Different Things Drive Different People

It’s fascinating the things one can learn by listening to “real people” talking about their lived experiences.  Too often our learning comes from reading more theoretical ideas that, even though they come from smart people, can lack in true substance.

In some other instances we may spend time with colleagues or other peers, exchanging stories, ideas, and learnings, but those too sometimes lack the “oomph” that we can get when we have the chance to hear from those who are actually in the middle of living through an experience.

So when I recently had the opportunity to listen to a panel of rising generation members of local family enterprises share their stories, I was all ears.


Sharing Viewpoints On What We Heard

Of course I absolutely love opportunities to share with peers too, and when that sharing follows a panel of real-world experience sharing, it’s the best of both worlds.

And therein lies the genesis of this week’s post: comments about this panel of young people assuming important roles in businesses owned and run by earlier generations of their families.

One member of our group marvelled at the “thirst for knowledge” that all the panelists shared.  “Hmmm… she’s right”, I thought, as I reflected on what I’d heard.

It was true that each of the three panelists did seem to share that part of their journey involved wanting to always learn more and more and finding a variety of ways to continue that path.

But is a thirst for learning enough, I wondered.

Thirst for Knowledge VS. Hunger for Growth

Just a couple of weeks ago, in Sibling Compatibility Is Not Sufficient, we looked at how important it is that those expecting to take over the reins of any family business be competent, and not simply know how to get along well with each other.

Inherent in that competence, at least in my mind, is a willingness to take risks in order to continue to grow the business.

And another way to express that could be to talk about one’s hunger.

So when my colleague noted the thirst for knowledge that we had witnessed during the panel, my mind went to hunger. (Okay, it was also getting close to lunch time).

One Without the Other Is Asking for Trouble

So when we think about the attributes we’d like to see in rising generation family members who will someday take on key roles in the family enterprise, ideally they will have both a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for growth.

Let’s look at what you’d have if you only had one, without the other.

If you have the thirst for knowledge, you’ll have people who are curious and always wanting to learn more. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But, without at least some hunger to drive them to take risks, they could easily succumb to “analysis paralysis” that could certainly lead to stagnation.

On the other hand, if all you have is someone willing to take risks, but without the curiosity and desire to inform themselves in advance, you could have a lot of reckless behaviour that could quickly sink the business too.

A Look in the Mirror for Me

When I do some self-reflection, I realize that one of those situations I just described actually fits me pretty well.

Whenever I do any kind of assessment like Strengthfinder, I always score very high on “learning”.  I’m constantly looking for any opportunity to learn more.

But if I were to assess my willingness to bear risk, I’d score at the other end of the scale.

I’m guessing that deep down inside, when my father decided to sell the operations of our family business, that he had started before I was born, he also realized that handing the reins to me might not work out as well as he might have originally hoped.

No Regrets and Back in the Family Business Game

As his only son, I recall from my earliest days being told that my duty was to eventually take over the business from him.

And for the first four and a half decades of my life, that was the direction I took.

Now that I am back in the family business game, working with other families, my goal is to not have any family members need to take so long to find their rightful place.

There is room for the thirsty and the hungry, and both, in every family.

Family Harmony Is Very Important, But…

One subject that I harp on a lot is family harmony and making sure that everyone gets along together.  

This is important for families who want to ensure that the business they built, or the wealth they’ve accumulated, will be able to continue after the next intergenerational transition.

And while harmony really is something that families need to work on if they don’t already have it, in many cases it will not be sufficient.

I came across something recently that made me think about this and how I may not have been doing justice to some other key considerations in this space.

This week, I want to address a couple of them here.

 

If You Aren’t Growing, You’re Shrinking

The first thing many families ignore at their peril is the importance of competence.  

Of course this can take many forms, but bottom line, if no family members are competent in managing the business or the wealth, dissipation will often be the result.

I’ve noticed a lot more being written in this field about the importance of having an entrepreneurial spirit in families, so that with each generation, there is some renewal of activity to maintain and hopefully grow the family wealth.

In cases where there isn’t anyone with the inspiration and ability to at the very least maintain the family wealth level, some choices around how to manage things and what the next generation family members can expect to pass on to their offspring will need to be made.

If you just take a look at how many households are being supported by a business in the first generation, and then extend that down even two generations further, the geometric expansion in that number will be difficult to match without an equally rapid progression of the family’s wealth.

