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Family tradition: TU’s FOBI supports family-owned businesses

Southwood owners Joseph Schulte, Margaret Schulte, Brenda Baird and Ginny Schulte

While often a rewarding endeavor, running a family business also comes with distinctive challenges. For instance, how does the family design and implement a succession plan to transition ownership to the next generation? How do they separate business from everyday life? How does the family firm distribute income?

To help family-owned businesses answer these questions, the Collins College of Business established the Family-Owned Business Institute, or FOBI, in 1996. The group hosts about eight meetings a year, which feature guest speakers, roundtable discussions and networking opportunities for anyone who owns, manages or is a member of a family firm.

Director of FOBI and Applied Instructor of Management and Marketing Claire Cornell says she sees FOBI as a resource to help family firms better manage their companies. Not only can Cornell offer advice from a business faculty perspective, but her father operated a business where she, her mother and brother worked.

“I remember my parents talking about the business at the dinner table,” she says. “I was introduced to business at a very early age. I’m grateful that TU has enabled me to have this position because it is a topic that’s close to my heart.”

FOBI’s membership represents businesses spanning different industries from oil and gas to retail, food and manufacturing. Cornell notes that some members have stayed involved since FOBI’s inception while others join the group for a specific purpose and a shorter timeframe.

Dennis Ziegler is part of the third generation to run his family’s business, F.C. Ziegler Company, a manufacturer of metal ecclesiastical wares. Twenty-five years ago, he left the oil and gas industry to join the family business. He quickly realized the different dynamics at play in a family business and, consequently, became one of the first FOBI members.

“You’re meeting with people who are in the same boat, so there are commonalities there,” he said. “There are a lot of family businesses in Tulsa, and it’s comforting to know that you are all dealing with the same kind of challenges.” He adds that while it is easy to focus on what is happening at any given moment in a family business, the value of a group like FOBI lies in having an opportunity to see the bigger picture. “I try to get the younger people in our organization to attend meetings so they can see that. They know the way I think, but having exposure to the younger FOBI members who may think differently than we do is good, too.”

Ginny Schulte, who cofounded Southwood Landscape & Garden Center in 1981, has also been a member of FOBI since the group’s founding. Schulte found value in meeting and learning from other small business owners.

“Participating started out as a way to help the business, but as we prepared for the second generation to take over management responsibilities, I also found the group to be a valuable source of succession and estate planning information.”

Schulte’s daughters now run Southwood’s operations and have been attending FOBI meetings since joining the business. Southwood has grown from two to more than 100 employees during the busy spring season, and now grows its own products and offers landscape contracting in addition to a wide array of retail goods.

“Through all of the growth, we were able to tap into the experiences of some of the other companies that were growing and avoid pitfalls,” says Schulte. “FOBI saw us through the succession process, and many of the new ideas and products that have led to our growth are a result of the second generation of leadership.” Find out more about FOBI here.