Call of Leadership

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Family business accounts for 60% of US businesses.  With nearly 80% responsible for new job creation.  And the Stevens Center for Family Business is designed to help family businesses survive and thrive.  Today, Casey Stevens shares with us the mission behind the Steven Center and how the Center is helping keep this important Michigan economic engine firing on all cylinders.




Casey Stevens: Family business just have this pride for their community and for their state. You can’t replicate that you see family businesses and how much passion they have for their business and how much they want to see their community be a success and how much money they put back into their community. It’s a phenomenal feeling to know that you’re in the room with so many people that wanna see good happen.

Cliff Duvernois: So what makes Michigan a great state? I’m glad you asked. 

My name is Cliff Duvernois and I’m on a quest to answer that exact question. After 20 years, I’ve returned to my native Michigan, and I’m looking to reconnect with my home state. I’m talking to the people who are behind Michigan’s great businesses and top destinations, the same people who work hard every day to make our lives a little bit brighter.

And you Michigander are coming along for the ride. 

This is the Call of Leadership podcast.

Hello everyone. And welcome back to the call of leadership podcast. Today’s guest is the membership coordinator for the Stevens Center for Family Business at Saganaw Valley State University, where she has worked with family businesses for over five years, she received her bachelor’s degree from central Michigan university.

She served her community through the junior league of great lakes bay region. And as the president of the organization from 2017, 2018, a lifelong resident of Sagano. She is passionate about leadership and making the great lakes bay region, a great place for everyone to lurk learn, grow and prosper.

Ladies and gentlemen, please. Welcome to the show. Casey Stevens. Casey, how are.

Casey Stevens: you? Hi cliff. I’m good. Thank you for having me on.

Cliff Duvernois: I’m good. Great. So let’s talk a little bit about you. So you said you’re a lifelong resident, so you were born and raised here in Saginaw.

Casey Stevens: I was, yes.

Cliff Duvernois: Why did you decide to go to central Michigan? Michigan.

Casey Stevens: I chose central Michigan university because I really wanted to have the experience of going away to a four year college. I was, um, one of the first to go away to college in my family. And I really wanted to see what life was like beyond Saginaw.

Absolutely wonderful. And I actually know how that goes. I actually went to Florida to get my degree, so I left Michigan altogether, but I definitely understand that. So you’re at central Michigan. What did you study when you were there?

you study? So when I was at Central Michigan University, I studied broadcast cinematic arts and journalism.

Cliff Duvernois: Oh, interesting. Okay. And so based on that somehow or another, you started getting involved with working with family businesses. How did that road transpire?

Casey Stevens: Sure. So I think what drew me to become part of broadcasting is really telling people, stories and sharing what good was going on in the community and helping people by sharing those good stories.

And as I got involved more with news you know, I realized that wasn’t necessarily the case. Not every story was going to be, um, one that you are, helping someone out. By telling the story. So that kind of made me pivot in my career to realize that really my passion was with helping other people.

And I started taking that approach and really focusing on my career ways that I can help business people with what they do and help them be successful. So I pivoted and changed into more of marketing roles and really found my niche there. And being here at the Stevens Center has allowed me to really help other people and help them share their story and help them be successful through generations.

My husband’s family is a family business. And through their family business, I was able to get some experience with family, business boards and being involved with their family business. So that really helped fuel and ignite my passion for helping family businesses.

Cliff Duvernois: So what is it really just to get a little bit more specific here. What is it necessarily about family businesses that you like helping them out with?

Casey Stevens: business. There is just a passion when it comes to family businesses. That is incredible. It can’t be replicated. It’s almost born in, I feel like when you go from one generation to the next, they have seen how the business has evolved through a leader that is most likely a parent. And I think seeing the hard work and dedication that it takes to run and operate a business is where that passion comes from.

And a lot of times family businesses names are. Literally on their building. So there is just this sense of pride that really ignites their passion in their family business. And they want to be involved with it some way or another, and they might not realize it right away. But once they do that, passion really comes out in everything that they do.

So for me, Being able to work in that environment and see that passion continue on from generation to the next is really unique.

Cliff Duvernois: do. So your, your husband is part of a family business. So you get to witness this firsthand.

Casey Stevens: I do.

Cliff Duvernois: Nice. So now I have to ask the question, cuz your last name is Stevens. We’re at the Stevens. 

Casey Stevens: The Steven center for family business? Yes. There is a connection with the name Cliff and the Steven center is actually an endowed center. So we’re self-funded organization. And that was in part due to the work that my mother-in-law did when. The center was just getting started here with the college of business.

