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May / June 2012 Issue
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Business course wins praise

 Professions Feature

A family business course being offered by the University of Adelaide is winning praise for focusing on an area which dominates the private sector in Australia.

An MBA elective taught within the Business School is geared towards family businesses, which make up 80% of the private sector in the country.

Dr Jill Thomas, a senior lecturer in the Business School, said the University's expertise in family businesses was now recognised nationally, attracting increasing numbers of students enrolling in the MBA elective and a recent Summer School program.

The professional development elective for the family business sector and its advisors is targeted at current and potential owners and managers of family businesses.

The course is open to both MBA students and outsiders and explores some critical issues facing the family business sector, including governance, succession, and family and shareholder relationships.

Alison James enrolled in the Summer School family business course last year, hoping to gain some insights to put into practice as a director of Alfred James Funeral Homes.
"I learned a great deal about family governance and the values and cultural differences that set this group apart," Ms James said.

"The discussions with other people working in family businesses were invaluable and I now have much clearer lines of duties and responsibilities as a director of a family business.

"Having a course specific to family businesses is long overdue. It does not matter if you are a director or a steward of a family business − there are many challenges peculiar to this sector, particularly with succession planning, and dealing with different personalities and skill levels that are quite complicated," Ms James said.

Current MBA student Andrew Cooper who hopes one day to be involved in the family business - Coopers Brewery - said the elective recognised both the strengths and strategic competitive advantages of family businesses.

"In the past there has been too strong a focus on the downsides and negative consequences that can arise from family involvement in a business. I was thrilled to see a course that offered something positive," Mr Cooper said.

"The family business elective provides a stimulating environment to share thoughts and learn from the experience of others with similar interests but varying backgrounds," he said.

In 2011 Dr Thomas and Dr Chris Graves launched a Family Business Education and Research Group (FBERG) to encourage the University's links with the family business community. For more details visit

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