The importance of culture in family business: ‘It comes down to the people.’

In its sixth year, the WashU Olin Family Business Symposium provided a deeper look into how the culture of family business drives performance and outcomes—and how that culture can be preserved throughout generations.

The symposium, entitled “The Importance of Culture in a Family Business,” was hosted by the Koch Center for Family Business and was held virtually across four mornings in February.

As session one panelist Mark Leeker, managing director of Harbour Group, put it, “It always comes down to the people and the ability to have a culture that is recognized and known, so that as you go through changes, you can always fall back on what it is that you do and what’s your central core.” 

Building a team at Tata Consultancy Services

Subramanian Ramadorai

On Tuesday, February 2, Subramanian Ramadorai, former MD and CEO of Tata Consultancy Services, spoke to Spencer Burke, Olin’s Eugene F. Williams, Jr. executive in residence. TCS is one of the world’s largest IT, consulting, and business solutions organizations. Ramadorai is largely responsible for its growth over the past four decades.

The keynote presentation was followed by a panel discussion with Leeker and Olin’s Seth Carnahan, associate professor of strategy, moderated by Koch Center Director Peter Boumgarden.

Eight generations and counting

Lisanne Cape Dorion

The second week of the symposium, on February 10, featured Lisanne Cape Dorion, board director, and Scott Northcutt, senior vice president of human resources, of Bacardi, Ltd. Dorion and Northcutt shared some of the strategies that Bacardi, a 150-year old family-owned beverage company with over 1,000 family members across eight generations, uses to encourage innovation while preserving the company’s long-held values. 

Following the Bacardi presentation, Gina Hoagland, chairman & principal of Collaborative Strategies, Inc. moderated a panel discussion with Joshua Hager, president and COO of Hager Companies, Kevin Maher, Jr., vice president and general manager of St. Charles Automotive, and Chris Seyer, CEO of Sayer Industries, Inc. 

Investments and banking

George H. Walker

George H. Walker, chairman and CEO of investment management firm Neuberger Berman, spoke on the structure of the employee-owned firm and how the ownership approach can inform the company’s long-term planning and innovation. With offices in 24 countries, Neuberger Berman has been named by Pensions & Investments as a Best Place to Work in Money Management, finishing first or second each of the last five years. Many of Walker’s experiences of workplace culture in a financial institution were echoed in the panel discussion with David Eichhorn, CEO and head of investment strategies at NISA Investment Advisors, and Michael Dierberg, chairman of the board at First Bank.

Sports, family, and the community

Carolyn Kindle Betz

The final morning of the symposium, on February 25, was the most popular and likely of most interest to St. Louisans: a panel discussion between Carolyn Kindle Betz, CEO of St. Louis CITY SC, William DeWitt III, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Tom Stillman, chairman and governor of the St. Louis Blues. Kindle Betz, DeWitt, and Stillman spoke on balancing the need for both continuity and change in sports organizations as old as the Cardinals (140 years) and as new as the St. Louis CITY SC (announced in 2019 and expected to begin play in 2023).

Videos for all four events can be found below. Find more information about the Koch Center for Family Business and videos and audio recordings from past events here

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