My name is Nike, and this week’s episode number 52 is with the amazing Steve Legler. Steve is a family legacy advisor He’s based in Canada. What I love about Steve is he has an insider’s journey and our business family himself. His father had founded their family business and he had thought he will take over the business but there was an unexpected liquidity event, which happened in his 20s and instead, Steve found himself managing the family office. So in this conversation, we have very meaty conversation on whether to sell the family business if you’re selling the family business, how do you manage the family’s wealth? How do you pull the family apart, but instead keeps the family together? And Steve’s extensive experience both as an insider and as a professional really came through so I really recommend you listen to this. Thank you, and share the love. Hi, Steve. I’m so excited to have you today and connects generation welcome.
Thank you, Nike. It’s really nice to be with you. We connected last year during the pandemic carrier conference. We met and I always knew that I’m talking to you again, in some circumstances, sooner or later. So great to be here with you, as they call.
So tell us about Steve. About that journey. How did you get to where you are today? Okay,
well, I’m in Canada Montreal, Canada, I was born here. My parents had immigrated from Europe in their teen years and met here. And my father became an immigrant entrepreneur. And he had started up a steel fabrication company before I was born. He started that in 63 I was born in 64. I have two older sisters. And in the 60s, if you had a dirty business like the scale business, you didn’t think of your daughters as potential successors. But when you had a son all of a sudden, well, here we go. So my whole life was sort of laid out for me of what was expected of me. And I guess I didn’t know any better and didn’t have a better plan. So I followed in my dad’s footsteps working in the business during high school during my teen years every summer, went to McGill and did a business degree because what do you study? If you’re going to take over a business, you have a study business, so I just did what I was called, went straight into the company work there for three years. Then it was time to go into my MBA, which I did and I went to London, Ontario to the University of Western Ontario was the best MBA school in Canada came back 26 years old, getting ready to eventually take over this business. And lo and behold, on my first day back, my dad calls me into his office and says close the door shut down. You have to have it but the last two years have been gone. Things have been going downhill. We have to do something we have to close with a merger got to sell and I was like oh okay, well, this was not never my dream. It was sort of an obligation I felt to be the dutiful son. And all of a sudden this was being like, this isn’t going to happen. But I was okay with it strangely, and long story short, six months later, we had gone from 300 employees now four, and two of us named Steve like, and so I was there. My dad had gone off to run his farm, raising cattle and had an apple orchard. And that kept him occupied. And then because we didn’t sell the shares of the business, we just don’t assets we still had a corporate structure. We still had some real estate. We had some money from the divestiture. We had some patented products. So I had a job. I had to take care of certain things, but I didn’t realize I was I was essentially running what we would now call a family office. Office Office nonetheless, but I didn’t realize that number one because it was 1991. The term family office really hasn’t become known and certainly I didn’t realize. So I ended up running a managing that family office for the next 20 years or so while also marrying into another business. Family, starting a family raising kids. And then lo and behold, in 2013 I stumbled into a program here in Canada called family enterprise advice. And that was going on in Toronto about five hours down the road for me. This is a program that was designed by the University of British Columbia. And it was designed to take people who work with family businesses and teach them more about what makes them businesses tick. So here I am. I’m in a room in Toronto with about 20 people who are either working for a bank they’re selling life insurance, their accountants or asset management. And I looked around and I realized I had nothing in common with these people. What am I good? Well, after a few seconds, I realized what I was doing here, the people at the front of room, were talking about the things they did with business that was helping them work on their values. Helping them work on their patient, helping them prepare their next generation helping them create a family council. And I was like, wow, we just, that’s big. People do that. Oh my god. It was like I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was 40 at a time but better late than never go hiking, jump into the deep end wrote a book called Share your family business, started a website started a blog, found a few clients and I’ve been doing this ever since and loving every minute of it and still learning more about it and finding different and better ways to serve. Different families in business or enterprise. Wow.
Wow. Okay, first me so you were a junior? Your father Steve Legler. What was life like as a junior Did you feel like you were living in seniors shattered?
