I believe that just about every family business founder wants the same thing. In the short term, there are many ways to achieve it, but in the long run, due to human nature, not only business people, but all people, want to be remembered fondly and to have their efforts appreciated.

No, I do not have any statistical evidence, and I have not done any surveys, but if we just take a quick look at the opposite situation, how many people do you know who want to be remembered as a scoundrel and being despised? Yes, there are some, but thankfully they are in the minority.

What this blog is about in general is family business, and today’s topic is legacy. I truly believe that every family business founder wants to create a lasting positive legacy. Of course one of the traits that many of these people also have is that they believe that they are going to live forever.

Getting these people to actually commit to doing some serious succession planning, or as it is now more commonly referred to, continuity planning, is a huge problem, but we will get to that again in a future post. Today I want to talk about a pre-requisite that I believe must be present, but which is not spoken about enough.

So what is this mystery element that “must” be present? I like to call it Family Harmony. Despite their best attempts to avoid it, every single one of us will die some day, and there will be others that we will leave behind. It is up to those people we leave behind to ensure the positive legacy of the family business, and/or the business family.

This example has been used in this space before, but it was in one of my occasional French blog posts, and since I get more English readers, it is time to translate it.

Even those of us who have never been camping will surely have driven by a campsite or seen a tent structure before. In my analogy, your legacy is the tent. We can see the tent, how big it is, its shape, its colour.

The tent also provides lots of utility, in economics parlance. Shelter from the elements, safety, a place to gather and be together, often as a family.

Imagine for a moment that you only packed the shell of the tent, and you forgot the structural elements at home in the garage. Without any support to hold the tent up, without any pegs to hold it down in place, I think that this camping trip will likely be called off, or else be deemed sub-optimal. “Did we pass any motels lately?”

In my analogy, the pegs that hold the tent in place, and the support pieces that hold the structure up in a useful form, are the family harmony that you need to support the legacy that you want.

I realize that in this blog I have not proven this to be true, and those who do not want to believe it can do so if they choose. But please think about this, and share this example with others if you are a believer.

Too many business founders spend so much time making the proverbial pie bigger and bigger, without spending enough time thinking about how the pie will survive, how it will be grown or preserved after they are gone, and how those left behind can benefit from the pie for generations to come.

It does not happen by itself, and the harmony in the family is one of the biggest determinators of how well their legacy will survive.

Yes, it means that you need to discuss the fact that you will die one day. Get over it. Your legacy depends on it.


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.