation for Caribbean Liquid Sugar, the organic and all-natural sweetener company that grew from those experiments. Her father remains the visionary and she and her two siblings have divided work based on their strengths, with Tejada heading the Miami office and the rest of her family working in the Dominican Republic. 

She came away from the family business program with a new appreciation for the importance of paying attention to fiscal matters and including outside experts on the board.

“The class helped us understand the seriousness and importance of these two things, and we are paying attention to what we learned and are trying to implement it,” she said. “Now we can take the business to the next level and expand to future generations.”

This same goal helped Aldana convince his reluctant father, who took over a car dealership 12 years ago and quickly brought his son on board, to take the class with him. 

“I told him this is something we need so we could plan going forward for the new generations,” said Aldana, who also is graduating from the school’s Global Executive MBA program next year. “When the class was done, he was very happy.”

The father-son team, who employ 130 people and sell about 1,500 cars a year from three locations in Mexico, returned home with a to-do list.

“Now the tough part is to follow up on the list of items,” Aldana said.

First, they are improving corporate governance by selecting three external people to attend their meetings. “They can give us additional ideas on where to take the business and where we can expand and grow,” Aldana said.

They also are bringing the family together to discuss their goals and the roles each person will play, as well as planning for succession as they continue to grow the company. 

As they make these changes, Aldana is grateful to have the School’s executive education team on his speed dial. “All the consultants that join the program as speakers give you the tools to develop your business and do the follow up on it when you’re ready to implement it,” he said. “They’re just a phone call away.”

The next session in the Family Business Certificate Program will be held in February, 2016.

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