Oh, absolutely. I have told anyone who wants to listen when they’re having a child and considering it means after dad Jr. I always say no, no, please don’t do this. Don’t do that. Let the kid have their own life and I managed to save one. I have a cousin who when his wife was pregnant, she was like, Oh, what do we have to do? And they said no, no sleep, so don’t do that. And so save one rescue or save any others. There aren’t many Steve’s anymore either. They might either typically over boarding and I saw one once a little while ago that was like a teenager. Wow, who did? It was definitely a shadow. Then people would phone the house and say can I sneak to see but it would be for me and then my dad would come to the phone and get mad. Why don’t you tell him to call you Stephen? And well his name was Stefan because he was from a German part of Europe. And so he was using a different answer. So was it and you know, you can’t tell people what to call you people call you what they call it but so yeah. And then when I started to work for the business that was like, so now I have to put Jr on my business card. So I was funny like right after I got my MBA has this business card that says Steve Legler Jr. MBA, and I happened to meet with some friends of mine from graduate school. I gave a guy my party. Oh, you’re a junior MBA, what’s a junior MBA, but I was just kidding. But just having the junior after your name can be positive, but I think on balance it’s typically so that’s why I don’t recommend
and so you went to business school and your plan was to jump right into the family business and senior comes up with great ideas. So the business what was that like?
So it’s funny you say my plan was it wasn’t my plan. There was a plan followed by but it wasn’t my plan. Falling from here I am doing my undergrad. And I see up in my last year I see a lot of my friends coming in and every other day wearing a suit because I have an interview that is arranged on campus and I look at them and they’re looking at me. You don’t have to do this because you’ve already got a job lined up they thought I was lucky now when I look back, they were the only ones that they actually had some opportunities to develop and explore and pursue and I didn’t have that. In fact, at the time, my father had joined an organization called Catholic Canadian Association of family, Christ. And this was for business families. He had gone and heard some speakers probably guys who are doing what I’m doing now but like 30 years of or 30 years ago, and he said to me one day you know these people are Cafe they come and extinguish, shouldn’t hire your kids right out of school. You should make them go get a job somewhere else first. And I still remember that conversation. I remember looking at my dad were hopeful. I was like really? Is this gonna be a possibility. But then of course, he followed that up by patronizing me patting me on shoulder and say, but don’t worry, we’re not going to do that. And sometimes today I still look back on that and say how might my life have been different? If I push back because the problem that arises is you then sell the family business and now you have someone who does not have a resume that I could easily have gone anywhere to go and hear all this stuff. I’ve been working for. It’s kind of hard to completely disguise. And not only not having the resume but not having the confidence. And that’s something that when I talk about this subject for families where they have young kids coming up, they’re really trying to encourage them to let all of their children go and find their own path. If they are going to come back to the family business later. They’ll be much better prepared for it than if they just come in and follow your footsteps let them go and ruin themselves, but prove it to themselves. Then when they come to the business. The other employees will recognize that this person is a person who got a job here because they had a job somewhere else. Yes, partly because of their new but not only because of so they will develop the credibility they need. Because of that. They will also bring things they learned into your company and one of the things so many family businesses have is they have this not invented here like we have to figure it all out herself. And often don’t take lessons or advice from outside. But that’s what the family business needs to grow. So if you can send out your children eldest kind of emissaries to go on a recon mission into other companies and learn things and bring them back. They’re only going to help the business in the long run. But that’s such a long term play for parents and I see my self and my dad’s position, like Hurry up son and getting your app so much stronger. But there’s so much more to learn than what the parents would show you and they don’t show you that later. equal time to go and learn elsewhere first,
absolutely. I love your metaphor analogy of being emissaries like missionaries going out so bringing experience and perspectives that will be of value to the family business. And you mentioned that you got married, you married into another business family. What was that like now being an in law?
