JAN 02, 2019
Cambridge Family Enterprise Group—known for its meaningful work helping multigenerational families across the globe sustain their success—celebrates 30 years in business.
The global firm, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was born in 1989 of a deeply held belief by its founder, John Davis, MIT professor and pioneer of the family enterprise field, that the family is society’s most powerful social organization. Professor Davis says, “When families commit to a long-term purpose, they are capable of doing significant things for the world: being economic growth engines, anchoring communities, stewarding history, and creating value for their families, communities, and nations. This is what drives my colleagues and me to help family ownership groups move obstacles out of their way and become more effective as owning families.” Much has changed in the world since 1989, but the mission of Cambridge Family Enterprise Group (CFEG) is timeless. The group still remains true to its original purpose established 30 years ago—to help families and their enterprises achieve lasting and meaningful success over generations.
Many of the practices that CFEG has taught and advised multigenerational families to embrace for the last 30 years have recently become fashionable among non-family businesses and financial institutions–such as the rise in popularity of “long-termism” in corporate strategy, of “patient capital” in private equity, and of “building stakeholder value, not just shareholder value” on boards of directors. These are now trending among business leaders who have suddenly discovered their efficacy. “But families have been practicing these for centuries,” says Eduardo Gentil, a CFEG partner and corporate governance expert. “Long-term success is in their DNA.”
And it is in the DNA of CFEG.
At a time when business mortality is grim—when 50% of all businesses started today in the U.S. will perish within five years, 25% will last a decade, and only 16% will survive 25 years—to survive 30 years is a milestone that makes CFEG proud. “We are pleased to have reached the 30-year milestone—longer than a generation—and we look forward to continuing to do great things to support families,” says Helena McDonnell, a CFEG partner and expert in succession and next generation preparedness. According to CFEG research, America’s best performing companies in 1970 lived, on average, for 32 years. In 2010, a top 500 American company was only expected to live 17 years. “With business lifespans shortening to this degree, to have survived for 30 years is gratifying,” says Maria Sinanis, a CFEG partner who helps families architect governance models that are tailor-made and built to last.
Since the 1980s, the team of specialists at CFEG has done transformative work moving families, companies, and family offices to a better state. “We support and believe in family enterprises as a competitive and progressive form of business ownership,” says Andrew Hier, a CFEG partner who specializes in designing long-term ownership strategies. CFEG’s deep expertise allows them to see around corners to guide families as they navigate the difficult terrain of ownership and leadership today—whether it is rethinking business models amidst industry disruptions or redesigning the board; growing a portfolio of assets or reorganizing the family office; aligning owners or healing family wounds; helping leaders transition or preparing next generation talent.
In addition to providing analysis and recommendations on issues, CFEG walks hand-in-hand with families to implement change too, putting in place important strategies while building a family’s capabilities to sustain them. “Family enterprise strategies and capabilities need to be developed simultaneously, rather than consecutively. Our world is moving too quickly to be linear,” says Dr. Pascale Michaud, a CFEG partner and portfolio strategist. “We help ownership groups find alignment and enhance their capabilities to develop growth strategies for their portfolios of companies and investments—always for the long-term.” This is all done in the name of helping families become self-sufficient at driving their own success in the future.
As the world becomes increasingly volatile and complex, family enterprises are hungry to understand how to build new strengths and adapt to the new reality required for longevity. “Families crave an understanding of the disruptions and trends they will face in this VUCA environment, and how family enterprises in particular are being affected,” says Courtney Collette, who leads the education and research activities of the Cambridge Institute for Family Enterprise, a resource for fresh and useful data, insights, and courses. It is increasingly focused on how family enterprises must shift to ensure long-term survival.
In its 30th year, having beaten the survival odds, CFEG looks ahead to new frontiers. Their membership club, new workshops, research, coaching, and advising continue to extend the boundaries of knowledge and innovations for family enterprise success. Their innovation tours, entrepreneurship bootcamps, family office specialty, portfolio overhauls, long-term ownership strategies, wealth creator readiness, Millennials expertise, and talent roadmaps are all newly reinvented as CFEG rises to meet the needs of families and ownership groups in this changing world.
CFEG’s leadership in transforming family enterprises will continue to allow them to chart their course for their own sustainable future. And thank goodness, because families will continue to need their guiding hand for another generation.
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