Cornell University and its graduate business school made a big difference for John Smith, MBA ’74, whose family’s freight trucking business is among the 10 largest U.S. truckload concerns. Their wish for family businesses of all kinds to be owned and operated by subsequent generations moved the Smiths to make a $10 million gift to the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University to found the John and Dyan Smith Family Business Initiative.
“It is in the best interest of family businesses and the country for these businesses to be carried on for many generations,” said Smith. “With a focus on family businesses at Johnson, good research will be conducted, educational seminars will address the unique needs of family businesses, and prospective students will be drawn to Johnson because of the family business expertise on campus.”
The Smith Family Business Initiative will be housed in Johnson’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute, and will fund three key additions to the institute:
- The John and Dyan Smith Professorship of Management and Family Business, who will serve as the initiative’s lead faculty member
- The Smith Family Clinical Professorship of Management, who will serve as director of the initiative
- The Smith Family Research, Program, and Faculty Support Fund, which will support a number of activities, including course offerings, student and alumni programming, marketing and outreach, presentations by visiting executive speakers, and faculty recruitment
The Smith’s son Ian, currently earning his MBA at Johnson, is among many students from family businesses, who have joined Johnson over the past several decades—a trend that Soumitra Dutta, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean, expects to continue.
“With the Smith’s generous gift, we can now put in place a systematic program to help prepare students for starting, scaling, and managing a family business,” Dutta said. “The Smith Family Business Initiative will have a profound and lasting impact on family business and graduate business education at Johnson and Cornell.”
The Smith Family Business Initiative is likely to be a game-changer for Johnson and for Cornell, both in the U.S. and the world, said Wesley Sine, faculty director of Johnson’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute.
“Family businesses are the most common type of business on the earth, particularly in developing countries,” Sine said. “The greater the extent to which we help family businesses across the globe be more successful, the greater our relevance and the larger our impact.”
Recognizing that family businesses are the foundation of economic growth worldwide, Johnson is moving forward quickly with both research and new and innovative curriculum specific to them. Sine is currently developing the Smith Family Business Initiatives first two programs—a course that will focus on the benefits and challenges that are peculiar to family businesses; and the Smith Family Distinguished Family Business Lecture Series, which will bring executives from the world’s most successful family businesses to the Cornell campus.
Bringing the next generation into the family business was critically important to the Smiths, as it is for most families in business together. Yet there are many obstacles to be overcome. Infightings and misunderstandings can overwhelm a business, the Smiths said. Divisive issues are often emotional rather than business related.
“Who do you go to for help in addressing these problems and proceeding into the future? Where do you go for information on starting a family business and keeping your children in it?” said Dyan Smith. “We hope Cornell will flourish in being the source for family businesses.”