Let’s talk family enterprise explores global ideas, concepts and models that help family enterprise advisors better serve their family clients, brought to you by the family enterprise exchange.
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Hello, and welcome to another episode of The let’s talk family enterprise podcast. My name is Steve Legler and I’m excited to be your guest host once again. Today we’re in for a real treat because because our guest has netted me the gas babe Okay. nappy should need no introduction to those in the business family space, but unfortunately too many of us who are now advisors in this field, she still does need an intro and you’re about to learn why. Around 1990. Net B and her husband Philip, were the founders of the business Family Foundation, which has just recently merged with the family enterprise Foundation, making it a part of the family enterprise exchange ecosystem. I’ve known several of the BFF folks over the years and was thrilled to learn about this recent merger which will also help solidify the legacy of the debate Gatsby Beaubien family for years to come. I’m looking forward to this discussion. So why don’t I introduce our guest man ie the Gatsby aboagye Welcome to the let’s talk family enterprise podcast. We’re so happy to have you here as our guest today.
Thanks, Dave. I’m very pleased to be with you.
Great. We were talking recently about you know BFF and when it came into being around 9090 And you made sure to rewind another seven years and talk about your involvement. Around 1983 With the creation of cafe. Can you shed a little bit of light on your involvement in that?
Well, Steve, let me just get bring you back to 1983 when Gordon Sherwood founded cafe in Toronto, and because we were friends he asked us what can you do the same in Quebec, which we were thrilled to do, because after all, we are a family business. And Philippe and I have been studying and learning about family businesses for about 25 years back in 1983. So this was very exciting to see a Canadian initiative. It was very different and very exciting.
So you got involved with cafe and its creation and that started so like you said in Toronto, I know. There was a chapter that was quite active in the 80s that my dad joined in Montreal, and so then Cafe continued to grow over the years. But But how did BFF sort of take on its own part of this in 1990?
Well, you know, before that I think I bring you back to Philippe and I back in 1983 because we used to put on educational sessions in in Montreal, and also in Quebec City. And every time we did it, many families would show up so we knew there wasn’t interest. But when we asked other families to do it, they’d off doing sessions saying, Well, you know what, we really don’t have the time to organize this and that lift the consultants, the lawyers, the accountants, all the professionals who are working with family businesses, even though they didn’t a lot of them didn’t really realize that they were family business, but they decided to put on the sessions. And this was a long time ago and that’s why I think it’s so important that remember that because Philip and I found the advice that these professionals were giving to the families back in 8485 was not very accurate. They really didn’t have the background to know so it was a different time. And we realized that because we were members of YPO and we had been teaching giving courses at YPO that there was a need of a course that would bring the whole family together. Now you know that’s a long time ago. And up to that point in time. There were very few consultants working with family business, and those that were like I can give you the name of a lamb donco that most of your listeners won’t know who it is. He was one of the founders of family business, but he thought family business consisted of the CEO and the elder son and we looked at the world Yeah.
It was but that’s that’s certainly a limited look at what the scope of family business truly is and has become
Alright, let’s do it. Let me say that Philip and I because we were working together in the same company. We were, you know, raising three children. We were holding meetings with them. And we were also teaching this in YPO. And we understood very well, that there were business issues that were affecting our family, as well as the family issues that were affecting our business. And that’s why you know, in 1990, we said okay, let’s hold the First Family Business five day seminar, and that’s what we did.
Okay, so So there were a lot of challenges going back at the beginning. So this you know, what’s interesting to me is you talked about how families realized in the 80s, that there was a need for this, but that they didn’t really necessarily want to go and and participate in this because it involves them maybe doing too much sharing. And then at the same time you realize that there’s all these professionals that are trying to advise family businesses, business families, but don’t really have the tools. So BFF kind of took on the role of starting to educate the advisors more than more than the families themselves.