So if all you have is “one big happy family”, but nobody willing and able to drive the amount of wealth forward, it becomes a matter of time before dissipation will kick in.

 

Complementary Roles for Family Members

Besides competence, another area that becomes important in many families is the existence of complementary skills in the sibling or cousin group who will be taking on leadership roles after the next generational transition.

If everyone is good at the same thing, and there are areas where nobody has any skill or desire to take on leadership, there could problems.

Having too many cooks can cause unneeded conflicts, and having skill gaps can lead to being blindsided in certain areas.

Of course when a family attains a certain wealth level there are some benefits that are easy to see, such as having an ability to find roles for just about any interested and motivated family member.

And when they have skill gaps, a family with enough resources can typically hire outsiders to fill such roles.

 

Competent + Compatible = Complementary

As I was writing this I got to thinking that maybe complementarity is the intersection of competence and compatibility. Let’s work through this and see if it holds up.

If you have people who are competent, i.e. good at something, and then you get to the point where the group of people get along, i.e. are compatible, can you not then ascertain that they are complementary?

It feels almost like this fits with one of my favourite ways of pointing out synergy, which is to say that “One Plus One Equals Three”.

Earlier I mentioned the geometric growth of the family and now I just opined on synergy, I guess this is a good place to link to The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration.

 

So Strive for a Complementary Team

This may be a stretch, but perhaps either competence or compatibility are scalar, while putting them together gives you complementarity, which is a vector quantity.

I just flashed back to my High School Physics class there, and since that was over 40 years ago, I admit that I needed to Google this to get the terms right.

As Mr. Henry used to say, “velocity is speed with a direction”.

So if you strive for a complementary team in your sibling or cousin group, you’ll be able to combine everyone’s ability to get along with a direction and a purpose.

This isn’t to be confused with complimentary, although if they also develop the habit of saying nice things to each other, that’s OK too!

When Two Words Arrive in the Same Sentence

This week we’re going to do a bit of “freestyling” in this space, and see where it goes.

Regular readers are likely familiar with my penchant for taking some seemingly arbitrary topics or words and trying to weave them together into something useful and entertaining for those interested in the family enterprise space.

I’m writing this during the Christmas holidays, so it feels right to just reflect a bit and see what comes out. Thanks for joining me.

 

A Coaching Session as an Inspiration

As a coach, I think it’s important to also work with my own coach too, because it really helps to underscore how much one can gain from this kind of relationship.

It would feel pretty disingenuous if one of my clients asked me about my coach and my reply was “Who?”.

A few weeks ago during one of my sessions with Melissa, I uttered a sentence that contained “observe” and “absorb”.

Now you may not think that that’s noteworthy and I wouldn’t blame you. But as someone who writes 52 blogs every year, I need to find my inspirations wherever I can.

 

Observation is an Obvious One

When I work with members of a business family, one of the biggest things that I bring to them is an outsider’s perspective on what they’re living.

Lately I’ve been using an aquarium example to illustrate this, and I think it works pretty well.

I have a 90-gallon aquarium at home and a 55-gallon tank in my office, so this inspiration is never far away.

I know that the way I observe the fish in my aquariums is quite different from the way they observe each other.

The fact that I’m outside the system gives me an ability to see the bigger picture, and it allows me to have a much wider perspective of what’s going on within the system.

I need to constantly remind myself, though, that I need to work at staying out of the system, or else I’d quickly lose much of the objectivity that my outsider status affords me

 

And What About the Absorbing Part?

The part about absorbing might be a bit less obvious, but let’s see if we can make it make sense here. Whereas the observation part was more about the space aspect (i.e. big picture, outsider) the absorbing is more about time.

This is where thinking about a sponge can be helpful. When a sponge is completely dry, it has a lot of potential to absorb liquid, but it can’t do it instantaneously. It takes a few seconds to be able to take everything in.

And whereas the observing is typically something done with the eyes, the absorbing involves the heart and your emotions, and is more of a full-body experience.

Absorbing Anxiety from the Emotional Field

As an outsider to a family system, a great deal of my focus is on observing the emotional field of the family when they’re together.  It’s amazing to note the difference in baseline anxiety levels from one family to another.

Some families have a “modus vivendi” of being together that’s very easygoing and free, while with others you can almost feel the tension. See Family Governance, More than a Modus Operandi

You can guess which families are more fun to work with, and they also seem to have more success in transitioning their business and wealth to the next generation.

