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30 years and counting: Prairie Family Business Association helps family businesses evolve for future success

Posted in   |  September 30, 2021

More than half of U.S. gross domestic product and domestic employment is generated by family firms, according to Family Enterprise USA.

Nearly eight in 10 new jobs come from family-owned businesses.

More than one-third of Fortune 500 companies are family-owned or controlled.

And family firms typically have higher employee retention rates than nonfamily firms.

But sustaining a family business from generation to generation is far from guaranteed. For the past 30 years, the Prairie Family Business Association has played a pivotal role in providing family businesses with the resources necessary to continue to grow in our region.

Executive director Stephanie Larscheid led the association from 2015 until 2018 and returned in 2019. We sat down with her to learn more about the association’s 30-year history and vision for the future.

Milestone anniversaries are a good time to take stock of the past, present and future. How would you characterize the way the association has evolved over time?

Prairie Family Business Association began by serving families in South Dakota. By providing a quality education association and networking resource for families, awareness of the association grew outside of South Dakota’s border. An intentional expansion took place in North Dakota several years ago. Today, 30 years after its founding, the association serves more than 220 businesses across 14 states. The association is in a period of growth while continuing to emphasize value for every family in the membership.

Looking back, what would you say are some of the association’s biggest “wins?” The things that have most contributed to its success?

An instrumental win happened when the original families, or founding families as they are referred to, saw a need and opportunity to create a formal organization. A group of volunteers, who called themselves the Sons of Bosses at the time, had the foresight to see what a focused organization with a staff member could do for family businesses in the region.

A key success factor was the formation of an advisory board made up of family business owners and next generation leaders. The advisory board provides insight on programs that are of high value to the members. Over the years, they have been the best advocates for the association and have referred countless families to membership. The peer-to-peer referrals continue to help grow the association.

Keeping the membership fees reasonable and affordable has been the association’s intent since the very beginning. Today, all basic membership fees are less than $1,000 and are tiered based on full-time employee numbers. Part of the association’s mission is to serve any family business without regard to size, revenue, region or industry.

Several years ago, the association created an endowment, which has now surpassed $1 million. The endowment has been essential to ensure the foundation and future of the association. Family business owners have contributed to the endowment because of the association’s impact on their business and the association’s opportunity to serve family businesses in perpetuity.

And, looking ahead, what are some of the ways the association wants to continue to build on its success?

The association continues to add value to current programs and create new, high-value programs.

  • Nearly 100 individuals are involved in affinity peer groups, with new groups forming each year.
  • The annual family business conference continues to achieve record attendance year over year.
  • The family business retreat provides three days to spend focused time on communication, transition planning, values and the future.
  • The next gen retreat is designed to develop an ownership mindset for the next generation of owners.
  • The board school, a newly created program, creates learning and structure around owners, managers and the board.

The association will continue growing and reaching more families while maintaining and increasing value for families involved.

Do you find the needs of family businesses are changing and, if so, in what ways?

Families who are intentional about taking time to work on their business rather than in their business experience a higher success rate of generational transition. We educate families to have honest conversations about why they are in business and, more so, why they are in business with each other. What do families want future generations to know about them as leaders and business owners?

The families who are most intentional about becoming and sustaining a multigenerational family business are continually working on their business. They are lifelong learners for themselves and for future generations. Therefore, there is continually a need for involvement with Prairie Family Business Association. In family business, it’s about more than today. It’s about preparing for the unexpected and expecting to be a viable business for generations to come.

How unique is the Prairie Family Business Association nationwide?

Prairie Family Business Association is one of the largest family business associations in the country. The association has a reputation for high-quality programs and valuable networking opportunities. The annual family business conference is the premier event each year where families gain knowledge, resources and connections.  On April 28-29, 2022, the 30th annual family business conference will be held virtually and in person in Sioux Falls. The pandemic has provided an opportunity to reach more and more families. The annual conference has reached families in nearly half of the states in the country in addition to two international countries.

Just as Prairie Family Business Association is an outreach center of the University of South Dakota Beacom School of Business, other family business associations are typically part of a higher education institution. The Family Business Alliance is a group of family business center leaders who gather to share best practices. The association’s leadership regularly engages with the Alliance.

Are there any misconceptions you think people might have about the Prairie Family Business Association?

The association is a nonprofit whose mission is to help family businesses thrive through generations by providing a resource network for family business success. We exist to provide value for family business owners and those who advise them. When family business owners and experts from across the United States interact with the association, they are impressed with the professionalism, quality and approachability of the families involved. The association’s core values are professional, focused, building connections, and above and beyond. The core values drive the way Prairie Family Business Association operates.

If people would like to learn more and connect with the association, what’s the first step?

Check out Prairie Family Business Association’s website at fambus.org or call 605-274-9530 to set up a meeting. Executive director Stephanie Larscheid and assistant director Rebecca Zabel are regularly meeting with families who have questions. Common questions include how and when do I begin planning for a transition, who should be involved and who can help me? We have answers to those questions and many more.