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Lawrence Nicholson FOBs: Organising for the common good

The historical records show that family-owned businesses, FOBs, have been contributing to Jamaica’s economic development in pre and post-political Independence.

However, the recognition given to FOBs as a group of businesses has not been commensurate with their significant level of contribution to Jamaica’s economic development. The conclusion from an exchange with the owner of a family business is that the level of recognition could be attributed to the absence of a body or organisation that speaks with one voice on issues affecting FOBs.

While it’s difficult to verify or validate such a conclusion, the exchange provided a pause for reflection and an examination of what obtains in other jurisdictions regarding family business associations.

Family business associations are common across the globe, playing a critical role in addressing issues and concerns that are considered to be unique or important to the sustainability of FOBs. Many of these associations have been in operations for more than 25 years.

Their common characteristics include: speaking for their common interest in their respective jurisdictions; providing a ‘safe space’ for exchange of views and addressing issues and concerns; organising, promoting and helping to execute conferences, workshops and seminars in areas that affect FOBs; making representation on behalf of family businesses; and developing and delivering courses for owners and managers of family businesses, covering areas such as succession planning, governance and directorships, and financial essentials.

Visible networks

Active and visible family business associations include chapters of the Family Business Association and family business centres across the United States. Unlike some other countries, the US seems not to have a single association that covers all FOBs. This is not surprising, given the different laws that govern each state.

For example, FBA California is a non-profit organisation that focuses on representing family businesses at the state Capitol, with a stated mandate of introducing legislation to support family business, taking a stand against bad legislation, and fighting for bills that are good for family businesses. In the case of the New York Family Business Centre, it exists to help owners, managers, shareholders, family members and key employees ignite the passion that created their unique family businesses.

However, there are national family business associations in other countries, including Canadian Association of Family Enterprise, “a group of individuals who are looking to ensure that they have the right kind of help from their families to ensure that legacy is carried out right”; Family Business Association in Australia and New Zealand, which is “dedicated to supporting and empowering family-owned businesses across diverse industries”; Family Business UK, “a growing body of family businesses working to create a more prosperous and sustainable future for generations to come”; and AIDAF, or Italian Family Business, a chapter of the Family Business Network, which is an international institution of family businesses with over 10,300 members from 58 countries. Part of the mission of AIDAF is “the development of a healthy, solid family business model, based on the values of ethics and responsibility”.

Snapshots from Australia

In the creation or adoption of any businesses model, best practice dictates that there should be a measure of benchmarking. The literature on FOBs has longed pointed to Australia as a bastion for the support given to family businesses.

If FOBs in Jamaica intend to give serious consideration to the creation or adoption of a model as an umbrella association, the Australian version is a good place to start. The following are snapshots from down under.

Started by a family business owner in 1991 as a not-for-profit organisation called Family Business Services SA Inc, FBA Australia comprises 3,000 members, including family business owners, advisers and scholars. Its website states that as the peak bodies for family businesses in Australia and New Zealand, which became a part of the association in 2019, FBA provides tailored education programmes, networking opportunities and invaluable resources for its members.

Essential components of FBA Australia include:

o Supporting family business with education, advice, networking opportunities and help with succession and family business dynamics;

o Celebrating annually since 2012 a National Family Business Day on September 19 that’s “designed to recognise the invaluable contribution family businesses make to the Australian economy, community, and culture”;

o In 2013, the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, Family Businesses in Australia was tabled in Parliament. The report made 21 recommendations on a wide variety of matters relating to Australia’s family businesses. This was regarded as an important contribution in the building of a greater understanding of the value of FOBs and the challenges they face;

o Providing “solutions to family business members through facilitating and engaging resources and channels that promote success and foster sustainability”. Programmes and products are designed to build stronger families and healthier businesses, consistent with part of their mandate to assist family businesses harness their unique competitive advantage; and

o Facilitating a forum group programme that provides a confidential space where participants can raise tough issues and talk them through, gaining valuable insights while being guided by a professional group facilitator.

Is the time right for an umbrella body to address concerns and issues considered unique to FOBs in Jamaica? There is at least one family business owner who believes Jamaica is ready. Is this the echo of others? Let the debate begin.

More anon!

Lawrence Nicholson, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the Mona School of Business & Management, University of the West Indies, author of Understanding the Caribbean Enterprise: Insights from MSMEs and Family-Owned Businesses and a director of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group. Email:

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