When working with a family where there’s some tension, part of my role is to absorb some of it, almost like taking a sponge and soaking up some of the extra and trying to keep things tidy.

 

Family Members Assuming Their Roles

Naturally the observing and absorbing are not limited to the outside coach or facilitator, as each family member is also doing some of each.

Families with whom I work have typically already recognized a certain level of interdependence that they have with each other, and they are therefore part of a system where there’s a good deal of focus on all of their one-to-one relationships as well.

When the family members are able to make factual observations about each other, that’s usually a sign of progress.

At the same time, they’re hopefully acting in ways where there is less “absorbing” going on.

When all family members have adult-to-adult relationships and everyone becomes a resource to everyone else, you’re really in business. I love to observe that.

 

Communicating and Making Decisions Together

One of the topics I return to most frequently in this space is family governance. 

There are a few reasons for that, including the fact that it’s a really important part of why some families have been successful at transitioning their wealth through generations, as well as the fact that it remains pretty much a misunderstood area for families who simply aren’t there yet.

As I look back at how I’ve treated this subject in the past, I was happy to come across this blog from 2017, Old MacDonald Had Family Governance (E-I-E-I-O).

Those vowels from the children’s song happened to line up nicely with some adjectives I’d been thinking about when considering family governance.

 

Things a Family Needs to DO Together

So much talk about family governance surrounds the things that the family needs to do together. In a sense, they’re about creating a “modus operandi” for the family.

I need to give a tip of the hat to Walid Chiniara for this idea, as his recent book, Dynastic Planning is where the seed for this blog post was planted a few weeks ago.

Of course there is much that any family needs to learn to do together that becomes the foundation of their governance.

From communicating and decision-making to creating forums and learning to solve problems together, there’s always more that needs to be done.

 

Method, protocol 

When I went to Shutterstock to search for an image to accompany this post and I entered “modus operandi”, I got a couple of hits with those exact words, but also some other suggestions that made me think.

The two that stood out to me were “method” and “protocol”, which might be some ways to keep in mind as your family (or your client family) works to establish the ways that they are going to do things together, as they prepare for the family’s wealth to eventually transition to the next generation.

But of course the title of this post promised that there’s much more to family governance than a modus operandi, and so this is where I want to turn to now.

And this is where Chiniara’s inspiration from that book truly kicks in.

 

The Way a Family Needs to BE Together

I feel like I’ve been over this territory a lot, but it’s so important that it bears repeating nonetheless.

This “territory” is the distinction between “doing” and “being”.

It’s as basic as the difference between asking a child “what do you want to be when you grow up” as opposed to “what to do you want to do”.

And yes, I do realize that the two are very much intertwined, so for many people it may be a distinction without much difference.

But in the family governance realm, the way a family learns to be together is something that’s always worth working on.

 

Informal Family Governance

So much of what ends up driving a family’s governance is actually very informal, especially when a family is still figuring all this stuff out.

Before the “protocols” and the “methods” actually get formalized, most families more or less fly by the seat of their pants for a while, and that’s perfectly fine in the early stages.

And whereas the formal part becomes a “modus operandi”, the informal part is much more of a “modus vivendi”.  (Thanks Walid)

Vivendi translates to “of living”, and it’s all about how the family members learn how to live together and be together, when working on their governance.

Of course when you Google “modus vivendi” the top hits will direct you to an underwear brand that uses that name; I guess it is a pretty clever name for that intimate layer of clothing.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

To reprise the punchline from the joke about “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the answer here is also “Practice, practice, practice”.

Family members who will be expected to work together to make decisions for the good of the family in the future need to practice working together and making decisions together before they get thrust into situations of real importance.

The longer the runway, the better.  Let the elders step aside and watch how their offspring actually act and behave as they plan and execute on events and ideas together.

The modus vivendi they co-create will become the foundation required to support the eventual wealth transition you’re striving for.

Most family businesses actually start out with one major contributor who builds something large enough to eventually employ many people, including other family members.

As any parent with children who want to help out around the kitchen knows, even when they’re really too young to contribute, it can sometimes feel like a step back as you need to actually take a bit more time to include some of these helpers.

This week we’re looking at the idea of sharing the load with family members, as the family matures and there actually are others who should be able to contribute to the family’s success.