It was actually brought to SVS U through the Dean of the college at the time Paul Yuel and when the community started getting a hold of this family business program, being at SVS, she really. Got involved and was very passionate about it. So I’m really happy to be able to be in this role to carry on the early groundwork that was started by, um, my husband’s family.

And. With their involvement. They were, um, one of the leading contributors to the endowment. So they were able to have the namesake be the Stevens Center from the Stevens family. So it’s really unique and nice to be able to be a part of this and to carry on the work that was done very early in the development of the Stevens Center

Cliff Duvernois: That’s great.

Casey Stevens: with,

Cliff Duvernois: Because I know, because going back to a little bit about what we talked about before is, with your husband being in the family business, and now this endowment is coming through and things are happening in at Saginaw valley. How did you become a part of this?

Casey Stevens: So I became a part of this about five years ago, when the center was looking to expand, they had not had someone dedicated to membership on the team before. And our director Regina had taken the initiative to our executive council and said, if we wanna grow the Steven center, we need someone to really.

Be here to support the center in the membership arena. And she had a lot of details around the job description and was able to, uh, convince the board at the time of the executive council board that this position, a membership coordinator was necessary. And my husband was on the board and. Came home that night and said, I think I found the perfect job for you.

oh, nice. And I said, oh really tell me more. So we got into the details of the job description and when that job became public I did. I threw my hat into the ring, so to speak for this position. And it did really align nicely with, um, my experience and some of my passion. So that was really a win-win for myself.

And I feel like for the center too, because in that first year, we were really able to grow membership by 50%. So that was, that was fantastic. Coming out of the gates in a brand new position, you never really know what type of potential a center like this has, and in my first year, boy, it really came knocking on my door and showed the center that yes, there is a lot of ways for family businesses to become involved and a lot of family businesses in the region that need to be part of this and, and feel that it’s a necessary organization to join

Cliff Duvernois: Now to understand the scope of the Stevens Center more, what is the overall vision of this organization? I, you and I asked that question because if you’re talking about an endowment and people putting money into an organization to get something started, and this is how we’re gonna serve people, what is, what is the vision for being able to.

Casey Stevens: Sure. We, we want family businesses to be able to be successful through the generations and, um, being able to do that and to provide family businesses with that opportunity to dedicate, um, time to learning about how to do family business.

Um, And set up a really solid foundation for that success through the generations. That’s really what we want to be able to do and continuing to be that, um, place where family businesses can come for, you know, poor education and, and build on that family business knowledge. That’s really what we want to be able to do.

Cliff Duvernois: I would almost have to wonder if let’s say that someone started a business. They grew it, it was seen this measure of success. And then they get to some point where they’re saying, you know what, I’m ready to retire. I am ready to step back. My son, my daughter, whoever that might be my kids. They can take over the business from here if they’re interested.

And if the kid’s shown interest, that’s great. Somehow I get the feeling that it’s just not as easy as just saying, Hey, I’m gonna go play golf. You guys got the keys to the kingdom. Let’s catch on to flip side.

Casey Stevens: TOFL. I think sometimes, um, The next generation wishes.

It It was that easy too. but, it’s not, you know, great leaders really. Look for other great leaders and sometimes, the ages or the experience or what have you doesn’t really line up well for the next generation to take the helm of the family business.

So we’re here to let family businesses know that, there’s a lot of different ways that you can get your family involved in the business. And maybe it takes a key non-family executive for a couple of years. Lead the business and then get the next generation ready. So we have a lot of different, um, resources and tips that can help with that.

Cliff Duvernois: Because I know that from running my own business, there is a lot of levers and buttons and everything else. So it’s really just not so easy just to say, okay. We’re going to just turn this over to somebody else. And I’m just gonna collect a check on the back end. I would imagine that probably through the Stevens Centers, when you were talking about education before you guys have a really, especially being in business for five years and talking to a lot of business owners out there, plus a lot of experts from around the country about how that they, how business businesses could think about their succession.

Casey Stevens: Yes, a lot goes into succession planning. So that’s why we bring in experts to address several different ways that family business owners can go about succession planning. So there isn’t always a one size fits all or even a one size fits most. We have the opportunity to bring in different experts from across the country that can speak on different topics, such as succession planning where we can really touch on a lot of different ways. It can be carried out within a business and it’s not always one size fits all. So it’s nice that we can provide a lot of different resources to family, business owners.

Cliff Duvernois: Hey everyone. We’re going to take a quick break to thank today’s sponsor. 