No, we at that point back in 1990. We held what we knew was the first really family session for family businesses and it was included all members of the family Oh, so because you can’t really solve issues in a family business. If you only include the CEO and the Son. One day or another issue, you’re going to have to find out well, what are the other members? What are the other shareholders the other stakeholders? Think about? This? So we were teaching to four generations of families and they were coming from different parts of the world. It wasn’t unusual, Steve, for us to have families from Great Britain, Asia, US, Canada, and they were all sitting in the same room. Because there were five days that we spent together. And you know, it was a great learning for us because we realized that what brought the families there was often the CEO who would say to me or theory, oh, I have a real strategic problem in the business that I want to solve. But once we got the whole family in the room, it changed. It became all around family issues, because there were lots of consultants that could help with the business. But there was nobody out there that could understand the family issues in a family business. So it was it was an interesting time to say the least.
And you were way ahead of your time because even this whole field with with with groups like the family firm institute that started around the same time in the mid 80s and is more geared towards the advisors but you are working with the families and learning from the families. And you had such a hold on this niche that you were being you were able to bring in people from all around the globe because you were like the only ones who had this this offering for them so they would travel halfway around the world. For it. Is that right?
That’s exactly right. And then what happened was that they were learning a whole new language. They were learning things that their consultants didn’t know anything about. And so the families came to us and they said, Hey, you got to teach our advisors. And when we said it was a bit of a shock for us. We said we they said oh yes, you’ve got to teach the same language to our advisors because they don’t get it. They don’t know what we’re talking about. And so we started we were teaching the first courses because these were courses. This wasn’t the same as FFI back then, because we were also members of FFI. And what we what we were doing was very different. And so these advisors, the families would send their advisors from England, from Asia from all over the globe. And they say, you’ve got to go and listen and learn from this. And that became another Wellstone word said was you the only people in the world teaching advisors around family business at this point in time, because we were actually bringing them through governance. To family meetings, to all of these things that most of them didn’t know anything about. And we were also because we realize when you’ve got four and five generations in a room, we realize you don’t teach a case study the same way that you do at Harvard Business School. You have to use a lot more videos. And so first, we would use movies that we went from movies, to doing our own movies. And probably I don’t know if Steve, if you’ve ever seen the roadmap program, but we did that.
Well. The Roadmap program sort of predates I believe, the FBA program, and and maybe so so we’ve come so far in the last three decades, but in the last decade itself, the last 10 years since since Judy Cunningham out of out of solder at UBC had sort of conceived this FBA program. I know a lot of us no Judy, and no part of that. I don’t know what the bridge was from this roadmap program to the FBA program, but I’m sure that there’s a lot of the seeds of the FBA program that sprouted from from your program
around what happened was Cafe the leaders of Cafe came to us and they said, Hey, you guys are doing this teaching to families from around the world. And these are major families because who can afford to go for a five day session? What about us What about cafe and that’s really why we decided to do the road map program was for cafe. And we also at the same time we did the program, develop the facilitators guide, the participants guide and we trained 64 facilitators from Cafe facilitators from across the country. That was a roadmap came into play. Now you talk about God calling him well, we and BFF are born had said to us, you know guys, you’ve got to expand in Canada, they really need help. So we began forming the university centers across our country. We started the first one we did was at the Sauder School at UBC. That was our first center. The second one was in in Alberta. And yeah, and the the other one was Ivy school in Ontario, I should say, Montreal and Quebec, Dalhousie and memorial in the memorial in the Maritimes. And we went right across the country starting these centers with give each of these centers some seed money, introduce them to family businesses in their region through our networks, and then we’d show them how to raise money to holding an annual dinner event, which was also an educational event. Different from from most groups, we’ve always believed a lot in education, Steve. So anytime we got families together it became an educational event. And these were interesting dinners we got we were we were lucky because we know so many great families. So they would show up the batters the McCain’s the Rogers the vote wines, and we’d interview them and then members from the audience would ask questions of them. And it became a very, a very much look forward to event and it also raised a lot of money for the administration course for the different centers. So that’s how the centers across Canada really started was Felipe and I from prodding from our board saying hey, you’ve got to bring this across candidate.
