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Goering Center news

Can ‘community’ bridge the loneliness gap?

By Carol Butler

I cannot think of one founder, owner or CEO of a private or family-owned business that has not at some time or another felt alone. And I do not mean lonely.

Loneliness is an emotional state — the absence of deep relationships, a lack of social engagement, a sense of separation from life or the lives of others.

But alone means the feelings of resignation that no one can fully appreciate or shoulder the weight of the business, or of being ultimately responsible for the enterprise, or simply the discomfort of sharing the anxieties or considerations beyond every decision and action.

It comes with the territory, and the territory is uniquely treacherous in private and family businesses. The nature of these businesses — unlike a public company that lives under much more public scrutiny and disclosure — can foster or rationalize a view where being alone is the accepted or tolerable norm.

Why community matters

While a non-public business certainly may relish its privacy and relative protection from the changing circumstances of the public equity market, it can come at a cost if that privacy bleeds into a reticence to reach out, to engage with others, to simply build a sense of community so we do not feel so, well, alone. Of all the factors that influence the success of a private and family business — strategy, leadership, market presence, financing, etc. — what needs to be on the list is a focused and determined commitment to develop community.

Community — that social frame-work where we have people we meet with, talk with, share lives with, feel we belong to — is essential not only to combat isolation but to keep us open to other ideas, changes in the business environment, and exchange resources, contacts and solutions.

At the Goering Center, we get a fair number of calls from members who are struggling with some issue and seeking expert advice and support — and we have a great reservoir to draw from in our Professional Services Registry. However, what often sticks out is how many of these calls reflect an underpinning of “aloneness” — that the issue went on a bit too long, or they had tried some things internally to no avail, or they simply did not know where to turn. While it is good practice to get professional help of the right kind at the right time, we wonder how many of these situations would have felt less isolating if the business owner had been surrounded by a caring and trusted community.

There is such a temptation to imagine that a problem is unique to you or your business, or that no one can understand your business as well as you, or what worked for one would not work for you. Being in community — having regular interaction with others who have a common business interest — shows that little of that is true. We enrich each other by sharing these stories, these experiences, those solutions. The give-and-take of community is just that — a chance to contribute and gain from others.

At the Goering Center, we have long recognized the importance of community. While we work hard to deliver content in such programs as a breakfast series or institutes, we know and celebrate the fact that there is a lot of energy in the room when the conversation turns to the tables. We see the laughter, the caring, the notes being taken, the reassuring hand on the shoulder, the warm handshakes that are evidence that connection and community is really what we are after.

Featured image at top: Alan Beaulieu and Connor Lokar, President and Economist of ITR Economics, respectively, with Carol Butler, President of the Goering Center.

Carol Butler is president of the Goering Center. Reach Carol at or 513-556-7414.

About the Goering Center for Family & Private Business
Established in 1989, the Goering Center serves more than 400 member companies, making it North America’s largest university-based educational non-profit center for family and private businesses. The Center’s mission is to nurture and educate family and private businesses to drive a vibrant economy. Affiliation with the Carl H. Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati provides access to a vast resource of business programing and expertise. Goering Center members receive real-world insights that enlighten, strengthen and prolong family and private business success. For more information on the Center, participation and membership visit

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