Every university-affiliated program runs differently, depending in large measure on the needs of its member companies--most of which are in the second or third generation of family ownership. Some limit participation in their programs to members only and, like the Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State, hope for a 25 percent turnover in members each year "so the program remains fresh," says Astrachan. Some limit the number of members, usually to between 50 and 60.
Throughout the year, the programs hold events ranging from daylong seminars, half-day programs and breakfast round tables to evening seminars and peer-group forums. They delve into topics of special interest to families: preserving family wealth, mediation as a way of dealing with differences, communication pitfalls when dealing with relatives, how siblings/cousins can work together, what to consider when planning for succession and more. In addition to these events, member businesses usually have access to the universities' libraries and information centers.
Whatever's on the agenda, family business centers offer "a safe environment for family business owners and members to exchange stories on family issues," says Joan Gillman, director of the University of Wisconsin (at Madison) Family Business Center. Talk may not be cheap at these forums (membership can cost upwards of $1,200 a year), but it is candid and useful.