After a two-year hiatus, the Grossman School of Business’ premier student-run event, the Family Enterprise Case Competition, returned to the global stage on January 9 to 12. Students, coaches and judges from nearly 30 different countries descended upon a snowy Burlington to compete in FECC 2019.
In its sixth edition, this year’s competition was long awaited after construction/renovation of Ifshin and Kalkin halls postponed last year’s competition. FECC 2019 was Grossman’s largest yet, with 25 undergraduate and graduate teams, 52 judges and 49 Grossman students all working through real-world cases involving family businesses. After four days of presentations and competition, Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business from Canada and University of Adelaide from Australia took home first place for the undergraduate and graduate leagues, respectively.
FECC is unique in that it is the only case competition in the world that focuses on issues important to family businesses. “Surprisingly, family businesses form the large majority of business enterprises, yet they tend to be overlooked by most institutions, governments and even educators,” says Pramodita Sharma, a professor and Daniel Clarke Sanders Chair in Entrepreneurship and Family Business at the Grossman School of Business.
In fact, nearly 70 percent of U.S.-based businesses are family businesses. Despite the “mom-and-pop shop” misperception of family businesses, some of the world’s leading enterprises, including Nike, Wal-Mart, Samsung, Oracle, Volkswagen and Facebook, are family operated.
FECC senior lead coordinators Abby Collins ’19 and Doug Hirschhorn ’19 say that bringing the world’s top schools in family business together under one roof illuminates the nuances of how these businesses operate across the globe. “This competition and this event really facilitate a unique understanding of how different cultures view different scenarios in family business,” says Hirschhorn.
Collins points out that succession lines, for example, vary among cultures and countries. “In the United States, the person who takes over a family business might just be whoever is most important to the company or whoever is most devoted. Whereas in China, it’s just the firstborn son. But what happens when the firstborn son doesn’t want to take over?” she explains. These are the kinds of real-world issues that FECC explores in its cases.
Throughout the four days of FECC 2019, student teams were given multiple cases, prepared by judges in advance, and tasked with formulating their best recommendations for how a company or client might proceed. The teams then presented their ideas in a succinct and professional manner to panels of judges, who evaluated them on their analysis of the case, feasibility in their recommendation, creativity, time management and more.
This year’s judges spanned 12 different countries and dozens of industries, from politics to tech. Alumna Emily Bates ’15, an FECC senior lead coordinator during her time at the University of Vermont, returned to the competition in a new capacity this year as a judge. Now a project manager at Google, she says planning an event as large as FECC prepared her for her current professional role.
“FECC also gave me the ability to network with other students, coaches and judges from all around the world—folks that I still stay in contact with today,” she adds.
John Young, coach of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business team from Canada, echoes Bates’ sentiment on the global community surrounding FECC. Young has attended each FECC since its inaugural competition in 2013, and likens the event to a homecoming in which he gets to work with the best the world has to offer in family business.
“It’s a phenomenal case competition, it’s the best organized one. I feel that—right from the start—they wanted it to be a classy product, and I believe they did that, right from the very first year,” says Young.
Video and photography by Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist.