Yet Another Inspiring Conference

My favourite conference of the year just wrapped up, and once again I was not disappointed. 

Of course it would have been much better if we could have met in person, but we really did get as much as we possibly could have out of the virtual format, thanks in large part to the wonderful spirit of collaboration and sharing that everyone brought in spades.

The Purposeful Planning Institute, a.k.a. my “tribe”, has been holding its annual Rendez-Vous for over a decade, although the ’20 and ’21 editions were converted to “RendeZoom” instead.

I first attended in ’14 and vowed to never miss it, and I feel more strongly about that today than ever.

Now, let’s get to the cape story.

Opening Keynote Sticks to the End

I always get so much out of the very interactive breakout sessions, because there are always things to learn from colleagues who share about the ways they work with families.

There are also plenary keynotes of course, and for me they’re all part of a great package, but rarely the highlight of conferences that I attend.

Well “rarely” is not the same as never, and the kickoff presentation from Dr. James Pawelski was the exception.

The Red Cape / Green Cape metaphor that he shared stuck with me through to the end of the conference, and I brought it up over and over in the many breakout sessions that followed.

There Are Too Many Red Ones Out There

The theme of this year’s RendeZoom was “Courageous Resilience”, and Pawelski is the Director of Education in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

I probably don’t need to explain the relevance that Positive Psychology has on resilience, nor why resilience was chosen as a theme for a conference for those who work to help families flourish, seeing as we continue to be constrained in how we live our lives.

Pawelski’s metaphor was all about the prevailing attitude we each bring to our work. The red cape is the one preferred by those who concentrate on stopping bad things from happening. The green cape is worn by those who prefer to work on making sure that good things happen.

When you think about the people that legacy families hire to help them transition all their wealth to the rising generation, far too many of them wear red capes.

I wear a green one.

How About a Two-Sided Cape?

Pawelski went on to note that he preferred a two-sided, or “reversible” cape, with red on one side, and green on the other. Clever.

I really liked that idea and then I tried it on and it didn’t feel like it suited me

You see, because so many of the other people who deal with the families I like to deal with are already wearing the red cape, I don’t feel like the reversible one is the one for me, since it would almost feel like I’m trying too hard to fit in.

I might even be tempted to wear it with the red side out so I could be accepted by them, only to secretly go home and strut about my neighbourhood showing my true colour, green.

Adult-to-Adult Relationships Are the Key

When you get right down to what’s required to transition a family’s wealth from one generation to the next, much of it comes down to fostering proper adult-to-adult relationships between the generations.

Too many of the red-cape-wearing experts concentrate on creating ways to stop the rising generation from “screwing up” the wealth, and many parents worry that their wealth with “screw up” their kids.

 As someone pointed out to me during the conference, the term “adult children” is an oxy-moron; they’re either adults or they’re children.

When you treat them as capable and put on your green cape and work with them to make good things happen, you’ll usually get much better results.

Filling Up My Pitcher

During our 3 days together, I shared with many colleagues that I love Rendez-Vous because it allows me to refill my pitcher.

For 51 weeks a year, I pour out whatever I share to too many people who still don’t get it.

And then I spend a few days with my PPI Tribe and fill it back to overflowing again.

Thanks again to everyone who worked on pulling it off, see you back in Denver in July 2022.

Examples of Each Type Abound

Anyone who has spent any time in the family enterprise world has surely encountered a variety of different versions of sibling partnerships.

Sometimes sibling groups come together and end up working so well together that people are rightfully impressed by the way they can combine into what appears to be a “1 + 1 + 1 = 10” arrangement. That’s good, and maybe even great.

Other times, things might start off on the right foot, but after some time, and typically after the previous generation has fully exited, they may be lucky to find themselves staying even, i.e., where 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.  If you were expecting at least a 5, then 3 feels pretty bad.

And of course when you read about disaster family business stories on the front page of the newspaper (remember those things?) well then it’s often more of a case of (1 + 1 + 1) X 0 = 0, or maybe even a negative number, or downright ugly.

Avoid Ugly, Strive for Good

I don’t want to spend too much time on the ugly version, except maybe to say that before things get ugly, they usually go through some “bad” on the way.

I’d rather share some ideas on what you want to look for when things begin to turn bad, and encourage folks to cut their losses well before they get to ugly.

Let’s talk about some examples of good, and look at what families are doing right, and concentrate on the positive.

I was recently privileged to serve on a committee charged with determining the winners of a competition that some family businesses have entered to choose an annual award winner to be announced this fall.

The three finalists all shared certain characteristics that made me think of this topic, and I think there are definitely some lessons worth sharing.


From Autocratic to Democratic Leadership

Family business literature typically talks about G1 being a one-person show, that hopefully moves on to a sibling partnership in G2, on the way to becoming a G3 “cousin consortium”.

The three FamBiz we judged were all past G2 and yet they were each currently involved in transitioning to a group of their offspring for the first time, since each of the past generational transitions were of the “father-to-one-son” variety.

Perhaps one of the secrets to FamBiz longevity is to avoid passing the company down to more than one child or branch (?)

The biggest change that occurs when going from one leader to a few is that autocratic decisions no longer typically work as well, and are usually not deemed acceptable by the other sibling partners.

Learning how to “make decisions together” is something I talk about a lot when discussing the importance of family governance.


Family Governance? Not Again!

“Oh boy, here he goes again”, I can almost hear some of you thinking. 

But once again discussing the three finalist business families we looked at, they had all been working on their family governance for at least a few years now, and each of them had done so with the help of at least one outside expert brought in specifically for that task.

If you are hoping for a “good” sibling partnership, one key is to begin working on your family governance, so that it has a chance to evolve while both generations are still involved.

While each generation learns how to deal with the transitions involved in moving from one to the next, the siblings in the rising generation also learn how to work together effectively, or at least that’s what’s hoped for.


Avoiding Bad Before It Gets Ugly

The key to avoiding ugly is to be able to recognize a situation that has a likelihood of turning bad. 

Sometimes families recognize that certain siblings will not likely mix well in a business context, and so they transition to one of their offspring and find other ways to treat the others. That’s one way to avoid “bad”.

But once a sibling partnership exists, as soon as things start to get sticky, there’s still a chance to avoid “ugly”, but it almost always involves getting some outside help to allow the important conversations to happen in a productive way.

See Getting Legal Advice for your FamBiz vs. Lawyering Up for more on ways to react before things get too far out of hand.

It’s More Than Just a Semantic Difference

Sometimes the vocabulary one uses can make a big difference in how their message is received, and I’m one of those people who pay attention to such details.

I hope that I can illuminate a few things here this week that readers will find useful, as we look at one particular distinction that I’ve come across on a number of recent occasions.

Of course you could argue that changing a word or two here and there shouldn’t change much, but I beg to disagree.

I think that if you spend enough time repeatedly reinforcing certain messages over the long term, it can make a huge difference.

Let’s get started so I can show you what I mean.

Not Everything Is a Problem – Yet!

First off, I want to acknowledge that most people don’t pay as much attention to these things as I do, and that likely makes me the abnormal one.

When it comes to issues and problems, some people use the terms interchangeably in many situations, and it’s usually not a big deal.

But when you’re working with family members who own and run a business together, sometimes the little things can trip you up and eventually become big things.

So to me, an issue is a situation that I think requires attention, now or soon, so that we can get out in front of it as things develop, with the hope that we can make adjustments before things turn into a problem.

I’ll give a couple of FamBiz examples a bit later, but for now there are a couple of other nuances I want to cover.


Whose Problem Is This, Anyway?

There are many situations that are clearly a problem for one person, but for someone else, even part of the same family, that same situation may not even register as a minor concern.

This can be critical, because when someone in a family is suffering from a problem, sometimes their best hope of getting any support only comes when the others recognize the problem as requiring attention.

Of course in a family business, sometimes one person’s problem is directly caused by another family member, but that’s a whole other matter for another blog post.

I just want to put out there that sometimes a problem only exists for some and not all, and that can make things both easier or more difficult to surmount, depending on the particular details.


Spotting the Issues in Advance

When it comes to being able to spot issues before they become problems, it’s usually easier for an outsider, who’s not a part of the family, to notice things that could eventually go awry.