Casey Stevens: The Steven center for family business exists to support the success of family business throughout the great lakes bay region of Michigan. It provides a wealth of resources that family business owners and leaders can access to leverage the unique strengths inherent in their family enterprise.

The center provides educational opportunities about managing the often complicated combination of family and business and host networking events where family business leaders can share their experiences and learn from one another drawing on experts from around the country. The center focuses on topics and issues that are unique to family business.

It emphasizes best practices to achieve optimum business results while maintaining family harmony with programs on succession planning, preparing the next generation communication and conflict resolution governance, family dynamics, policy development, company, culture, and many more. The Stevens Center for Family Business probes subjects that are vital to family owned enterprise.

Regardless of the size of the family business or the number of years in its history, the Stevens Center for Family Business can be a valuable resource for helping to secure the ongoing legacy of multi-generational family businesses. The Stevens Center for Family Business, where networking and knowledge meet to support the success of family own companies, both in their business pursuits and their family relationships For more information, please go to the website at center for family business or contact me Casey Stevens membership coordinator at 989-964-2776.

Cliff Duvernois: And now back to the show. 

off. Now, do you know why? When the Stevens Center was first founded way back in the day, what was the, the reason for it being founded?

Casey Stevens: I know cliff that a lot of people get their first job in business, in a family business. So with our college of business, here we take on the opportunity to educate our students. On the topic of family business and give them some inside information on working within a family business to give them a leg up when they graduate.

So they have that experience that they can take with them. Should they enter into a family business or be part of a family business themselves? Agriculture is huge here in the great lakes bay region. They’re a shining example of family businesses that are into multiple generations of success.

Being able to provide students with this type of education on family business really aligns quite well for the university and for this region, because there are so many family businesses here with agriculture being so prevalent.

Cliff Duvernois: And I’m glad you bring that up because that is something through, even through this podcast here, where I have interviewed guests that have a family business, that it seems like that next generation isn’t interested. And taking over the family business, they wanna go do something else with their lives.

So it’s interesting because you brought up before about having perhaps maybe a non-family person come in and run the show. Talk to us a little bit about why we would consider that versus spending more time, trying to get our kids involved with the business.

Casey Stevens: Sure. You know, it’s great for, everyone to experience, you know, maybe growing up in the family business and then being able to spread your own wings and, and try out areas that you feel are very passionate of your own. and there’s a lot of different research that shows the importance of doing that.

Joining the family business, you know, right out of college or staying part of being an active employee within the family business is also, you know, a great next step too, for family businesses. But when you don’t have the next generation leader, That is ready to step in. Maybe when the current leader that is a family member is ready to kind of step down or take some of the responsibility off of their, their shoulders.

A Kenon family executive could certainly Help with that. And there’s ways that that can be done and also ways that you can bring in a Keenan family executive to bridge, um, one generation to the next, if you will. So there’s our. A number of different ways that family businesses can embark on bringing the next generation into the family business.

And we bring experts in that have researched this and really provide our members with. The information that they need to turn around and keep their family business successful through the next generation. And if we don’t, have a program coming up or an event coming up where we’re bringing in an expert in that area, there are a number of different resources books, white papers, information that we can give our.

Members to help them in any one of these family business situations that they see themselves in. That’s where becoming part of this network is really important as well. We can pair family businesses up with one another to help mentor, uh, each other as well. And a mentorship can just be a family business.

You know, myself or our director have come in contact with and helped in the past. And knowing that they’ve encountered some of these family business areas that one might be going through right now, we can pair up somebody who has successfully onboarded the next generation, um, with another, who is about to bring on the next generation and really help them mentor that family business.

Aid in that success of bringing on a new family business member

Cliff Duvernois: bring and you hit on a really great point when you were talking earlier about setting the next generation up to successfully be able to run the business. Cuz I would almost imagine that, first off. There are a lot of businesses around that are family businesses. And every time that I think about a family business, I think about all the people that they employ.

So it’s not just a matter of making sure that, one generation hands it off to the next generation, but that key component being is that the next generation’s got the skills. To successfully run the business because there’s a lot of people that are in their employee. A lot of families are making mortgage payments based on, the family business.

They may not even be a part of the family business.

Casey Stevens: Sure. Absolutely. I think all of our family business owners whether it be first generation next generation, feel that pressure to carry on the business and to keep the business successful. And they do that and we can help them. Um, a little bit by putting ’em in touch with the right resources to help The next generation be successful in their leadership journey.

