Minnesota Family Business Hubler Award:  Michaela Smith

Minnesota Family Business Hubler Award: Michaela Smith

She helps the next generation prepare for what’s next.

Psychologist Michaela Smith believes in the power of leadership and career-based assessments to help family business succession plans succeed. For her work helping family businesses evaluate and build the talents of potential leadership successors, Smith is being recognized as this year’s winner of the Hubler Award for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Working with Family Businesses.

“One of the big challenges in family businesses is that it’s very difficult to train and develop the next generation,” notes Tom Hubler, the founder of Minneapolis-based consultancy Hubler for Business Families Inc. and creator of the Minnesota Family Business Awards. As a result, members of the next generation often don’t live up to expectations.

This is where Smith’s skills as a psychologist help. “She is a major contributor to the success of the next generation and their ability to manifest their gifts and their skills for their benefit and for the benefit of the organization,” Hubler says. “It helps to prepare them for the responsibilities of making a leadership contribution in their family’s business.”

Michaela Smith’s work with business-owning families began six years ago, and it started with her own family. After earning a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of St. Thomas and completing a clinical fellowship at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, she opened her Minneapolis-based counseling and consulting practice in 2014. One of her first clients was St. Paul-based Dungarvin, a business her parents founded that provides a variety of customized services and supports for people with various intellectual and developmental challenges. While she was working with her family’s business, her mentor, organizational psychologist Julie Sellegren, suggested pursuing a family business-related practice. In 2016, Smith met Hubler, and through him, learned “all about this world of family business consulting.”

While many families seek out her services proactively, often she’s contacted when some kind of conflict arises. Assessments give family members “objective language to think about themselves and each other,” Smith says. “And it makes it feel less personal.” The assessments also provide information about who in the next generation might be the most capable and who might have the most natural leadership strengths.

The assessment process, Smith adds, is “simply about understanding your personality and your natural strengths and what areas are the most challenging for you. And if you’re getting derailed in your career or in your relationships, there are patterns that can help you understand what’s happening. We can then intervene with coping skills to counteract those.”

Smith has found her work with business-owning families professionally and personally gratifying. “I get to work in the clinical and counseling world in terms of understanding family dynamics and family relationships, but I get to do it on an organizational and family level.”