Kenan-Flagler Impacts Family Business Leaders

March 22, 2012 By unc kenan-flagler

At UNC Kenan-Flagler, the Family Enterprise Center (FEC) specializes in preparing next generation business leaders for success in their own family enterprises. Founded in 2008, the FEC builds upon an innovative family business course first offered in 2005 by co-founder Steve Miller.

“People involved in a family business often share a passion, a commitment to a common purpose and a legacy that creates strong ties with customers, vendors, family members and employees. But the workplace dynamics can be much more complicated in a family business,” explains Cooper Biersach, director and co-founder of the FEC. “Understanding these different perspectives and articulating a common vision that inspires all stakeholders is critical in leading sustainable family enterprises.”

To date, more than 300 students from all over the world have taken advantage of the popular Family Enterprise course offerings.

Thiago is also a successful race car driver in Brazil.

In March, recent graduate Thiago Penido (MBA ’09) returned to the school to share his family business experiences with current students and participate in the Next Generation Leadership Webinar.

Penido is Strategic Planning Director for Grupo Serveng, a billion-dollar conglomerate of infrastructure companies owned by his family in Sao Paulo, Brazil. From a young age, Penido’s father instilled in him that joining the third-generation family business was expected.  Thiago credits Kenan-Flagler and the FEC with helping him see his responsibility to Serveng Group in a new light.  Since assuming a leadership role in the company, his commitment and passion for the business has grown immensely. While at Kenan-Flagler, he also learned skills that are critical for family business leaders – skills that cannot be delegated.

“When I became familiar with the Family Enterprise Center,” says Penido, “I realized that issues like leadership and dealing with people are not a mathematical science.  It’s hard to learn, but you can learn it and you can improve ….You’ve got to be able to persuade people and lead without hierarchy. …This is one of the most valuable things that I took away from the class, and it has really helped me…. I use it a lot today.”

View more on YouTube about Penido’s advice on being a good leader.

Penido warmly recalls his decision to attend UNC-Kenan Flagler because his values matched with the schools and with the people who were here. He especially appreciated the professors’ open door policy when it came to questions. View more on YouTube.

Cooper Biersach sums up the FEC’s goals: “We help students begin to understand the opportunities and challenges inherent in this complex system, where the boundaries between family and business often overlap. Hopefully, we also teach them to listen, communicate well, respect the past and ask lots of questions as they seek to take a leadership role in their family’s enterprise.”
The Family Enterprise Center’s mission is to prepare next generation family business leaders to

  • lead entrepreneurial, sustainable family enterprises
  • create and maintain healthy family and working relationships
  • be responsible stewards of family business assets.

For more information on the FEC, contact Cooper Biersach at or 919.619.4247 and please visit our Next Generation Leadership blog.