01 Mar 2019
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In Character: A Case Discussion Drama

by Julia Hanna

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What motivates you at work? How about Peter, down the hall in accounting? Or Linda, who heads up sales? In “Stoy Foods,” a case taught in the second-year MBA course Managing, Organizing & Motivating for Value, students adopt different roles in a family business drama to better understand how emotions and self-narratives can drive a firm’s trajectory and, ultimately, its value. The cast of characters includes Petja Stoyanovic (Stoy Food’s 83-year-old founder and CEO) and his three children: Katrina (VP, private label products); Milan (COO and CFO); and Danijela (a surgeon with an interest in the business but no day-to-day role). The case is fictional but is based on a combination of several real businesses encountered by Boris Tsimerinov (PLDA 16, 2017), managing director at Semper8 Capital, a Toronto-based investment firm. Tsimerinov worked closely with Associate Professor John Beshears to craft a case that captures the dynamics common across many situations, and that also brings in unique elements from individual examples to highlight important themes.

With 450 employees and more than $300 million Canadian in annual revenue, Stoy Foods faces a turning point. Rainbow Foods, a UK-based multinational, is interested in acquiring the company. Petja is hopeful that his children will instead continue to operate the family business independently. But there are barriers to that happy scenario. Katrina, the visionary behind the company’s highly profitable private label business, wants to cash out in a few years to achieve better work-life balance. Milan, the workhorse, hopes to carry the family legacy forward. And whatever the outcome, Danijela, the unofficial family mediator, expects her ownership stake will be recognized as equal or near-equal to that of her brother and sister.

Understanding the drivers that motivate other people in a fraught situation (of which there are many in business) and reacting in a way that drives progress doesn’t come naturally. So what better way to practice that skill than to step into someone else’s shoes and hammer things out under pressure? “We try to emphasize that this is not easy,” says Beshears, who led the course with Senior Lecturer Andy Wasynczuk. “A big part of achieving some degree of success is having the flexibility to change your mind. That’s important to experience, not just discuss.” Here, excerpts from a messy process with a powerful takeaway: Reframing differences through the lens of a shared interest (in this case, familial harmony) can be a valuable tool for negotiation.

Illustration by Mario Zucca

Scenes From A Family Meeting
Excerpts from students’ in-character conversation

Milan

COO & CFO
“So you’re thinking of my contributions in terms of revenue alone?”

Katrina

VP, Private Label Products
“I understand we’re a family, but we have to put emotions aside. This is a business.”

Petja

Founder & CEO
“I don’t know if anyone is truly happy at this point, which makes me unhappy.”

Danijela

Surgeon & Unofficial Family Mediator
“Why are we not selling? I’m confused.”
“This family would fall apart without me here.”

 

From Baker Library | Bloomberg Center:

The World Economic Forum estimates that family businesses account for over 70% of global GDP, making their success critical to the global economy. BanyanGlobal Family Business Advisors offer five steps for bringing in a new generation, noting that some degree of conflict is not only inevitable, but desirable. As family firms grow and scale, BCG offers a roadmap to professionalizing the family business. Visit eBaker, the research portal for HBS alumni, to find current business and management research on family businesses in ABI/ProQuest.

 
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