Family Business Program

Understanding the “Family” Side of the Family Business

Family business ownership in the United States has enjoyed a long and successful history. That success, however, has come with unique struggles, often arising from the complex blend of two systems - the family and the business. Family business participants know the challenges of navigating the complicated human relationships involved in these two systems. The Family Business Program applies to family-owned businesses the knowledge and expertise developed by The Family Institute in over four decades of studying and caring for all types of family relationships.

Family Business Program Services

The Family Business Program provides expert consultation, education and research services that focus on the problems that arise at the intersection of the family’s relationships and its business interests. Our services include:

  • Succession Planning, with the goal of identifying and then removing constraints that inhibit the effective development and implementation of succession plans;
  • Leadership Development, including (i) leadership and career assessments to assist companies in identifying high-potential leaders and in crafting effective leadership development plans, and (ii) assessment and coaching to assist executives in sharpening their skills;
  • Conflict and Dispute Resolution, which includes (i) using our expertise in family and individual therapy techniques to aid families and key employees in developing skills for constructive communication, conflict resolution and anger management in the workplace, as well as (ii) resolving family business impasses through the application of proven mediation techniques;
  • Counseling to offer expert help to distressed families, relationships and/or individuals;
  • Assistance and education for executives and employees who are impaired, managing career and life transitions, confronting crisis situations, or looking to find meaning in their work;
  • Education, especially presentations focused on the relational aspects of the family business, through which we can help family business leaders understand and apply “family systems” theory to both family and business relationships; and
  • Research on the growth and support of healthy family businesses. Our research on constraints in family business succession planning led to a 2011 article published in Family Process. We have also presented on family business issues at a number of national and international conferences. 
If you are interested in learning more about our Family Business services, please contact Douglas Breunlin, Program Director of the Family Business Program, at 847 733 4300, ext. 1032, or email Doug at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Family Business Program Team
Program Director
Douglas C. Breunlin, LCSW, LMFT

Program Team Members
Karen Krefman, MSMFT, LMFT
Francesca Giordano, PhD
Jean Terrien, JD, MA, LPC

Program Advisors
William Pinsof, Phd, LMFT, ABPP
John Ward, MBA, PhD 

BreunlinWebDouglas Breunlin, MSW, LCSW Doug has worked with family businesses for over 20 years. In addition, he served as the Chief Operating Officer of The Family Institute for a decade and accrued considerable business knowledge and experience through that role. Doug's consulting work with family businesses has focused primarily on the interface between the family and the business and the interpersonal dynamics of family members working in the business. In 2001, he started the Family Business Program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. That program has focused on research, education and consulting with family businesses. The program's research effort on succession in family businesses led to an article that was published in Family Process in 2011 entitled "Don't Lock Me Out." Other publications

KarenkrefmanKaren Krefman, MSMFT, LMFT Karen's interest in family business stems, in part, from her personal experience as a third generation member of a multiple branch family challenged by family business succession and governance issues. Informed by this experience, she has an ongoing interest in working with family and non-family participants in family businesses.


FGGiordanoFrancesca Giordano, PhD For the past twenty years, Fran has been an administrator and counselor educator with a specialization in gender roles, consultation, career development and ethics. In the area of career development for both family and non-family businesses, she has worked with individuals across the lifespan to engage in career transition, to offer career assessments, to aid individuals to find meaning in work, to help resolve career/life role conflicts, and to facilitate life transitions. Fran has a clinical specialization in anger issues and combines this with a career focus to help individuals resolve work-based conflicts and manage anger in the workplace. Publications

skerrett karenKaren Skerrett, PhD, APRN Karen has over thirty years of experience in the practice of couples and family therapy. She has been a senior consultant for over 15 years at Liebowitz and Associates, PC, a management consulting firm specializing in family business and management consulting. Karen utilizes her previous career in the healthcare industry in consulting to numerous physician groups and healthcare professional organizations. Her other areas of expertise include assessment and coaching with CEO’s and high potential leadership development. At the request of Vistage International (formerly TEC), she co-developed and continues to lead a curriculum-based program for CEO’s in transition.

terrien_jeanJean Terrien, JD, MA, LCPC Before becoming a therapist, Jean practiced law for 15 years, specializing in the areas of tax and executive compensation. Her clients included both small and large family-owned businesses, for which Jean provided advice on acquisitions and reorganizations, executive recruitment and retention, and employment terminations. Her knowledge of the structure and workings of family businesses has informed her counseling and consulting work with a wide range of clients who own or participate in family businesses. Jean has been a member of the Family Business Program since 2006.