Keeping Alumni Family Businesses Running
Family-owned businesses make up more than 85 percent of all businesses in New Hampshire and account for 66 percent of the workforce, often creating the most new jobs. Family-owned businesses often provide a higher standard of living for the families that own them, and they are great for the economy.
Many of those New Hampshire family businesses are owned or operated by UNH alumni, and keeping them afloat for generations isn’t easy. From incorporating family dynamics into the business — including internal conflict, communication, sibling rivalry and sharing power and control — to planning for the next generation, running a family business can be as tough as it is rewarding.
Luckily for UNH alumni and others who own and operate family businesses in New Hampshire, there’s a resource on campus that understands their unique challenges: Paul College’s Center for Family Business.
“Nationally, two-thirds of successful first-generation businesses don’t survive to the second generation, and fewer than 15 percent survive to the third generation,” says Barbara Draper, recently retired director of the center.
That’s where the Center for Family Business comes in. The center offers events with programming focused on family-business issues, resources to help resolve those issues and opportunities to network with other family businesses, with a goal of helping family businesses continue year after year and be passed from generation to generation.
The center’s members reflect businesses in all stages of this process, from a 130-year-old personal protective equipment manufacturer to a first-generation hospitality startup, but the center’s programming offers something for them all.
“With the Center for Family Business, you’ve got such a diversity of businesses that you can connect with, and even though you are different, you’ve got a lot of similar challenges, yet coming from a different perspective as well,” says Henry Huntington ’80, owner of Pleasant View Gardens, a wholesale landscape business in Loudon. “This is probably the best place that we’ve found to interact with businesses outside our industry.”
Huntington’s business, Pleasant View Gardens, is currently co-owned by Henry and his brother Jeff Huntington ’76. The center’s succession planning resources have been helpful to them as they prepare for transitioning to the “cousins consortium” level of the business, with both Henry's and Jeff’s children planning to take over the business when the brothers retire.
“We’re currently going through the transition from the second generation to the third generation,” says Jon Huntington, Henry’s son and shipping manager for Pleasant View Gardens. “The center has put us in contact with consultants and other resources that brought other families through those transitions. As we go through our transition, it’s very helpful to see how others have done that or gone through that as well. And they don’t just give us access to resources from New Hampshire, but from all over the country, brought to New Hampshire.”
One recent event featured Shawn Gorman ’89, chairman of the board for L.L. Bean. The topic? His family’s role in governance for L.L. Bean’s recent CEO transition.
Gorman shared stories of changes to the company’s board and the creation of a family council for L.L. Bean, including communicating company changes to members of his own family, something the members in the room could relate to.
“I had to tell three of my older siblings they were no longer on the board,” Gorman said. Heads nodded across the room.
Talks like Gorman’s are incredibly helpful to the center’s members, including its oldest family-run business, 130-year-old Globe Manufacturing Company in Pittsfield.
“We’re fourth generation, so transition planning is always top of mind,” says Don Welch ’79, president of the manufacturer of personal protective equipment for firefighters.
But the most helpful resource the center offers might be its connections.
“Networking with other family businesses in our local area has been great,” says Peggy Ames ’94 of Ames Farm Inn in Gilford.
Ben Huntington, yard manager for Pleasant View Gardens, agrees.
“You get personal connections with people, so you can really pick people’s brains about your specific challenges,” he says.