Bringing them in isn’t always as simple as we hoped at the outset.

“Many Hands Make Light Work”

In theory at least, sharing the work among many people makes things easier for everyone.  Many hands make light work, the saying goes.

But what if we’re talking about more than simple “work”.

I’m trying to get at some of the things that underlie the complex nature of enterprising families, who are working towards an intergenerational wealth transition.person holding another person

There’s a lot of work to do there, in many cases. And if it were just a lot of work, it might be simple to divvy up.

But what if it feels more like a load?

“It’s Not the Load that Breaks You Down …”

The idea for this post came from a recent webinar I attended, by the Family Enterprise eXchange (FEX).  The presenter happened to be a friend and colleague, Thomasina Williams, with whom I once presented at the Rendez-Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI).

She was presenting on Stress, Health and Well-Being as a result of the pandemic, and one of her slides featured a quote that I loved.

It was from Lena Horne, and it read: “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it”.  

According to Google, it also seems to be attributed to C.S. Lewis and Lou Holtz. It seems like great quotes get recycled a lot.


When Does Work Become a Load?

When we think about work, we’re typically pondering things that go on in what I like to call the “business circle”. 

If you aren’t yet familiar with the Three Circle Model of family business, you may want to start here: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

The place where things can start to feel more like a load often come up in the “family circle” and even the “ownership circle”.

Part of the difficulty in the family circle comes from the fact that there are often some members of the family who do work in the business, while others do not.

The “information asymmetry” that this creates can become a big issue for the family to address.  When someone is a family member and perhaps even an owner but isn’t involved in the day-to-day dealings of the company, they can feel like they’re flying blind at times.


Sharing the Load

Keeping all family members current with what’s happening in the business becomes important when there’s an upcoming generational transition.  

And by “upcoming”, I mean within a decade or so. In fact, it’s really hard to start this process too early.

One way to make the load easier to carry is to share it among different people. Of course the onus of sharing the info should fall on the ones who work in the business, but that doesn’t mean that all the work is theirs alone.

All family members who are currently owners, or those who expect to be in the future, also share in this task.

Ideally, the information flow should have both a “push” and a “pull” component.


Lightening the Load

As we think about ways to lessen a load, apart from sharing it, there is also the possibility of making it lighter.

This may seem like a bit more of a stretch, but here’s one way to look at it that might be useful.

Last week in Live from the Forum – Success Transitions we were looking at regular family forums, I don’t think I spent enough time talking about the importance of having fun together as a family.

Everyone should be looking forward to such meetings, knowing that there will be plenty of opportunities to share some laughs along the way.

In my book, spending time with people you love, and having fun together, always makes things much lighter.

Yet Another Label for Generations

This week we’re looking at the challenges faced by one particular generation in many families. 

While we’ve previously discussed topics related to the “rising generation” in a family (a.k.a. NextGen) and on the leading or senior generation (a.k.a. NowGen), we’re going for something a bit different this time.

Most people are familiar with the term “Sandwich Generation”, based on the everyday challenges people in this position face no matter which socio-economic strata they inhabit.

I want to examine some of the special aspects of being in such a situation in an enterprising (a.k.a. affluent) family.

 

The Meat in the Sandwich

The term “sandwich generation” comes from being caught in between two other generations, much like the meat in a sandwich.

With increasing life expectancy, combined with couples having children later, more and more people in their 40’s and 50’s find themselves in this unenviable position.

Their offspring still rely on them and they’re rightly concerned with that following generation properly launching into independent adulthood.

Meanwhile, their parents have reached a stage in their lives where they also require care and attention.

This segment of the lives of the sandwich folks also happens to overlap with the most important years in their careers, and thus their work responsibilities, only adding to the challenges.

 

Patience Has Its Limits

A few months back, in On Patience and Impatience in Family Transitions, I wrote the following:

“The two (or three) generations need to take their time and incrementally move decisions and actions from the NowGen to the NextGen.  

 

That might sound like a very simple thing to do, but in reality it’s quite difficult.

This came home to me recently when my social media team put a podcast interview I’d done a while ago back into circulation.

On a 2018 episode of The True Wealth Project Podcast, which I recently re-listened to, I was personally stumped by a question about my own personal legacy planning vis-à-vis my children.

 

One Generation at a Time

The host asking me about my own family brought home the realization that I myself was one of these sandwich dwellers, and I knew that I was not alone.