And some of our topics that we have for our events are about, um, next generation leaders. And we also have peer group sessions available for our members. So when you’re a member, there are opportunities for you to join a group of cohorts that are in your. Kind of similar situation of being a next generation leader so that you can get in the room together call collaborate, and really learn from one another on, on a, you know, successfully entering into the family business and being a next generation leader.

Cliff Duvernois: I love that idea about having a peer. Cause I belong to several of them and I would be lost without them. But you know what, for the longest time, I didn’t think I needed them.

Casey Stevens: Sure. Yeah. That we can be our own worst enemy sometimes, right. With, needing to take on leadership sessions where we can grow ourselves and you. I would say these peer group sessions are, closed doored, they’re facilitated.

And they’re really welcoming groups to become part of when you’re a member of the Steven center, because the amount of information that is shared in these groups is just fantastic. I mean, it is an outpouring of love and support for family business that you just don’t get anywhere else. And it’s, it’s a really remarkable opportunity to be part of.

Cliff Duvernois: And I have to agree with that because if there’s one thing that I have learned. Especially with running my own business, is that it’s amazing how there’s a sense of cooperation between business owners. Even if they’re quote unquote in competition, there seems to be this he of, Hey, we’re all in this together.

Let’s all work together. There’s plenty of business for everybody that’s out there. So it’s, it’s absolutely wonderful that this is a part of what you offer. What are some of the other. I guess perks. So to speak about being a member in the Stevens Center,

Casey Stevens: about? Sure. People join for a number of reasons, you know, like we’ve discussed here, but.

Cliff Duvernois: but,

Casey Stevens: It’s really just being part of, a network where you can have family, business collaboration family businesses. Don’t always have a place to go to get all the information.

Sure. There’s a lot of information out there on business that you can Google and

Cliff Duvernois: Oh, yes.

Casey Stevens: but finding something that’s really unique to the needs of a family. Can be a little challenging. So that’s really where we feel like we provide a service that isn’t provided anywhere else because we work with so many family businesses.

We can share some of the resources. From family business to family business, because some of them experience the same things. You might not be the same in the same industry, which is great. And you might not be the same size, which is fine, but some of these different family business dynamics. Are very much the same.

For one example might be a family business employment policy. There are, you know, some family businesses that really want to select the right employees to keep the business moving forward. And that can be a really tough situation for a family business owner because sure you want every member.

Cousin relative to have successful employment somewhere, but without a family business employment policy Picking and choosing employees can oftentimes show favoritism. So something like a family business employment policy can really give you some solid ground for a family business owner on how we select employees for this company and take out some of that family business.

Favoritism, so to speak on why one family, um, member may have been employed here and others are not. So something like that is a wonderful resource that we can provide a family business with and make it generic. If one family business says, yes, we have a great policy. That’s working for us.

We’d be happy to share it. We kind of take a document like that. Make. Generic so that you’re not giving away all the inside secrets from one family business to the next, but definitely giving them a tool and a resource that they can use within their family business to give them kind of a step up on having the right tools to make them successful.

Cliff Duvernois: And I think this also has, because when you talk about sharing of information, first off, it’s nice that you. Are sensitive to the fact that some families, there’s just some information that they just don’t wanna share with the public it’s internal. So it’s great that you have that type of system in place.

I would also think too, for the other members who may not have, like you were talking about there unemployment policy, this actually helps them get up to speed a lot faster, cuz they’re not having to learn from scratch. So by having these really great examples that other family businesses out there are using are helping these other.

Other businesses out there, make sure they got all their eyes dotted. Ts crossed.

Casey Stevens: dot that’s, right? Yes. Then you don’t have to recreate the wheel and spend a lot of time creating a document from the ground up. So we really feel like those are great resources that we can provide our members that are unique to membership. Another area that is helpful.

We have sponsors that help support our center and those sponsors are possibly members or excuse. Those sponsors are sometimes family businesses themselves, or they have really assisted a lot of family businesses. So they can be really great resources for our family businesses who are seeking business professionals to help them out within an area within their business.

So if they are looking for potentially someone to join their board or facilitate family business meetings, we can send out a request. To our sponsor group and help family businesses fill some of these opportunities within their family business, by connecting them to business professionals that are already part of the Stevens Center that have worked with family business that understand, the unique dynamics.

That can take place within family business and really align them to different professionals very quickly. So that’s a really wonderful way that we can provide resources to our members and help build our network of the Stevens Center. And those really are passionate about seeing family businesses succeed.

So they’re ready and willing to help family businesses, wherever they might be in their family. Challenge

Cliff Duvernois: Nice. There is a eleventy gabillion businesses inside of Michigan and out of those, a good number of them are family businesses. Do you have, uh, a geographical area that you cover specifically?

