I spent three days in Vancouver this week at the CAFÉ Symposium, along with a couple of hundred like-minded family business types. The Canadian Association of Family Enterprises (CAFÉ for short) has been running their symposium every 2 years, but they are now going to make it an annual event, starting next spring in Toronto.

So what happens at these events? I’m glad you asked.

Wednesday started with an optional factory tour that was hard to resist, since we got to see the inner workings of a chocolate factory. I had the pleasure of being in the plant tour group that was lead by the patriarch of the company, and I had flashbacks of my own father showing off his shop a few decades ago, seeing the pride a builder exhibits when showing off the operations of his business.

The remainder of the program was a combination of keynote speeches, workshops, an awards dinner, and my favourite part, the “Business Family Story” discussions, along with their Q & A sessions.

I love to hear stories about families who are in business together because they are all so different and we can always learn something new. The first family that we heard from was a media company, founded by a man who eventually brought his daughters into the business, including one who was recently named president.

Afterward, the father-daughter team who run the chocolatier came up and told the story of their business, and how they dealt with their succession and how the daughter purchased the company from him over several years.

The next day featured a family in the hospitality industry that was even more fascinating. Dad was in his 70’s and chairman of the board, and all four of his children were in key positions, including the oldest son who is President. This is not that rare of course, but the fact the he had promoted his son to the presidency at the age of 22 did have some in the audience shaking their heads.

On the last day, 2 cousins took the stage to tell the story of their business family’s journey from great-grandpa in the mining business, and his company that was passed down to grandpa, now owned by 3 siblings in the third generation (G3).

The two members of G4 talked about how they are working on the ways that several members of G4 will eventually take over the family assets, as they have recently shown their ability to take over and run the family foundation. They are also looking at how members of G5 can begin to play important roles.

The open exchange of what families have done, what else they tried, what worked and what didn’t, and the sharing of their trials and tribulations, along with their successes, was not only fascinating, but inspiring.

There was plenty of teaching and learning going on over the three days, and I left feeling like many business families are finding excellent ways of dealing with the issues that make family business so interesting and challenging at the same time, thanks in part to the help of CAFÉ.

I also got to meet several other advisors who are graduates of the Family Enterprise Advisor program. Since the program originated at UBC, there are so many more FEA alumni in Vancouver. I mentioned that all of the FEA certificants from Quebec got together for a meeting recently, but that unfortunately that included only me from the 2013 Toronto cohort having lunch with Joe Havas from 2012.

This also reminded me of my, Dad who used to say that he had held a board meeting earlier that morning, while in the shower, alone. Family businesses still seem to be reluctant to appoint outside boards of directors, but thankfully more and more are seeking the help of qualified and experienced outside advisors.

I will certainly be at the CAFÉ Annual Symposium in Toronto in 2015.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.