A person who has worked with other business families may have seen analogous situations and patterns that give them the benefit of some experience in predicting where things might eventually trip up another family.

I’ve worked with people specifically to help them “see around the corner” so that I can help them avoid making some predictable mistakes.

I’ve worked with others where I had to constantly warn different family members from saying certain things to others because I knew that they would be poorly received by the others. 

Sometimes I’d shake my head and wonder why they couldn’t see these things themselves, but then I’d realize that that was why they had hired me!


Serving the Ones Who Hire You

Speaking of hiring me, sometimes when interviewing with a family, you learn about situations that you can already predict will become problems in the future, but that the family does not even recognize as an issue they should be thinking about.

But if they end up choosing not to work with me, well, what am I supposed to do? I serve the people who hire and pay me, and not everyone does that.

One such family changed their ownership percentages by branch to favour the sibling running the operations, and then a few years later that sibling announced their retirement plans. 

Seems like that issue could quickly become a problem.


Watch Your Language!

The final point I want to share is that sometimes labelling something a problem makes things worse

For example, it’s much softer for me to say “I have an issue with such and such” than saying “I’ve got a problem with that”.

And in family situations, softer almost always works better.


Green and Yellow Are OK; Red? Lookout!

Having recently been involved as an advisor and mediator with some families where the relationships could hardly be described as harmonious, this week I want to talk about how important it is to try to keep such situations under control, and not allow them to boil over.

I’ve written about aspects of this before, so there will be a few links to previous posts along the way.

In 2017, with Yellow Light Family – Proceed with Caution we looked at the “family dynamics axis” of a model that places families in a particular zone based on traffic lights, with which most people can readily identify.

Green light families are great to work with; when the light turns yellow, there are a few more challenges that many advisors with some experience can often help families overcome, but when the light turns red, all bets are off and many advisors prefer to head for the hills.


Kissing Your Proverbial Sister for Real

A couple of years later, in Kissing your Sister – Playing for a Tie in FamBiz, I shared this quote from a slide I’d seen during a presentation on Family Governance:

                         A General Family Business Precept:


                       In a Family, if you play to Win, you Lose;

                       In a Family, if you play to Lose, you Lose;

                       In a Family, if you play to Tie, you Win


                        Richard Goldwater, MD; Boston, MA


I found that so perfectly appropriate for most family enterprise situations that I just had to share it.


A few weeks ago, I wrote Getting Legal Advice for your FamBiz vs. Lawyering Up.  In that post, I shared learnings from some recent work I was in the middle of, where I saw my role and my goal as keeping the siblings from instituting any legal proceedings against each other.


FWIW, up until now, I’ve been successful.  But things still feel more “adversarial” than I’d like.



Letting Things Cool Down

For some reason the word “adversarial” came to mind recently as I pondered how to approach this blog.

As I sometimes do, let’s see what comes up when I Google the word:

          “involving people opposing or disagreeing with each other”

Hmmm, I was really only considering the “opposing” part, and not the simpler “disagreeing” aspect.

When people work together, disagreements often come up, it’s only natural, and we need to learn to be able to work through them.

One expression around this that I love has to do with learning to “disagree without being disagreeable”, and that’s something I’m often called on to do when working with family members.


When Opposing Viewpoints Create Opponents

Situations that cause more opposing viewpoints often revolve around a Zero-Sum game, where everything one person gains is at the expense of someone else.

The greenlight families noted above typically involve businesses where things are already going well and they are expected to keep going and even improve.  

When you’re making a bigger proverbial pie, the fight over who gets which slice takes a back seat.

Whenever a family limits its view to what’s already there, and there’s no plan on increasing what’s available for all to share, the chances of adversaries taking up sides increases.

Can you find ways to make it about more than what everyone can already see?  Sometimes you need to expand what you are looking to accomplish and consider some intangibles instead.


Many Kinds of Wealth and Capital

This brings us to some of my other favourite topics, examining what wealth and capital really are.

Too many families, and their professional advisors, seem to believe that financial wealth is by far the most important consideration for every family.

While the financial wealth is certainly not something to ignore, families who also work on their social capital and human capital actually have a better chance of success with all forms of capital.

Earlier in my career, I was managing financial wealth on a daily basis, with one eye on my computer screen and the other on CNBC. (No, I don’t miss those days.)

