New institute positions family businesses for success

As family-owned and -operated businesses across southeastern Wisconsin chart everything from finances to succession plans, a new institute has launched to cushion them with support and resources for their success.

The Family Business Legacy Institute introduced itself to the region in January as a hub to serve the area’s niche market of family businesses.

The FBLI operates on a fee-based model for families. The institute has a mission of “faithfully supporting family businesses for the future” and caters its services to the legal, financial and psychological needs of members.

“The beauty of FBLI is we bring in all of the aspects,” said David Borst, executive director and chief operating officer.

Borst, who concluded his tenure as dean of the School of Business Administration at Concordia University Wisconsin last year, is one of the institute’s four leaders. Also on the FBLI’s board is Jim Baka, founding chairman of the board; Lenny Khayat, founding executive director and current director; and Andy Locke, founding director.

Baka, who is a TEC chairman, has experience consulting family businesses and also developed courses relating to family business management at CUW. Creating a formal institute with a more robust pool of resources was his idea.

While the FBLI exists as an independent operation, it does not currently offer any services in a brick-and-mortar facility. Instead, the institute often brings family business members together at members’ sites for tours and networking. Part of the FBLI’s value lies in uniting family businesses across industries to exchange ideas on best practices and mentor one another.

“I think it really opens up the world to those family businesses to see how other businesses operate,” Borst said.

Additionally, the FBLI has established six annual flagship events that put a twist on networking.

The institute’s first networking event invited families to Hart Park Community Center in Wauwatosa to learn the basics of curling. FBLI members have also networked over a pizza-making course, and in the future will come together for blindfolded go-kart racing and shooting at a hunt club.


Each event provides a unique backdrop for generations of families to interact and gets them talking in an environment dramatically different than the one they are used to.

“We are trying to create something that people will walk away from and say, ‘wow,’” Borst said.

Beyond the flagship events, the FBLI facilitates “value-added” activities that target specific demographics within a family business, such as next generation leaders or spouses of business owners.

The FBLI’s services are also complemented by a spectrum of strategic industry partners: CliftonLarsonAllen; Bridgewood Advisors; First Business Bank; Godfrey & Kahn S.C.; Augustin Financial LLC; and M3 Insurance.

In addition to investing in the institute, strategic partners offer their expertise to members to support their business development at no additional cost to families.

Those relationships are mutually beneficial, according to Borst, since a number of families are now turning to FBLI’s strategic partners to handle their business development needs after getting to know them personally, often at FBLI’s networking events.

“It is a far more de-stressed environment because you’re building the relationship first before you have to do the business transaction,” Borst said. “And then I think once you develop the personal relationship, the business transactions flow from that.”

Rounding out the FBLI’s gamut of services is an online certification program in family business studies that members can complete through service provider Concordia University Wisconsin. The program allows participants to pursue a minor in family business studies and sets them up to master management principles critical to the prosperity of family businesses.

Currently, the FBLI has a base of 15 family businesses, with plans to hit its maximum capacity of 40 families by the end of the year, Borst said.

Pete Marino, production manager at Milwaukee-based family business Ram Group Inc., is among the institute’s active participants.

Pete and his family members are enrolled in FBLI in hopes of learning how to work together better and more efficiently, while using their experience “as a platform to make a better transition of the family business to the next generation and on,” he said.

The Marino family has found value in learning the ways in which other family businesses have succeeded and failed, Pete said.

As the FBLI continues to grow its presence across southeastern Wisconsin, its founders are also beginning to explore the possibility of expanding to other markets, starting with northern Illinois, Borst said.

The four are beginning to reach out to schools who may be interested in partnering with the FBLI in a similar way to CUW.

“This is something that is scalable and something that we plan on continuing to build upon,” Borst said. “There are other areas in the country that are very interested in this, and we plan on working with our strategic partners to make that happen.”

FBLI held a panel discussion targeting next generation family business owners at Biloba Brewery Company in May.

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