It’s an ongoing thing, obviously. So I met my wife Julie and me in school, and it was amazing. The parallels were both the youngest of our family who was going off to go to school that she actually comes from a place in northern Quebec in the province I’m in and we met and her family business was actually a lot larger, and it comes from a remote part of the province. So she had the I really don’t want to go back into the woods up into a mining area. And she had no desire to go back. Plus you had an older brother who was the vice president of the company and he was the one designated to be taking over but they had their liquidity event as well 10 years after my family. And so it was interesting to watch how selling a business when the founder gets to the point where they decide to sell the business. The parallels the way my father went through that and the way my father in law went through it and the different reasoning and the different way back. My dad had already his next life plan. He had this farm. He was planning to spend more and more time but my father in law, when he sold his business it was now what now what do I do and he was one of those guys who was well I guess I’ll go into town and have breakfast with my buddies. But then after that if it wasn’t golf season, what am I going to do? So that’s often the thing we run into when we deal with business families is the people at the top who have trouble figuring out how to exit and it might make sense monetarily exit this year, but then what right and then sometimes they’re ready to go, but it’s not the time in the market to sell the business or they don’t know which of their kids to leave the business. To. And they haven’t had those discussions because they almost try to avoid the mess. So much of what I do when I work with families is help them start and help them continue conversations that they really shouldn’t be having. But that left to their own group without an outsider guiding them and prodding them and holding them to account and keeping them on a schedule. They just won’t have those conversations. So things get delayed and during the candidates kick down the road. And they never end up talking about the really important things that every successful founder transition the business as how those discussions things don’t happen by themselves. They happen because they’ve been discussed and planned and kicked around and CO create with the leading generation and the rising generation to figure out how things are going to work together. But it’s not a natural conversation for parents and their offspring
is so important that you’ve highlighted this not the decision to sell or the family business brings more to the table than just finance. It’s not just a quantitative thing, but also qualitative factors. Quite often the family business is a rallying point for the family members and it’s the first call commonality for the bond for the family and I was actually having a conversation with a lady where her family made financial stamps to sell the business so they decided not to because it kept the families together and I think we also right family’s needs that that party does not expose guide them through. Like you said it might be the right time, dollar wise to style but am I ready as founder of Business to step away?
Well, and that happens so often right? will sell the business and go oops, we that we did that because it was an opportune time. And now once again, what are themselves they might struggle with that for a while. But if they deal with someone from the outside who was seeing what other families have done to give them some ideas, well to any of the offspring have any entrepreneurial ideas of their own that you could find. Is there some kind of family philanthropy that you all believe in, that you could set up a foundation that would then become a reason to begin some family governance around something to rally around and all things are possibility but if you kind of have your head down building this business, you don’t have time to think of this stuff. And it might not ever enter your sphere of what you’re thinking about. And then having those conversations about well now what because rallying a family around an operating business is relatively easy compared to a $50 million business and everyone sort of feels like they don’t all of a sudden you sell it and you’ve got $50 million in the bank. Well, it’s pretty easy for the for kids to sit around and go to the dollars. There’s four of us there. Why don’t you just write me my check right now. And although be lousy, I was worried about you. And some companies do that. And if that’s what they decide to do haven’t thought through it, that’s fine. But most families at that stage are trying to find a way to keep the legacy going keeps the family and the wealth both together somehow, at least into the next generation and hopefully into the next one after that, too.
That’s a really important point and I’m going to ask you a question. Why shouldn’t they be written individual checks and why should they stay together and set up a business together or philanthropy or a family offices gather? Waste? Probably six gather?