One market guru, whose name I’ve forgotten, used to talk about the two kinds of capital: financial and emotional. He was reminding his fans not to overspend their emotional capital, because it is a limited resource.

Families fighting over money end up wasting lots of time and energy dealing with negative situations, to the point of exhaustion or breakdowns. It’s just not healthy.


Were They Always Adversaries?

If family members are currently adversaries, I like to ask if they were always this way, or if there was a time in their lives when they were more cooperative and working towards common goals.

What changed?  Can they go back?  

Burying the hatchet can be good for the soul. I encourage it.




Getting Inside Family, Business, and Ownership

I’ve been a huge fan of the Three Circle Model (TCM) since I saw it for the first time. See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment. It is as useful today as ever, and continues to anchor much of the work that I do when interacting with business families.

I’ve seen many adaptations, some more useful than others, over the years.  It is quite simple, and because of that, it also lends itself to lots of possible uses.

I recently saw something that made me look at the three circles a bit differently, and that’s the basis of what I want to share this week.

The source of this idea is a local colleague and friend of mine who works mostly in French, allowing me to play language instructor or translator in this space once again

His way of looking at the challenges in the family, the business, and the ownership concentrates on the intergenerational transitions inherent in each of the circles, which in and of itself, was eye-opening to me.


Parents and Their Offspring, G-X and G-X+1

While the genius of the TCM is the simplicity with which it conveys the overlaps of the circles via a Venn diagram, it doesn’t do much for how to look at the generational transitions within each circle (not that it attempts to).

My colleague Michel Handfield, works mostly with family businesses where there’s a simple structure of a parent and one or more children involved, where they are all involved in both the family and in the business, and are also the current and future owners of the business.

So whereas the TCM is really good for more complex situations, because it outlines 7 different sectors where different people might fall, Handfield gets into the dynamics between the generations, but looks at them specifically as they exist in each of the three circles.


Mind Your P’s and E’s

I don’t shy away from ideas in different languages, and because I’m bilingual, I have access to things in both English and French as possible resources

By happenstance, Handfield has come up with an elegant model in French, which unfortunately loses some of its elegance in English, because of the way key words happen to translate. 

Have no fear, I’ll make sure the gist of it doesn’t get lost along the way.

Here are the three “P & E” relationships he’s identified:


                           Family:            Parent – Enfant 

                           Business:        Patron – Employé

                           Ownership:    Propriétaire – Futur propriétaire


So we have a Parent-Child relationship in the family, a Boss-Employee situation in the business, and an Owner-Future Owner scenario in the ownership circle.

No, it isn’t rocket science. But man is it powerful because of its simplicity.


Same People, Different Issues

The first important thing to note is that the people don’t change.  Actually, the people themselves do change, over time, of course, but we are always looking at the same people, no matter which of the circles we’re talking about.

In the simplest and probably most common version, it’s father and son, although there are now many more father-daughter combos than ever before, and also mother-son and mother-daughter. 

But no matter the genders or even the numbers, the relationships between the senior generation and the rising generation all fall under the Parent-Child, Boss-Employee, and Owner-Future Owner dynamic.


Different Hats, Different Rooms

There are a couple of analogies that people in this field go to when discussing the importance of recognizing which “hat” one is wearing (“Boss” hat versus “Dad” hat, for example) or which room the decision being discussed belongs (owner room versus management room). 

(For more on the Four Rooms Model, check out my podcast interview with Josh Baron)

Outside advisors can sometimes be most resourceful to business families when they simply point out these distinctions and get the family to see things more clearly.

But Handfield’s P & E model focuses on the dynamic within each circle as it applies in the three situations, which is why I like it.

When an advisor works with a parent-offspring pair, recognizing what’s going on between them and offering guidance is made easier when they can separate out those dynamics for the benefit of those living them.  

Being able to grasp which relationship dynamic is at play in any situation allows one to understand the context in which the people are operating much more easily, which is quite useful when you’re trying to offer them guidance.

Knowing “What to Do” Isn’t Enough

This week’s subject deals with some issues faced by every business, but we’ll be looking at their particular effect in family enterprises.

