New family business major already making impressions

After years of not knowing what she wanted to do after graduation, senior Ashley Adamson found her answer in a family business course she took last spring. Adamson is starting her own family business.

She may be one of many St. Thomas students to do so after the university launches its new family business major in September 2010.

“Right now, students don’t know about the major very much, so I am hoping it grows and we gain a lot of student interest,” said Ritch Sorenson, Opus chair in family business. “I would like to see that immediately when they get here that there is some type of educational process where they have to consider it so students can see what they are giving up, the opportunity, the connections, if they don’t pursue it.”

The major so far includes the basic business core and three additional classes–Introduction to Family Business, which was initially offered over J-term; Family Business Management, which was initially offered last spring; and Family Business Strategy, which will launch in spring 2011. Sorenson also said they ask their family business majors to take courses in family relations, which may include classes in sociology, psychology or communication, so students increase their knowledge in family systems.

Family Business Management explores the challenges and opportunities facing individuals and families involved in business relationships. Professors encourage students to invite their parents and other family members to take or audit the course with them.

“If a family is going to change, everyone involved in the business from a family perspective needs to have the same body of knowledge and act together on that body of knowledge,” Sorenson said. “That is why we offer this opportunity.”

Adamson, an entrepreneurship and business communications major, took the course last springwith her father. She is using what she learned to open a family business.

“It was really nice getting to know other perspectives of other businesses and putting things they’ve done in their businesses into our own to make it more successful,” Adamson said. “It’s daunting but really helpful because every problem or issue you’ve faced with your business there was someone there to give feedback and guidance.”

Paving her own path

Although it is too late for Adamson to be a family business major, she works in her father’s construction business while she starts her own business melding her love of fashion with her entrepreneurial skills.

“St. Thomas may not offer courses that relate to my passion, but they have provided me with the necessary business core to be a successful entrepreneur in the future,” Adamson said.

In January, Adamson started her business, a.b. Ellie, with the help of her mother and sister. She specializes in producing bridal dress sashes for wedding parties and has submitted her designs to local salons. Adamson’s business is named after her grandmother, Elleanor, whom Adamson said influenced her and taught her the importance of optimism.

“At the end of the day, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Adamson said. “I am so blessed to be a part of two family businesses. It isn’t every day you get to bond with your mom and sister, and I absolutely love the opportunity I have.”

In April, Adamson will launch her business online at She hopes to expand it to creating bridal gowns or other dresses and knows it is possible because of her family.

“I have a very supportive family, they’re all entrepreneurs, so they give me guidance and insight when I need it and it’s helpful,” Adamson said. “Without them I wouldn’t be here.”

Ashley Stewart can be reached at