Skip to content

Multi-Generations Come Together at Family Business Camp

August 26, 2022

On Monday, Aug. 9, the School of Business at St. John Fisher University hosted its Young Adult/Parent Family Business 1-Day Camp featuring guest speakers Robert Denning (4th Generation) from Perry’s Ice Cream and Reagan Stitt (3rd Generation) from Cutco Cutlery.

Young adult attendees of the Family Business One-Day Camp sponsored by the School of Business.

Led by Interim Dean Dr. Carol Wittmeyer, Assistant Dean Dr. Todd Harrison, and Professor Derek Vanderlinde, the Family Business Initiative welcomed 11 families with firms operating in a number of industries across New York State. 

Camp participants were separated into two peer groups, young adults and parents, for discussions about goals for the day and sharing their experiences in their family’s business.

Denning, the husband of Gayle Perry-Denning, offers a different perspective on the transition in leadership of a family business as he entered his role as a non-family member. He provided an in-depth history of Perry’s Ice Cream with a central focus on “Sustaining Generations.”

“I want to help the next generation of family business leaders so they can have an opportunity to create their own legacy and experience personal growth and pride in serving customers and team members,” he said.

Denning’s lessons from sustaining generations included: 

  • There is a responsibility to serve the organization, customers, and team members. 
  • Do not allow family dynamics to disrupt your organization’s value proposition.
  • Seek to un-emotionalize the process (minimize “pillow talk”). 
  • Set clear communications and job performance expectations as a team member versus a family member/owner (i.e. what hat are you wearing, when?) 
  • Be consistent in the application of company procedures independent of family relationships. 
  • Lay out a clear policy from hire to development, promotion, compensation, and termination. 
  • Place family members in a role where they can experience success = don’t over-promote. 
  • Have a trusted leadership team and trusted advisors as challenges will arise. 

Stitt, daughter of Cutco Cutlery CEO Jim Stitt, spoke about her experiences growing up in a family business with a presentation titled, “Navigating Your Role in Family Business.” She started off with a background of the family firm noting that every family is different and every experience is different.

“Family business is not one size fits all,” she said, adding that her experiences may not be the same as another young adult growing up in a family business. “But, being a child of a family business comes with responsibility.” 

Stitt’s lessons included: 

  • Communication is critical. 
  • Learn the business from the ground up. 
  • The word family goes beyond the last name. 
  • Outside experience is just as important as inside experience. 
  • Appreciate your unique opportunity and understand that it comes with unique challenges. 

After the featured speakers, camp participants visited the Buffalo Bills Training Camp on Fisher’s campus. Following the visit, they attended a presentation by the CEO of JN White, Randy White ’75, chair of the Family Business Steering Committee and member of the University’s Board of Trustees.

“it’s a powerful thing when you can share your ideas and experiences with a group like this as we’re all here to become better and make our organizations better,” he said.

Wittmeyer focused her presentation on the three-circle model of the family business system as well as an extended discussion on her research, “Does working outside the firm make the next generation members more successful inside their family firm?”

Following her presentation, Wittmeyer led a “picture your legacy” activity, where participants were asked to find three images representing the legacy their parents left for them and three images of the legacy they would like to leave for the generation that succeeds them in family business leadership. 

“It’s nice to see that there are other kids my age who share the same experiences with me even though our families operate in different industries,” said Fisher student Jack Marlowe ’25 in reflecting on the camp.