In fact, when I wrote “The two (or three) generations” in that previous post, it should have been clear already.

Perhaps when I had written that, where the context was a family who were actively working on clarifying their legacy so that it would be successfully passed down, I was assuming that the generation in the middle would see themselves as part of the process and therefore not an afterthought.

But as I reflect on this, I can’t help but think that people in this position really need complete clarity of what is coming to them before they can think about how they’re going to eventually leave it to their offspring.

 

When Will Things Be Clear?

As I write these words and process them at the same time, it’s dawning on me that I’ve been confounding two separate issues: timing and clarity.

Last week, when I wrote How to ACE your FamBiz Succession Planning the “C” in ACE stood for “Clarity”, so I was unintentionally foreshadowing this point a week in advance.

But things don’t necessarily have to have already happened for them to be clear.

Perhaps the fact that I married into a family with little clarity has affected my view on this topic.

Don’t Wait for the Triggering Event to Ask Questions

Some families just never talk about things that are in fact inevitable, such as the eventual death of one of the family elders. 

They don’t want to talk about such subjects because they don’t want to be disrespectful or seem like they are rooting for something to occur in the near term.

Meantime, any planning for the future gets put on the back burner, because of the lack of clarity mentioned above.

Somewhere in a legal document lie the answers to many of the questions that are on the minds of many family members.

But nobody wants to ask the questions.

 

Coach, Coach Thyself

Every family is different, and some members are more comfortable in rocking the boat and bringing up uncomfortable subjects.

The expression “physician, heal thyself” comes to mind now, for me.

I’m not a doctor, but I am a coach, and maybe I need to think of myself as a coaching client and see if there are any ideas I might want to be pursuing myself, as I search for some clarity. 

Or maybe not.

Don’t you Mean Continuity Planning?

One of the most popular topics in the area of family business is always succession planning. I’ve known this for a while, yet I rarely use that term in my writing, especially not in the headline.

So in order to prove that I can “zag” as well as I can “zig”, I did it this week. Why the change?

I’ve just spent several weeks refreshing my website, and my “web guy”, who is really good at what he does, told me that I needed to write about succession planning, because that’s what a LOT of people are searching for.

 

Yeah, But….

When I explained that there’s a better term that people like me now use, “Continuity Planning”, he patiently nodded his head and reminded me that if people are searching for one thing and you continue to call it something else, many of those people will never find you.

Alas, I acquiesced.

It kind of feels like I went back to build a worse mouse trap, hoping that the world would now beat a path to my website.  I guess we’ll soon see if new folks find me.

 

So You Want to ACE It

 

So in the spirit of writing something newish, catchy, and useful about family business succession planning, I decided to share a mnemonic way of thinking about it. 

A few months ago, in Family Engagement and Family Alignment – Chicken and Egg I shared the idea that engagement and alignment were two sides of the same coin, and two of the most important aspects of getting a family’s planning and governance on track.

Since engagement starts with an “E” and alignment starts with an “A”, I knew I had the makings of something. A good mnemonic should be something that spells a short word, so vowels carry a premium.

I just needed the right consonant to hold everything together.

4 aces in a deck of cards

Clarity to the Rescue

After kicking around a number of other options, I finally settled on “clarity” to complete my catchy word, “ACE”.

I was tempted to use “communication”, which would have given me the same word, and communication is, of course, crucial to family business success over generations.

But bringing things right back to the “succession planning” angle I was going for, I thought that clarity was a better word.

So let’s look at how this ACE holds together.

 

Does the Order Matter?

What I’m hoping people take away from this post is that family business succession planning can be a success IF you concentrate on the three items in the ACE mnemonic: Alignment, Clarity, and Engagement.  That’s it.

Now, are they in the right order? 

No. Or Yes. I’ll settle for a hard Maybe.

Does it matter? Definitely not.

Succession planning is not an event, it’s a process. And because it is a complex process, it’s definitely NOT linear.

You don’t do “Step 1” and then “Step 2”, etc. 

 

It’s NOT an Estate Plan

Some people may want to argue this, and I think that most of those folks are probably confusing family business succession planning with a related process, that of estate planning.

Estate planning is a specific subset of succession planning, and it can certainly be much more of a “linear” operation.

When we talk about family business succession planning, there’s a LOT more at stake, and it MUST involve those who will be expected to play future roles.