In addition, there’s an angle to this question that applies very much to advisors who serve business families and their members.  

In fact, the inspiration for this post comes from something directed specifically at those of us who serve families in this space.

Let’s see how far we can get in connecting all these elements.

Personal Connection to Stories About This

When I began planning to write about “knowledge vs. skills”, for some reason I flashed back to my Dad, and I want to share two very different ways this was really relevant in his life.

Dad was trained as an apprentice in Austria before immigrating to Canada in the 1950’s. He had not realized what an advantage that European training in “how to do” his work for the steel fabrication industry would give him a leg up when he got here.

There was a skills shortage in those post-war years in North America. Many knew what needed to be done, but we didn’t have enough skilled hands to do the work.

Much later in Dad’s life, he’d often make sure we took the time to distinguish the “what to do” from the “how to do it”. 

“Let’s figure out ‘what to do’ first, then we can figure out ‘how to do it’”.

Onboarding the Rising Generation Family Members

In lots of family businesses, the first generation who founded the business need to have the skill to pull off the important work to get the company off the ground.

A generation later, the questions of how and where to integrate the next generation into a company typically arise.  Naturally, there’s always more than one “right” way to do things in any particular situation.

Many families struggle, though, with whether or not to start their offspring “on the ground floor”, like working in the factory, or whether they can just saunter into an office job, because they were educated, and therefore arrive armed with lots of knowledge.

Some really interesting challenges can arise when one sibling ends up with skills useful to the operation and another is better educated and has lots of knowledge and they’re expected to get along well together and complement each other for the good of the business.

It’s great when it works, but fraught with negative consequences when they don’t get along.

What About Those Who Advise FamBiz?

A couple of weeks ago in When Being Wealthy Doesn’t Equal Having Money, I mentioned the work of someone I look up to in this space, Dr. Jim Grubman, and I’m going back to his well and wealth of experience in the field of serving enterprising families again here.

In a sense this post will serve only as a tease to further writing about the recently formed Ultra High Net Worth Institute, and their work, where I know Jim was involved in the creation of their new model, The Ten Domains of Family Wealth.

I first became aware of the UHNW Institute last year, and when I saw that they had created this new model to help understand all the important areas that wealthy families need to consider, I was hooked.

Great Knowledge, Yes.  Skills Also Required.

One of the points Grubman makes is that while knowledge is great, it is not sufficient, for those who wish to truly serve families well.

Many people know that families need to work on their governance and have family meetings, but knowing that doesn’t automatically make one the best person for a family to hire to help them with such matters.

And when merely knowledgeable people act as if they are also skilled, bad things can occur. Skills matter.

It’s More Art than Science

This blog idea has been simmering in my “future posts” folder for a while now, and it finally stuck its hand up and said “now!”

It’s based on  a great book that I read during the winter, called The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters, by Priya Parker.

The book is a great resource for anyone who is occasionally charge with organizing any kind of get-together involving people, for whatever reason they might have to be in one place together.

Of course most get-togethers do involve people, unless you spend a lot of time at the local dog park. The issue is that many gatherings seem to forget the importance of the people attending.

Now that such gatherings are once again becoming possible, with much of the pandemic hopefully behind us, this is topical again.

Family Gatherings Are a Particular Subset

While the ideas in the book can be applied to all sorts of gatherings, I read it with a particular interest in family gatherings, because I sometimes work with families who are just getting used to having regular family meetings, and some of the details can be pretty important.

The organizing of such events typically falls onto the shoulders of one or two people, and most families can readily point to the “usual suspects” who play that role in their clan.

Such “family champions” or “CEO’s” (Chief Emotional Officers) would do well to pick up the book to get some ideas and tips that they’ll find useful.

Even experienced gatherers will get something out of it, if only for a better understanding of why they’ve already been successful.

Parallels to Other Areas of My “Family” Work

Aside from wanting to plug Parker’s book, there’s a bigger reason why I wanted to write this particular post.  Regular readers know my penchant for metaphors and analogies so that’s naturally at play here.

It has to do with the experts whose advice is typically sought when one begins to make important plans, and what those experts focus on.

