When Darlene Dunn Cumming considered leaving work to be at home with her newborn daughter, she was torn. She wouldn't be leaving just any business—she would be leaving Dunn Industries, a thermo-plastic manufacturer started by her father, Chet Dunn, in 1968. Fortunately, this life crisis occurred while she was enrolled in the Leadership Development Program offered by UNH's Center for Family Business.
In the program, two generations of a family company's owners and key managers meet for eight days over the course of a year to sharpen leadership skills and address the challenges of running a family business. Taught by experts in family business from the Whittemore School of Business of Economics, the program focuses on theconcepts of leadership, mentoring, team building and handling change. The day-long workshops include class discussions of real-life problems and require participants to apply the lessons at home and then report back about their experiences.
In addition, the center offers four one-day forums every year on topics that reflect the needs of its members. "Most are interested in the same issues, such as communication, conflict resolution, and succession-a particularly sensitive topic," says center director Barbara Varnum Draper '68. "For many of the older people, their identity is so tied to the business that it becomes their 'baby.' We try to make the transition easier by addressing these generational issues."
The center began in 1993 to serve the needs of family businesses with sales in excess of $5 million. A couple of years later, it merged with another forum that addressed the needs of smaller businesses. Today the center is supported by sponsors and a $1,000 per family annual membership fee.
Cumming says her father also took the leadership course. "It gave us a chance to see things through each other's eyes," she recalls. "It helped me ask myself tough questions such as, 'Are you doing what's best for you? Are you doing what's best for the business?'" Cumming, now home with Nathalie, 4, and son Ian, 1, says as a result, it was "a smooth transition."Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents