Mediators with a niche

Family-business consultants appear to be a group on the rise. Most experts agree that the category emerged about 10 years ago.

Growth remains sketchy, largely because those in the trade cross disciplines, including law and human psychology, to form a nebulous group.

But the Family Firm Institute in Boston, widely considered to be the industry's trade association, says its own membership has more than doubled in the past six years, to more than 1,100.

Many experts agree that family-business consultants should be trained to address family dynamics and emotional issues as well as technical questions.

"A traditional bean counter can give a textbook answer, but that won't be good enough," says Arthur Levy, an accountant in New York. "You have to relate to the personal issues, the touchy-feely stuff."

The best advisers work exclusively with family businesses and have developed a network of other specialists to call in as needed, he adds.

Specialists charge the same as a regular consultant does, about $1,500 to $5,000 a day. References and an informational interview are recommended. Francois De Visscher, president of the Family Firm Institute, in Boston, advises families against an open-ended arrangement and suggests setting specific initial goals, time frame, and cost.

More than 100 universities in the US hold family-business forums where family businesspeople can interact with each other and with experts.

Other resources:

*The Family Firm Institute (www.ffi.org) publishes a Directory of Consultants and Speakers, the Family Business Review journal, a newsletter called Family Business Matters, and an annual literature review, Family Business Bibliography. Tel. 617-789-4200.

*Business Owner Resources, in Marietta, Ga., publishes the Family Business Advisor newsletter and the Family Business Leadership series of booklets. Tel. 800-551-0633.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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