The best way to set this up is with a direct quote from the book:

          “Because so much gathering advice comes from 

            experts in food and decor rather than from facilitators

           that advice almost invariably focuses on preparing 

           things instead of preparing people.”

Preparing things instead of people….

Focusing on What, When, and Where

There are plenty of people who can help you find a great place for a gathering, and they all have a calendar on which they can see if your date will work, and they’ve likely held similar events to yours too, so you can count on their advice to make yours great, right?

Likewise, when planning for the future of your business and wealth, and how they will affect your family, there are also plenty of experts who have done similar work for other families, and can tell you exactly how you should set things up legally and financially.  

And guess what; if you follow their plan, you’ll save your family lots of money in taxes!  Because that’s what’s really most important.


Let’s Think About the WHO (Or Is It Whom?)

You may see me coming from a mile away, but just in case, let me suggest that the people, those members of the rising generation of your family, may be an important factor to consider here.

And, it probably makes sense to actually speak with them, and perhaps even involve them, before, during, and after you make such important decisions and plans.

Here’s another quote from The Art of Gathering:

       “This advice makes the pregame window about physical 

         setup rather than human initiation, about the 

         gathering space and not what it holds: people.”

What the gathering place holds: People.  Hmmm.

Preparing the Heirs for the Assets, Not the Other Way Around

One way to make sure that you’re preparing the people for their future roles in managing and stewarding the family’s wealth is to gather often and discuss these exact subjects, in regular family meetings.

These meetings don’t just happen by themselves, they need to be planned and coordinated, and you need to make sure that you make some progress towards the goal.

That goal is to make sure that everyone understands what will be expected of them, while also figuring out how they’re going to make decisions together when their turn comes.

Yes, the work the experts do to prepare the assets for the heirs is important, but it’s definitely not sufficient.

When Being Wealthy Doesn’t Equal Having Money

Things Aren’t Always as They Seem

There are all sorts of wealthy people in society, and you may think that you know how to tell them apart from “regular” folks.

And, on many occasions, you’d be completely wrong.

Not only that, you’re as likely to make errors in both directions: overestimating and underestimating.

Even within the same family, attitudes towards wealth, and how one goes about putting it on display or carefully concealing it, vary greatly. This happens between generations, and also within them.

Today we’ll be looking at this from a few different angles to see what we might learn from this nebulous area.


Immigrants and Natives to the Land of Wealth

One of the reasons that parents and their children often differ in their views on wealth is that for the “wealth creators’” generation, there’s often a process of “immigration” to the land of wealth.

I wrote about this in 2015 in Independently Wealthy vs INTERdependently Wealthy where I wrote about the book Strangers in Paradise, by Dr. Jim Grubman.

Grubman details that parents are often born into a lower class life, but then make the journey to a new land of wealth, much like immigrants who uproot their lives to move to another country.

The children of those immigrants, though, are born into the land of wealth, and therefore typically consider themselves natives.

How Parents Treat their Offspring

I’ve been involved in youth sports much of my life, and the way that parents who coach their children’s sports teams has always fascinated me.

The vast majority of the fathers I’ve witnessed who had their sons on the team they coached would either severely overestimate or underestimate their child’s ability.

For every coach who thought his son was the next Gretzky and always put him on the power play, there was another whose child actually was the best player on the team, but was constantly treated more harshly.

Few could find the proper balance.

And so it seems quite often with parents and their children when it comes to wealth.


Entitled Kids Showing Off on Social Media

Many of us are familiar with one extreme, where the entitled children of the uber-rich have huge social media followings where their excesses are on display for the world.

Like the sports example, there’s another side to this coin, and it doesn’t get any press coverage.

There are plenty of cases where families are quite wealthy, financially, by any measure, but where the offspring spend much of their lives without much access to any amount of liquid wealth that they can actually spend.

I was part of a group Zoom call recently where a colleague referred to this by quoting a typical sentence uttered by one of these wealthy family members as follows:


“Yes, we’re rich, that’s nice, thanks.

                           Now, can I also have some money?”

(Thanks, T.H.)


Testing the Limits of Patience

This phenomenon is present in many families, and sometimes it gets passed down from one generation to the next.

Other times, when one generation has been forced to wait decades to have any real access to the personal benefits of their family’s wealth, they might realize the negatives of this reality and adopt an attitude of sharing the wealth with their offspring at an earlier age .

