- By Jon C. Reidel
"No wise person would ever work for a salary." Those were Pramodita Sharma’s grandfather’s words of warning when she told him of her decision to pursue a career in education. To her grandfather, being one's own boss and staying in their family business in northern India were the keys to a good life.
It was a life Sharma was used to. Starting in grade five, she helped with accounting at her father's automotive dealerships. At the age of fifteen, when her father passed away, she continued accounting work with extended family, selling "anything with wheels."
Although she left the family business to pursue a passion for education and research, family business has not left Sharma. Today, she's a leading scholar on the topic, a research spark begun in her childhood but reignited in grad school at the University of Calgary.
“I was working on a project with a million-dollar grant marked solely for family business,” recalls Sharma, who came to UVM last year from the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal. “I was told to do a literature review, and I started reading these articles and I thought, 'They’re talking about my family.’ It was after so many years that I found the literature that actually spoke to me, that was actually more reality to me than anything else that I had studied."
It was a fledgling field at the time, but over the years Sharma has helped define it. Her book Entrepreneurial Family Firms (2010, Prentice Hall) is one of the most widely used college textbooks and has been translated into Mandarin and Greek. She’s also editor of the journal Family Business Review and serves as director for the only global applied research initiative on family business studies, Successful Trans-generational Entrepreneurship Practices at Babson College, a group with forty-one partner institutions in thirty-five countries.
At UVM, Sharma has quickly begun collaborations with fellow faculty to sharpen the family business focus at the university. A first-ever global family enterprise case competition for students is in the works for next January. Other initiatives spearheaded by Sharma include the “UVM Family Business Awards” and the “UVM Pitch Competition,” both scheduled for Homecoming Weekend, October 4-6. The awards, organized by the Family Business Initiative, will recognize UVM alumni and Vermont-based businesses that have demonstrated a commitment to creating sustainable business through leadership and innovation. The Entrepreneurial Club is organizing the Pitch Competition, made possible by a $100,000 donation by David ’86 and Jessica Arnoff. Students in the competition will create and present an overall business plan that is comprehensive, realistic and has potential value.
As Professor Pramodita Sharma continues to delve into what makes family businesses thrive or fail and share those lessons with UVM students, her own memories are never far away. "I often relate my research to some of the things I remember growing up,” she says. “I still find it fascinating.”