Either answer is fine. Assuming they have taken the time to ask themselves that correction. For example, the family that I’ve married into, there’s just no desire and no inclination. There’s just not enough cohesion. even think about hey, what are we all going to do together? And that’s okay. And in my family, it’s almost the same but not as much but the wealth base is not as large so it was never really that big a consideration. My family was more about having each of us kids go off and started premiere and do our own thing and start a family and restart as a gene, one of whatever we’re doing, families should not automatically decide that they are going to stick with one of the assumptions I typically make when I meet with a family for a first time. It’s like, okay, I’m assuming the reason you’re calling me in is because you have an idea that you might want to pursue this. So let’s go and validate that and see if it does make sense and see if we can find a way to make this work. And this means because the two brothers don’t get along and forcing them to be partners and it’s just a recipe for disaster. Let’s figure that out somewhere relatively early in front in the discussion. And let’s find a way to divide the wealth but preserve the family. Because too often. The effort to keep the wealth together is what divides the family and those are the disasters that are avoidable. But the parents who say they write the will they don’t tell her kids what’s in it. And then the kids find out by the way, your 5050 partners are 3333 your partners because the parents had this idea of you know, we’ll force the floor together. They’ll have no choice. Well, I don’t know what the stats are on that. But I imagine that those have negative results compared to the ones where you sit with the kids and say, What can we realistically expect this next generation to manage to get? It all comes down to a word most people don’t like to hear but family governance and growing? How they’re going to make decisions together. How are they going to communicate? What is their capacity to do that? And if it ends up, we’re talking about keeping it together or separating it. Those are two extremes. There’s all kinds of things in the middle and the middle you can find ways to sort of give each kid a certain amount to do what they want, and keep apart together to give them a reason to stay together whether that’s a foundation and philanthropy or some small business or a family bank, kind of a financial instrument that each family can tap into for their own entrepreneurial ideas. I heard the story a while ago about a family in Canada. They’re going in like third or fourth generation and they’re really well known and they own some of the companies on the stock exchange. And there were four brothers and they came up with a thing where everyone started their own business, but they only own 70% of it, and each of their brothers own 10% So everyone started a business they were 70 and their partners again 1010. And so each one started so now they’re cheering for each other. They’re leveraging each other’s connections and abilities, and they’re sort of reverse supplying their risks. And I’d like what a beautiful way anyone can do some version of that. You need to realize that that’s a possibility and open to it, and then be able to have the discussions with that rising generation that involves that to have more creativeness because they can just go see your lawyer and your side of the grill all these structures across the bay. Well, here it is, as a liquid and you know, kids find out about it when it’s complete. That’s not the best way to do it. Because if you were to take them on Yes, it takes longer. Yes, it will be more difficult to get to where you have all the instruments designed and place but at least you’ll know that those are structures and instruments and companies are holding companies or trusts or what however you structure at least you’ll know that the people for whom you are designing them, will appreciate them will understand them and will be ready to work with them as opposed to finding Holy crap. You mean I own that with him? That’s not a recipe for a good start to a new relationship.
So much wisdom and but you said you spoke about your family business went from family business family office, essentially we didn’t realize at the time and there’s a lot of conversation with a lot of family businesses and exchange we started family office based on your experience, your insight experience and your professional experience. What tips do you have for next term, so I’m thinking doing it a family office, how this all work, etc?
There’s no quick answer to that. But there are a lot of professionals and organizations that have discovered this term family office, and it’s put like stars in their eyes. And they’re like, oh, wow, we’re going to tell these families. We’ve got this family office and it’s got all the bells and whistles and we can do everything for you. And they’re going to tell you a great story. About how they conserve you. And that is very dangerous, because they have very compelling stories and they can tell you about oh yeah, we just signed up this family, not family. Who are these things? Oh, well, I get going on but following them. But really, there’s an expression in the family office world. If you’ve seen one family office, we have seen one family office because they are necessarily custom made for each family. And so before you go shopping for a suit, you need to come and help someone come and measure you. And so you need to have someone come and speak with the family and say okay, so what do you want this family office to accomplish? What what is the work that’s most important to you? Isn’t to administer things isn’t to invest the money is to educate the family. Is it to help you start to have family meetings and start family governance. Depending on your answers to those questions, you will be entertaining all sorts of different options that you might not have thought and unfortunately there aren’t a lot of people who are there to advise you just for what you pay them to advise for that are trying to sell you something. Most of the people who will approach these families are someone who can either manage their money or manage their account, they will do their taxes and say we have all these other people who will do all this for you and you’ll have a one stop shop and we’ll do another we’ll take care for. Sometimes that’s the dance, but to evaluate different proposition. Ideally you have to consider all the different things that you need. And I’m working with a family right now that they’re exactly at that