An Interview with Professor Ken Moores AM

It is true that the creation of family business centres has been on the rise for some years now. Understanding why this might be and how these centres differ in providing service to their communities, begs exploration. Professor Ken Moores was the founding director of Bond University’s Australian Centre for Family Business (ACFB) in the early 1990s. By focusing on scholarship, he helped grow the centre to the multifaceted institution it is today. He is currently the Executive Chairman of Moores Family Enterprise, a dedicated knowledge sharing family business consulting practice that he runs with his daughter, Anthea. Professor Moores reflects on his experiences, providing insight into family business centres.

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How did you enter the family business field?

I was initially attracted to the field of family business as an accounting researcher. A public accounting firm offered research money for a national project. I was awarded the grant in 1992–93, and adopted a lifecycle perspective to explore family firms. After that, this context became my focus. Our university centre was officially launched in 1994, under the guidance of an advisory board.

Given the absence of any family business community in the country as such, the Australian Centre for Family Business (ACFB) developed an initial strategy that focused on both research and network development. No teaching was initially undertaken. Instead, the ACFB sought to actively engage with the operators and advisors of the family business community. Chapters were established across Australia, and communication was employed via newsletters, events, forums, and, ultimately, the first national family business conference hosted on campus in 1996. Establishing a community was essential to the centre’s research agenda, as it ensured that the issues addressed were relevant.

The network activities were “gifted” to the community following the first conference, ultimately morphing into Family Business Australia (FBA) – currently the nation’s top family business body that, among other things, has hosted a national conference every year since 1999. Shedding its network responsibilities enabled ACFB to add education to its research focus. Over time, undergraduate classes were introduced along with a dedicated executive MBA program in family business. As a complement to its research focus, the ACFB also pioneered doctoral studies. To complement these formal education programs, the ACFB designed, developed, and initially delivered the executive education program for FBA.

What types of Family business centres are out there and what purpose do they/should they serve?

Prior to establishing the ACFB, we took a look at the types of family business centres in existence. Given our long-term intention to build a research centre, it was somewhat confusing that many of the existing centres were housed in institutions that did not have established research reputations. We also noted that some of these centres existed for the purposes of extension education, and were typically membership-based and focused on their local communities. This is legitimate, and tends to explain why family business stayed outside of mainstream business education. Alternatively, the ACFB adopted a more a conventional education program, disseminating evidence-based material from our research efforts through formal and even executive education programs offered for FBA.

This is all to say that there are at least two distinct types of centres: those that concentrate on extension education, and those that research and promote evidence-based education as formal programs.

What are the key performance indicators of a family business centre?

Naturally, performance indicators depend on the type of centres. For membership-based extension education centres, performance is assessed by the quantity and quality of membership, and the revenues earned. Membership is enhanced by the frequency of engagement with the member community.

Alternatively, for research/education type centres, key indicators are typically those employed in standard academic evaluations, namely: research publications, grants awarded, graduations at various levels, and the quality of teaching assessed by whatever measures the university adopts.

How can the community/institutions benefit from such specialised centres?

The community benefits from effective family business centres range from professional development to advocacy. The development of the professional field of family business is enhanced by centres that either develop new knowledge (research/education centres), or that disseminate such knowledge in the interests of improved application and practice. Improved practice occurs directly with family business operators, or indirectly through the recommendations of their advisers. Additionally, family business communities have benefited from centres bringing relevant issues to the attention of policy makers. Evidence-based advocacy legitimises the claims that family business are often overlooked by policy makers. Family business centres can help institutions, like universities, establish distinctive positions in the competitive market of higher education, and can also provide professional associations with relevant member services, especially executive education.

We have seen family business centres mushroom around the world. Can you explain this phenomenon and why now?

The recent mushrooming of centres is due to a number of reasons, one being the recognition of the sheer size of the family business sector. It is generally acknowledged that these types of enterprises dominate the commercial landscape of most capitalist economies. This fact, coupled with the neglect and lack of any focus and research highlights a desperate need to know more. Centres provide focus, and their research helps us know more about a neglected sector. Additionally, these firms and their distinctive form of operation are beginning to be recognised as having something to offer the general operation of business. Finally, given the generosity of business families, universities in particular have become aware that these families could be a major source of endowment.

What is the future of the FB centre model?

Given my biases, I do not really believe there is a model, but rather models. I think that localised membership-based models will have limited appeal. Accordingly, research/education centres have brighter futures, especially if they affiliate with member-based professional associations.

Tharawat Magazine, Issue 26, 2015