You know, I’m even more glad that we’re doing this right now. Because I kind of felt that I knew more than the average person about the history of this but you are filling in so much color. It’s so much about this that even I am surprised about and I think it’s important that now that we have about 400 FTAs designated in the last 10 years through first idea and now FTX that you know these stories of how all this happened. You know, you don’t some people are born and they think the world started the same day that they were born and nothing else of consequence ever happened before. Everything was just kind of there. This is some important historical stuff that really helps understand how much time and effort and sacrifice I guess because you clearly weren’t doing this for the money.
But I got it we were spending our money. We were giving our money away as well as our time we were working full time in this full time. And you know, it’s an amazing thing. I mean, because Philip and I were convinced that this was an important thing for families because we saw so many families that, you know, fell on hard times because of difficult issues and we thought what a terrible waste and how can we help from all the years of study and research we’ve done? And that’s really what was driving us. And then you know, the final thing, Steve is that a Chinese family came along and they attended our course and they were very happy and they donated donated a large amount of money to be FF and they asked us you guys do these family business centers in Asia trip and I said well, I guess in a way we should. So we knew we couldn’t just travel there on a continual basis like we did in Canada. So we started online learning. And you know, it’s funny in life. We were in the beginning we borrow because we didn’t know anything about online learning. This was a long time ago. And it was well before any of us were doing that. Right so we borrowed the platform used by moderate tech in Mexico, and exchange for us starting family business centers in Mexico. So we started about 23 centers in Mexico, and then we teamed up with universities in Asia to do the same there. So that’s just a sort of a short synopsis of BFF.
Wow, that all has led to I can tell you I am a member of FFI and I’ve done their education program and it pales in comparison to what we have here. And I always realized that we were lucky to have such an advanced and complete program in Canada. And I had no idea how deep those roots of this program go right back to your family. So thank you for for getting all that off the ground and continuing and it’s not just planting the seeds, right? It’s planting the seeds, it’s watering them, it’s fertilizing them. It’s it’s weeding the garden, and continuing as you said, spending your own money and spending time to do it because you realize how important this is. And really there was nobody else in the world doing anything close to what you were doing.
I think states that a lot of people thought we were crazy. We spent if I told you how many millions you wouldn’t believe it so I won’t because sometimes I shake my own head but if we could help families, families get stronger and build better businesses. For us. It was worth every moment of time as well as money. So if I say this with our full time job and it really was full time for quite a few years. We we had great team members who came in to help, but we did. We did do a lot of firsts. I can tell you a lot of innovative things. Because vaping is so interested and and we want to learn we want to grow. And so this was this was the thing we were doing and we felt that was important.
And it is important and it is not something that could have come about just through some capitalistic venture either it really needed someone to feed it and seen it and give it some love and give it wings and then have the connections to start to bring it around to different places in the world. When I first started noticing BFF maybe seven eight years ago when I see this stuff with Mexico and and I was telling you earlier I went to an event in 2014 and I was sitting with a guy from India and a woman from Australia who had traveled all the way to Montreal for something like that. There’s gotta be something special. These people are coming from pretty far away to participate in this, that they obviously can’t get closer to home so there’s there’s got to be something special here. And I’m so glad that that after all these years of you putting together all these platforms and courses that the connection now the recent announcement from what a couple of months ago that the BFF is now merging with the family enterprise Foundation, which was the nonprofit side of FBX. And so this is going to give now that FBX will become the home of everything that BFF has created over the years. Can you shed some light on on how this came about and what it means for everyone?
Well, how did it come about? I think we were very lucky that we found Margaret, Jean Malik’s and Alex Atala to take over we believe a lot in couples because we think that the power of two is very important. It’s always it’s instead of always being alone to accomplish something. If you have your spouse your partner along with you. It makes it much easier. And when we turned it over to them, we pass the baton and they did a great job. I also think that we have great professionals deal working with them such as Olivier do the show for you know, but we’ve been very blessed on that because I think the fact that we can find good people to pick up the pieces and to work as hard as we did. It’s not always easy. So that was certainly one of the big things because Margaret Jane was very involved in the other entities in Canada, that were working with families in business and so she helped steer this through and we’re very grateful to her for that.
