Graceland University’s Annual Entrepreneurial Roundtable provides students with an opportunity to integrate their academic studies with practical lessons from leaders from the business world. This year, the 23rd Roundtable was a veritable feast of information, as JR and Carol Shaw and their four children shared openly about the strengths and challenges of running a family business. In their case, the far-reaching Canadian enterprises Shaw Communications and Corus.
On April 17, the agenda opened to full auditorium in the Shaw Family Auditorium in Shaw Center, named for the family, on Graceland University’s Lamoni campus, with fast-paced videos on the history and corporate culture of Shaw Communications and Corus Entertainment Inc. The companies provide cable and satellite TV, internet, digital phone services and operate Canada’s second largest private conventional television network and 19 specialty TV networks. JR Shaw’s keynote address outlined the history and philosophy of the company, starting with the family farm in Ontario on which JR, his brother and sisters grew up under loving and insightful instruction from their parents.
A theme introduced in the keynote and continued through the day was how essential it is for the management to know the details of the operation. JR and each of his children started at the bottom in the family business, and worked their way up. The sons started by digging ditches for the cable company, while the daughters began dealing directly with customers.
Family members took questions from the audience in three breakout sessions, focusing on different aspects of running a successful family business: governance, work/life balance and multi-generational success. Students appreciated the openness of the family in sharing how they confront differences, find time for spouses and children outside of work, and think about the role their children and grandchildren might play in the companies’ future.
Carol, a Community of Christ evangelist, described her role as family matriarch in upholding the worth of each family member when tensions run high in meetings, and praying for them individually in times of stress. Her children agreed that “Mom” supports the interests of “family” in “family business.”
Jim, the oldest son, is Vice Chair of the Board for Shaw Communications Inc. His advice that “if you have an idea, go with it and keep at it” impressed Graceland sophomore business major Justin Kaminski, who hopes to go into investment or finance. Daughter Julie Shaw came to Graceland as a freshman and then transferred to Northern Alberta Institute of Technology where she studied to be an architect. As Vice President for Facilities Design and Management at Shaw Communications Inc., she is responsible for the facilities needs of more than 14,500 Shaw employees, and provides guidance on all aspects of design and construction projects.
Heather Shaw, also a Graceland alumna and Executive Chair of Corus Entertainment Inc., helped establish the company that began as a spin-off of Shaw Communications Inc. to become a leading Canadian media and entertainment company with a specialty in children’s programming and products. Brad Shaw, the youngest of the four and another Graceland alumnus, has been CEO of Shaw Communications Inc. since 2010, and led its transformation from a Western-based cable company to Canada’s leading network and content experience company.
Part of the Shaw family philosophy is that they share the blessings from their business ventures with those less fortunate. All four children, along with JR and Carol, have strong commitment to philanthropic efforts, especially for children. In his introduction of the program, Graceland University President John Sellars movingly recalled his experiences in the Philippines when he saw first-hand the impact of Shaw contributions to the lives of impoverished farm families. Carol has been active in a local AIDS network and has contributed to AIDS relief in Africa. Brad and his family support an orphanage in Tibet, while Jim, Julie and Heather each have their own projects that benefit children.
The Entrepreneurial Roundtable is sponsored by the Charles Sandage Center for the Study of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. Justin Akers directs the program under the supervision of the Sandage School of Business.