Casey Stevens: That’s a good question. We really have concentrated our efforts on the Eastern side of the state. But we welcome any family businesses to become part of our center that, um, work, in, in Michigan, it can be, you know, husband and wife.

Um, it can be two cousins, it can be a brother and sister, depending on the makeup of the family business, you know, you just let us know and we will talk you through the steps of membership and what the family business criteria.

Cliff Duvernois: So based on your answer there, cuz you can be literally anywhere in the state of Michigan and join the Steven center, which is actually kind of cool. When you have these meetings, when you have these peer groups and everything else, I’m going to assume now maybe it’s too big of assumption, but I’m gonna assume that you’re embracing the online age.

People can attend online. They do not have to get in their car and drive for three hours to get.

Casey Stevens: For the most part. I mean, I will say that our peer group sessions are really the most impactful when we have people in the room face to face. So that’s one of the times that I do feel face to face events and opportunities to get together are important. But we do try to accommodate our members wherever they are, but there.

Something special about being in the room with people and having events completely for family businesses. And then when you get in a room filled with family businesses that are passionate about what they do. You leave with a very incredible feeling that, you are doing something good for your business.

And there’s a lot of good going on in the community. Family business just have this pride for their community and for their state that is on. Replicable. I mean, you, you can’t replicate that you see family businesses and how much passion they have for their business and how much they want to see their community be a success and how much money they put back into their community.

And it’s just fantastic. It’s a phenomenal feeling to know that you’re in the room with so many people that wanna see good happen.

Cliff Duvernois: Right now, when you go about putting these, uh, peer groups together, and by the way, if I haven’t demonstrated it by now, I’m a huge fan of peer groups. . So when you’re putting together these peer groups, are there certain like criterias or factors that you look for? Like, do you try to put let’s say all the family restaurants in one peer group and maybe family manufacturing in another peer group or is it all just.

Let’s just mix ’em all up. How does that work

Casey Stevens: that work? So, currently our peer groups are. Not specific to industry. We let the peer groups come together. Naturally. We don’t do a whole lot except for put the designator on them that we have peer groups for folks who are leading their family business. People who are next generation leaders or their key non-family executives, um, working within a family business.

So those three. Groups are how we separate out our network for the peer group session. So you can be in any industry and be a part of them. We just really look at what generation you are within your family business to give you that network niche. So we have had them following events before, so that conversation can continue after an event such as the one we were having.

On succession planning and that will allow us to give our family businesses an opportunity to continue the conversation about succession planning in a facilitated environment with people going through the same generational experiences. . And then other times we get our peer groups together at the location of one of our family business members.

So they can learn more about, um, what one of our family businesses

Cliff Duvernois: Well, that’s cool.

Casey Stevens: yes. And take a tour and see everything that they do within their business. And then the discussion. During those peer groups revolve around a different family business topic. So a lot of the family business topics that we focus on are really ones that have been chosen because of the interest of our members.

So we take a lot of subtle cues from our members that. Help us with driving the programming that we provide to each one of our, me, each one of our events. So we’ve noticed that since the pandemic, a lot of people are taking some leadership changes. So we took that as a sign. That succession planning is something that.

Should take some priority. And by being able to bring in some experts on the topic, we’re able to give some of our family businesses, some resources that will help them in these journeys that we see them embarking on as different generations become more active in their family businesses

Cliff Duvernois: That’s awesome. Casey, if, if somebody’s listening to this and maybe they’re even in a family business and they wanna check out some more about the Stevens Center, what’s the best way for them to do that.

Casey Stevens: Sure. The best way to do that is to go to our website which is part of SVSU’s website. it’s forward slash Stevens Center for Family Business.

And that’s how they can find more information about the Stevens Center and membership. So, otherwise they can just give me a call too. I’d be happy to talk to them more about family business. And my phone number is (989) 964-2776. I’m always happy to, listen in on, where somebody is in their family business and how we can get them part of our network, because it really is special that we have so many family businesses together in one

Cliff Duvernois: was.

Casey Stevens: Yes,

Cliff Duvernois: Yes, that’s wonderful for our audience. We will have the links and the show notes down below as well as the phone number. Casey, it’s been awesome having you on the podcast today. Thank you. I’ve learned a lot today, so thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Casey Stevens: Absolutely anytime cliff, I’m happy to talk to you and talk to anyone about family business, because family businesses are the backbone of our economy and we have to do everything that we can to support them

Cliff Duvernois: Adam. Amen of that.