It’s amazing how many things in this story sort of parallel. A lot of things that happen in business families were one generation is he’s getting a little bit older and looking to turn it over to someone else and so it goes it goes to some younger people that will take the torch or the baton. And also as you mentioned, some important outside professional so people who are not part of the family that buy into the whole thing and really get it and do it as more than just a job but as part of, you know, their calling, and really care enough about things to make sure that things are done for the right reasons. And so you mentioned that Margaret G happened to be part of FTX and so that I guess was part of the serendipity of of this coming together recently.
Absolutely. Margaret Jean was coming to our courses. Back when she was I think 50 That gives you an idea, the Manex family and I’m not telling anything out of school because they’re the first family to always say, Oh, well we learned a lot with Nambi and Philly back in those many years ago. So Margaret Jean was grew up and learning and studying family business, which made her a perfect successor right.
Yes. Well, it’s so important to have the right kind of people at all the different levels. You need to have the right to founders who who know how to nurture something and then know how to step back. You need to have the right professionals who are there tending to things and making sure to watch the risks and also putting their hearts into it. And then you need the right people to take it over and catch the torch and know how to keep running with it and then realize when there’s an opportunity to place this, this treasure into the right hands so that it can last for much much longer. i There’s a legacy part of this I guess for you and Philippe to be sort of I’m guessing relieved and satisfied that all this that you’ve been working for. Looks like it’s placed to have a great long continuous life going forward.
I think it does. I think they’re very well situated. You know when we started our long term goal because we Philippe and I always do a lot of strategic planning. And our long term goal for BFF was that family business would become a recognized field of study, which back then I can assure you it was not
in many ways it still feels like it’s a very young field. And and I think that decades going forward will continue to grow but it certainly has come a long way. And I’m pretty sure that in Canada, it’s come along way faster than in other places, thanks to the programs like the FBA program that most of our listeners have come through. And it’s amazing how far back this story goes to the point where like back in the 80s when when some of our listeners were maybe still in high school or maybe even younger than that, and to have to be able to share some of this story with them about how we got to where we are is is really something I’m glad we were able to do today. Let me ask you the old if you had to if you knew now, if you knew then what you know now, would you have done things differently or what are some of the things that might have gone differently?
I think done differently would be to train more consultants and family advisors and forget about trying to train university professors. I think that university professors deal a lot in theory, whereas the difference with consultants and family advisors, they’re actually dealing with the families and these if they’re smart, and if they listen and learn. They can hear what the real issues are. And theory is one thing but experiential learning is much more powerful in my mind. And that’s why if to do things differently, we would have done more work with consultants and family advisors to train them in the field of family business.
That’s interesting because you know as part of FFI where or when I participate, there are maybe you know, 25% of the people involved in FFI are researchers and university people and I always find that they have some interesting things to add to the whole field, even though they’re not practitioners. And I think that where the FAA, where the FAA program comes in is that was sort of a pivot to only the practitioners and specialize in the practitioners. So maybe, maybe that’s where it’s ended up going here in Canada, more so is to is to help train the advisors and that’s what all of our FTAs are glad we’re able to do because that we have had the benefit of such a program.
Well, Steve, you know, I think that when we started bringing family business to Canada, with our centers across the country, there was no such thing as family business in Canada. But in that interim candidates become very well known and recognized for their research on family business. I think what our universities are excellent at and I’m finding the same thing and the work that I’m doing now with Aqua forum and aqua hacking. Our universities are fabulous on research, but they’re not very great at bringing that research into a another place in a commercialization or being able to help other people understand their research in such a way that it can be useful. And I think that maybe in family business, they’ve done the best job because the research that they’ve done, and I can name so many parts of Dida Christian, I mean, there are loads of great researchers in Canada. And that’s what we do very well, but I think it’s super that you guys are now concentrating. I’m helping more with the consultants who are actually working with the families, which is very important.
