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Family Business Awards ceremony Nov. 18 (Released: 10/26/99)

by David Bauman, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- Is the family business still viable in the New Economy where everyone is an entrepreneur?

For Wall Street Journal editor Thomas Petzinger Jr., work is one of the key metaphors by which we shape the narrative of our lives. A revolution is transforming the way we work and how business is practiced in the emerging post-industrial economy, he says, and through it, the way we think of ourselves and the world at large.

Petzinger, author of the best selling business book The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who Are Transforming the Workplace and Marketplace, will deliver the keynote address at the fifth annual Connecticut Family Business of the Year Nozko Awards.

Sponsored by the University of Connecticut's Family Business Program, the event is being held Thursday, Nov. 18, at 5:30 p.m., at the Radisson Hotel in Cromwell.

Mainly known to readers as writer of "The Front Lines" column in the Wall Street Journal, Petzinger acknowledged in his farewell column this summer that for most of his reporting career he had covered a "zero-sum economy: labor vs. management, plaintiff vs. defendant, buyer vs. seller, regulator vs. regulated."

"But the new economy is much more than the sum of its parts," Petzinger wrote. "Making strategy, once an event, is now a continuous process." In the face of technological innovation, corporate mega-mergers and fiscal turmoil now transforming the business world "fixed plans are brittle, 'best practices' are obstacles to improvement and bench marking is aiming low," he observed.

Describing his column as "the perfect perch for watching a new economy emerge," Petzinger says his four-year tenure there left him convinced that "a great awakening is now under way in business, as fundamental yet sudden as water shifting from liquid to gas with the addition of a single degree."

The still-unmapped economic landscape being shaped by these transformations in business practice is rapidly being colonized, Petzinger writes in The New Pioneers, by the imaginative entrepreneurs who see new opportunities where others see only catastrophe and disarray.

Petzinger is optimistic as he reveals how innovative leaders in small- and medium-sized businesses are creating an opportunity-rich economy and leaving the corporate dinosaurs behind. His book, he says, "is a kind of debutante party for the ingenues of the new economy." He introduces the reader to more than 100 new enterprises as varied as semi-conductor design and grease recycling. The stories illuminate much about the ongoing realignment of the business world.

Petzinger contends that at the start of the 1990s, new economic and cultural forces combined with technological breakthroughs to unalterably transform the workplace and marketplace and give rise to these new pioneers.

Petzinger writes the Persian Gulf War of 1991 incited an economic crisis followed by a recession. Businesses didn't simply decide to furlough workers until the good times returned-they jettisoned them forever, institutionalizing the concept known as downsizing.

Yet for every job shed by a downsizing mega-corporation, he says, 1.5 jobs sprang up in its place -- mostly in small firms. This "atomization" of industry triggered an explosion of innovation because many of the victims of downsizing were managers, the people who had occupied the precincts of ambition (and, unlike the blue-collar people who preceded them, found their pockets bulging with severance pay).

Just as these downsized executives were thrown into their spare bedrooms to pioneer in the new economy, an easy-to-use tool met them there: a back-office-in-a-box as well as a looking glass into the global economy. For 1991 also signaled the break-up of the mainframe computer into millions of desktop units. This not only tapped into the intelligence of everyone in an organization but redistributed it to everyone else.

The 1990s also brought the advent of the Internet, cheap overnight delivery, pagers, cell-phones, real-time desk-top conferencing and super-saver fares.

These technological trends have been amplified by demographic changes. Baby boomers - the best educated generation in history--entered their 40's and joined the ranks of senior management in great numbers. Reared to "question authority," boomers continued this practice even after authority was theirs.

Gender also played a role as women became part of the membership and leadership of major companies while also forming their own businesses in record numbers. Work and family life began to reunite as more people worked at home and more workplaces encouraged flexible hours.

Petzinger believes the family firm can serve as a model for all business. He believes that years of downsizing, outsourcing and entrepreneurism have broken the lockstep march of big firms and that by opening niches of ever-narrowing specialty we're building a robust new economy.

"Whether in multinational corporations or small home offices, job shops or big factories, people are acquiring the tools to pursue profitable and intrinsically significant work," Petzinger writes. "These newly liberated entrepreneurs are casting themselves together as a self-directed lot and providing once unimaginable rewards to themselves and their fellow humans.

"All indications suggest these changes are just beginning," he adds. "In the age of adaptation, there is no end game, no optimum, no finale. There is only what comes next, and how we shape it."