stage. They’re sort of trying to figure it out. And it’s let me sit there and be with you. As you talk to all these people. I can ask them certain questions that you might not have thought of. I can play the dumb guy and ask the stupid question and not worried about that. But you will not necessarily feel comfortable asking certain questions. And then once we talk with your family about what you really need, and we’ve talked to certain providers, then we can sort of custom made what we need. Do you need to hire someone for the admin and outsource the investments? Do or hire someone for the investments and outsource the admin? Do you have some trusted people that you’ve already been working for that you would like to have as part of this and who could they supervise and what parts can inform each other? How ready are the family members to take on some kind of supervision role or supervisory role or board role over these employees often the patriarch will have a liquidity event, hire someone to run their family office and then the children of the patriarch become like beholden to this employee where ultimately over the longer term that relationship should be exactly upside down that that person is working for the balance. But these relationships get all out of whack when they’re not thought through properly and structured properly. And I guess the biggest thing I would say is don’t be in a hurry to sign anything. Don’t be in a hurry to agree to take your time, explore things. Start by hiring one person to take care of something and then figure out what you’re going to farm out to what trusted person. The other thing is. Often they’ll have investments still in other things that only you’re going to integrate the things you already have with all the things that you still want to do. And so you need to have people that play that kind of central role. You got to figure out how the family plays a role or not. Are they old enough to play a role? Are they at the age where you want to hire someone that can train them to play a role that there’s so many things to consider that most of the families that walk into this? They’ve never done it before. They don’t really realize what all the different questions are. And so it’s easy for them to fall for some kind of a sales pitch where someone’s Oh, we can’t hear this. We take care of that. Only took six months later realize that they simply do that but they don’t really do that the way they’ve said
so much meant to you. That’s been my experience all the what you’ve articulated. It’s just been complete experience. So Right. It’s not transactional, this family office whole concept. It really is custom made for each family and like you said, starting small, taking it a step at a time. It’s definitely the way forwards and having someone to help you navigate the whole scenario. As someone who’s not trying to sell you something on who’s not trying to sell you something
someone who’s there that you’re just a to advise you on making these choices that if you choose a B or C or half of a and a quarter of B and part of F that that person doesn’t make more or less in the long run, depending on which choice is
that’s that’s non conflicted. Yeah, yes. Crazy. This is the connected generation. So I have one last question for you how, quite often with the divergence between founding Gen and Next Gen Xers, whether it’s different mindsets, different values, different perspectives. What are your tips on how next gen xers can connect better with founders.
They can do a lot more than they think they can, but they need to replace. They really need to take their time. Figure out what’s important to them. Figure out what messages they want their parents to understand about their readiness, about their aspirations, about their hopes and dreams and find ways to connect on a regular and repeating basis to pass those messages on to their parents. So don’t say on Sunday at dinner, I’m going to go and give this big long diatribe but put my foot down and say this is what I want. This is what I expect. You can go there on Sunday and talk for three or four minutes and say something and then back off and then a few weeks later, come with the next part. And do that over a period of contests. Whatever messages you are trying to get your parents to understand will take a while for them to digest for them to let it sink in. And then in the meantime, in between those weeks when you’re trying to deliver a message. Hopefully you are behaving in such a way to reinforce the point that you’re trying to make, which is that you’re ready and willing and able to do more and to take on more responsibility. So it’s an iterative process, kind of send some messages that you’re trying to explain to them. This is where I ended this is what I think is important. Then you go and you behave in a way that demonstrates that. Then you go back hopefully after you’ve had some successes and talk about the fact that you’ve had success and then what you want to do next and then prove to them that you’re everything that you know that you are, but give them the time to absorb it and adjust to it and realize that wow, this is not that little snot nosed kid that I used to have to make stand in the corner and they really, really have grown and mature and they’re making progress and let the parents realize that, wow, I’ve got something here and I want to help mold and keep this person growing because they will be an important part of continuing this family legacy.
Cindy, we are in the microwave generation and as to see often says quite often we’ve spoiled yes the results. And we’re used to downloading Seven Steps to whatever result you want five ways to and in this world of family business. It really does quite that way.
And I coach people and I will coach almost all of them are part of a family business in some capacity for one generation or another. And I often find myself adding just slow them down. They want to be this they want to do that. And I’ll whoa whoa, wait a second. Wait a second. So when the last time you talked to your parents about this, how did that go? Well, how can you sort of try to move that ball down the field a little bit further next time don’t try to go scorable from here like just move the ball down the field. take things one step at a time because really, parents are looking at their children in a certain way and for them to change the lenses on those glasses from looking at that kid in the diapers to looking at the kid with a suit tie and realizing that this is the thing is that oh my god they made huge strides. What else are they ready? For? That takes a long time as a parent apparent indeed.