Absolutely. And I could tell you, the program the FDA program, is rigorous and it is deep and it is broad and everyone who comes through it has a new appreciation for what makes family business tick. There are some that come from a family business background like me that it sort of just reinforces a lot of things but then there’s a lot of people that don’t have the lived experience, but I’ve served a lot of clients in the space, and they also learn a lot more about what makes family sick and more importantly, they learn about how to work together with other advisors, which I think is the latest thing that people are finally starting to realize is that people from different fields need to work together to properly serve the family clients.
Well, if you look at a family business, you have lawyers, you have financial planners, you have I mean look at all the different things that we need in a family business. And unless our consultants, our advisors speak the same language, then they’re going to be looking at things from a very different angle, and effect can’t talk together. That’s I think one of the things that we started was the most trusted advisor and why we started that program. oh my golly, how many years ago was that way anyway? We did that because the most trusted advisor could then call on a lawyer could call on all the different aspects and get them to speak from the same hymn book for this family. With their particular issues, because every family has, what we have found Steve is that the issues and family business are always the same, always. But the way that the family is going to solve them depends on their values and their culture and that’s why it’s so important that the advisors can hear these families and can listen and learn from them on what are their what is their culture, what are their values, because the answer will depend on that.
And that fits so nicely with one of the taglines of the MBA program would be fluent in family business. So the vocabulary part and getting people to speak the same language and having the advisors to have the, what I like to call the multidisciplinary fluency about you know, knowing how to talk together to so that the family gets the results that they need. I’m looking at the time and I see as usual, I always say around this time, we’re getting to the place where we need to wrap this up. And so we have our usual standard two questions that we ask all our guests. We end with a book recommendation, hopefully something that you read that was you know, important to you and change the way how you think about things and then one piece of advice from an advisor to advisors. So then maybe you have a book recommendation that we could share with our audience.
I do and I also because I deal a lot with young people and they love YouTube. So the book that I’m recommending is also on YouTube, so can make it easier for the advisors. The book is Jordan, Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life. I find that a great book and the there’s a couple of YouTube videos. So if you don’t have the time to read the book, I would advise you to go onto the YouTube presentations.
So Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life. And if you don’t want to read the whole book, there’s all kinds of videos that for that for the people who have less patience and want to see some, some, some video instead of perfect, we will put a link to that. And so now last but not least a piece of advice. Usually we say from an advisor to advisors, I think that you qualify as much more than just an advisor as someone who sort of helped form the field but I am sure you have something you could offer to all of our advisors who are still trying to learn more.
I think the probably the most key point the biggest one for me is help your families become a learning family. Emphasize with them how they must embrace change and profit from it. Don’t be fearful of change, embrace it. I would also because sometimes we forget, do not bring competition into the family. There’s plenty outside the family. And last very key in this world of ours help prepare this successor generation for the changing field of work. That’s encoding artificial intelligence. They need those skills or else they will not be able to help their family business. That’s really my
last point. Wow. I was not expecting that but but it I know it comes from from you from a place of seeing so many families and knowing what it takes for the long term and that the rising generation are always the key and recognizing what that rising generation really needs to be working on. I appreciate you pointing us in that direction. Natalie, thank you so much. For joining us for this podcast and sharing the all the important parts of the evolution of the whole family business field over the past few decades. This has been enlightening and I can’t thank you enough. Thank you for being our guest today.
Thank you Steve and I hope I’ve helped a little bit a little bit
more than a little bit. Thanks again, listeners. If you haven’t already subscribed to this podcast, please do. You can make sure that you never miss any of these monthly episodes. This has been the let’s talk family enterprise podcast. Thanks again for joining us. I’m Steve Legler. And we’ll see you next time.
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