Getting back to the quote from above, when I heard it, I was reminded of something I once heard from an Asian-American who wasn’t good at math, who lamented that it wasn’t easy for her to deal with that because it doesn’t fit society’s expectations.

Some professionals who work in the family wealth space refer to such offspring as “waiters”, and when they do, I’ll typically add “Yes, and they don’t work in a restaurant!”


Is There a Cure for This Phenomenon?

I touched on this in Great Expectations in Enterprising Families last summer. My view is that the rising generation have a right to know what they can expect, and that it must be a lot more specific than “someday this will all be yours”.

Many professionals who advise wealthy families convince the senior generation to maintain a tight grip on their wealth and happily provide them with horror stories to make them believe that grip is necessary and actually beneficial.

It’s also typically self-serving for those advisors.

All I know is that I have personally told my offspring that I won’t set things up in a way that’ll make them hope I hurry up and die so they can have some money.


Plenty of Subtle Yet Important Differences

Working with members of business families often means crossing paths with other professionals who also advise their businesses along the way.  

One of the under-appreciated subtleties involved in such relationships comes when the person seeking the professional advice needs to also get personal advice, as opposed to simply seeking counsel for the good of the business.

These issues can get especially tricky when the professionals in question are attorneys, who have their own professional codes and standards regarding who their client really is.

These professionals are typically very aware of the differences and quite astute as to the ways that they need to be handled; it is often the clients themselves who sometimes blur the lines.

Let’s look at some of the situations where this can occur.

It Comes Down to “We” Versus “Me”

The simplest way to describe the different scenarios is to think about who needs the advice; is it the company or one of the people from the company.

Just to put a finer point on this, the vast majority of these cases involve the owners of the company, as opposed to those who are simply employees, although that can also certainly happen on occasion.

But when someone needs to clarify things from a legal perspective, it typically comes down to whether the advice is around how the company should do something, or what various owners’ rights are on a certain matter.

And those differences are rather stark, and need to be looked at not just on their merits, but also on the perception around how seeking that advice is seen by others.

Intra-Company Urinating Contests

There’s a huge difference between saying “I’m going to call our lawyer about…” and “I’m calling my lawyer!”

Is the person calling the lawyer “for me” or “for us”?

When things among co-owners of the same business become an “Us vs. Them” contest, watch out.

Let’s just look at a few types of situations I’ve been involved with in the past couple of years.

I had one coaching client, a woman from the second generation of a family, who now co-owned 1/3 of the company her father started, along with her two brothers.

When she expressed a reluctance to be alone in a room with one of them, I knew that this situation was beyond what coaching could help resolve, and I recommended that she engage a lawyer, for herself.

Dad and Brother Put On the Squeeze

More recently a man who was preparing to become a 50-50 owner, with his brother, of the company their father started, came to see me about helping them mediate some rough spots.

At our second meeting, I learned that both his brother and his father had recently done some things that gave me grave concern about their intentions.

I recommended that he “start looking for a lawyer”. 

As I explained to him, he needed to create a relationship with an attorney now, in advance, because it felt to me like he may, one day (perhaps soon) need to take some action, legally, vis-à-vis, his partners.

In both of these cases, I knew that the potential for me to have any impact was very limited, and I was better off stepping aside, and essentially saying “I’m outta here!”.

Mediation as a “Last Gasp Effort”

Another recent client family, involves a sibling group of four, who are now equal owners of what’s left of a business started decades ago by their late father.

With some siblings who worked most or all of their adult lives for the company and others who did so very intermittently, they’re now in a situation where the distrust outweighed the trust.

During my one-on-one meetings with each of them, every last one of them, at one point or another, mentioned that they were considering engaging their own lawyer.

In fact, it became clear to me that I was the last stop for them, and if things did not work out with me acting as their mediator, at least one of them would be hiring a lawyer.

In Case of Emergency, Break Glass

Being in a position where I feel like I’m almost a “last hope” comes with its challenges. 

But when the participants all know it too, and are aware of the stakes, they can become quite focused on working out a deal.

Because if one of them “lawyer’s up” the rest will need to as well.