Anglia Poly backs family businesses

June 13, 1997

Low participation meets blue-chip research: Phil Baty reports on the East in the latest of our regional focuses

The coming era of a new intimacy between universities and their communities has already been taken to extremes by Anglia Polytechnic University at its Family Run Business Unit. The two-year-old venture at the university's Total Quality and Innovation Management Centre in Danbury, Essex, offers what can only be described as family therapy counselling, alongside the usual portfolio of business management seminars, upskilling, modular degree units and other "marketable qualifications".

"There are some real horror stories from the businesses round here," said the unit's director Chris Swaffin-Smith. "We had one case where two sons bought a small business cheap from their dad, and made it into a huge success. Now the father doesn't speak to his sons, and doesn't see his grandchildren."

APU vice chancellor Mike Malone Lee has made clear his mission is to expand higher education to the traditionally disenfranchised East Anglian community by identifying its true needs, and meeting them head on.

"East Anglia has a huge number of small businesses, and many of them are family run," said Mr Swaffin-Smith. "Business success or failure can often revolve around family relationships. Only 30 per cent of owner managers successfully pass their business on to the next generation. All the issues of succession come into play, but the family relationships are often ignored."

With the Stoy Centre for Family Business the APU unit won Department of Trade and Industry cash through the skills challenge initiative to set up a series of family forums. Weekend sessions are becoming popular.

"We're slowly making progress," said Mr Swaffin-Smith. "We can't take too much of their time, and getting traditionally reluctant people involved is a slow process."

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