Incredible. What are you working on that you’re excited about?
I’ve actually started a monthly call with colleagues called The First Friday Family Forum that I host and we take turns presenting the case and just talking about it and we don’t record it. So then everyone’s free to speak. I started this last year with a friend and we’ve run like Canada and we’re getting like a couple of dozen people on the call and it’s kind of fun because like your podcasts you sort of created out of nothing and all of a sudden you realize you got to realize that sort of fits with are looking at the children and seeing how far they got we were just talking about but it’s just we were talking a little bit before we started recording about social capital, just interacting with other people and this whole space of working with business families is still relatively new and we have so much to learn from each other. Yes, family businesses, family enterprise have a lot of things in common but there’s so many differences that you can learn from other people who have gone through similar things that different family in a different country. That’s the other thing the global nature of this business. Yeah, this fascinating of river family permits to do I’ve managed to meet people from all over. I put stuff up on LinkedIn sometimes and I’ll look at I’ll statements that 15 reacts and then I look at I don’t like that for for pumpkins. But because it’s such a topic that resonates all around the world. But it’s so broad, but there’s not if I wanted to have a meeting with a bunch of colleagues do the same kind of work as me I can’t just go have a meeting at the restaurant here in Montreal because there aren’t that many people who do this. So in order to have valuable conversations, we need to set the network out wide. And now with technology that’s available to do this kind of stuff and meet with people as part of a study group where we call it the Jeannine stuff because we got people from nine different countries. Wow. It’s so cool to be part of this to share with people. I think when you say what am I working on? I’m working on realizing the importance of my social capital and trying to just keep increasing it because I think that’s a win win for everybody. It’s a win for me. It’s a win for my clients. It’s a win for the field of the industry. To connect more people. We all have so much to learn from each other. And so keep spreading the word that you’re spreading with your podcast and other podcasts that are talking about similar things, and we’re all learning from each other. And that’s the fun part.
Amazing. And if anyone wants to get in touch with you, Steve, how can they reach you?
I love that question because my answer is always the same. I’m lucky I have a name that’s relatively easy to spell. It’s only got one vowel in it. It’s an immediate repeat for time Steve Legler is spelled just like it sounds. And yeah, it’s not a common name. So it’s easy to spell but it’s not common. And so if you Google me, you will find really the finally LinkedIn you’ll find my website and moving all my stuff from ship your family business.com, which was my first book title just the lender.com to make it even easier to find. So blender.com If you Google Steve Legler Valley business hit me up on LinkedIn happy to set up a call and chat about family business no matter with whom and around what and see if I can be a resource. The new are the families that you’re
incredible. Thank you so much. Really enjoyed this conversation with you, Steve.
Always a pleasure. We hope to talk to you again soon.
That was so meaty, unserved. Rich and so dense. Just so full of tips. I think even I have listened to this over and over again. But several things I want to say like six that was the importance of co creation and the process of legacy planning. And quite often, what happens is the process of coming together as a family and looking at what should the state look like across generations watch the succession of like, what should governance looks like? That process is often more important than the outcome of the goal, because it’s the process of coming together of collaborating of practicing, communicating, managing and resolving potential conflicts that really actually makes us a stronger family. And it’s the strength of the family that really puts us in a great position to propel the business to the next generation. I love that a consistent theme that Steve was saying in a number of my answers was like there’s no one size fits all and there’s no quick answer. There’s no quick fix to family business matters. And I love love, love the analogy games of before you buy a suit. It’s important that someone takes your measurements and quite often engaging a family office advisor making big investments in restructuring of the family business or the assets or IV. Those are pretty expensive suits and suits that take a long time to make. So it’s really important that this suit or fit the family. So I encourage you if you have any questions get in touch with Steve. He’s available on LinkedIn on this website, as I mentioned, take care complexity. And please share this episode with a friend. leave a review subscribe. That will make me very happy Thank you. Take care. God bless
This transcript was generated by https://otter.ai