 

Engaging and Aligning, with Clarity

Whereas an estate plan is mostly about who’ll be the legal owners of specific assets after their current owner passes away, a succession plan is more about who will do what.

It’s about how a group of people will interact and decide things together, for the common good of the whole family.

That means that these people need to be aligned in their thinking. They also need to have a common and clear understanding of everything that’s at stake.

This stuff definitely doesn’t just happen by itself, which is why you also need to have everyone engage in the process.

 

Incremental Iterations Work Best

You need to constantly go from engaging to aligning, and back again, while making sure to always strive for more clarity.

This happens over time, as the family members learn to work together and understand that they are interdependent.

Small gains add up over time, and incremental is a good word to keep in mind.

Keep at this over time, and you will ACE it.

Who Can Work in the Business, and When

There are a number of subjects that come up again and again in the wonderful world of family business, and sometimes it feels like I’ve written about most of them here already.

Still, when there’s a confluence of happenings over a short space of time that puts one of them back on my blog radar again, I like to revisit them.

Such is the case this week, as the subject of rules for working in a family business has come up a few times, from different directions, in my interactions over the past few weeks.

So let’s take a fresh look at the subject of “rules of engagement”Rules book for FamBiz.

 

Let’s Start with a Flashback

It’s not as if I’ve written about this recently either. In the summer of 2018, I wrote Forced into the FamBiz, which was about the fact that I believe that it makes sense to “force” one’s offspring to work in your family business when they are young, as a summer and/or part-time job.

It also clearly states that I’m a proponent of making a rule that families should not hire their children for fulltime jobs in the business until they have successfully obtained and held a similar job elsewhere, for a certain number of years.

 

This was an idea my father had heard about, but had decided unilaterally didn’t apply to his family (and therefore me).

I’ve recounted this many times since beginning my work with other business families.

I was an undergraduate business student at McGill, and my Dad told me he’d listened to some consultants explain why there were many reasons to forbid hiring family members until they’d demonstrated the ability to get a job on their own, without using their last name as leverage.

 

“But We’re Not Gonna Do That”

After I looked at him with some hope in my eyes (as I recall it, anyway) he stated “But we’re not gonna do that”.

Having not had to live by such a rule is now one of the main reasons I now endorse it.

But let’s get to the occasions where this came up recently. The first was on an FEX webinar where some family business leaders were sharing stories about how they got through the worst of the pandemic.

One business leader from western Canada related that her son had joined their business recently, and that this went against their family’s rule against allowing family members to come on board until they had worked elsewhere for 10 years. (10 years seems excessive, but alas, that was their rule).

As it turned out, every department of the company was now fighting to have him join them, thereby signaling that he had proved his worth despite the shortened period of working elsewhere for very long.

 

Family Business Collaboration

I recently joined a nascent group that pulls together members of family businesses and consultants who work with them. Family Business Collaboration

On a Zoom call recently, someone noted that his FamBiz had a rule about working elsewhere for 3 years.

I asked how long that rule had been around in his third generation company, and I found his reply interesting.

He noted that he was the first person to be “the beneficiary of that rule”, since his grandfather had not applied it to his father at the time.

Isn’t in interesting that a father who didn’t have to live by a rule went on to implement it, and his son, who was subject to it, found he was a beneficiary of it.  I get it.

 

A “Lessons Learned” Video

So when a respected colleague and friend (and mentor) asked me if I could share a brief video of myself for a family business conference she will soon be giving, this all came in handy.

She’s now asking several people involved in the FamBiz space about lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Would you be at all surprised to learn that the lesson I shared was all about the idea that there are many reasons why demanding that young adults work elsewhere before joining their family’s business makes a lot of sense, and that I wish my Dad had instituted such a rule?

I hope not.

I have few if any “hard rules” that I recommend to my family clients, but if I did, this would be it.

Since 2014, one of the highlights of my year has been a trip to the annual conference of the Family Firm Institute each October.

It recently wound down for this year, and for a change I didn’t have to fly anywhere or check into a hotel. Alas, it was held virtually for the first time, and I’d be lying if I said it was virtually the same.

Oh well, all we can do is do our best, and I was still able to consume a huge amount of content relevant to those who inhabit the family enterprise space like me.

 

Worldwide Leaders Coming to Share

This space can often feel like a real niche, and so in order to find a critical mass of others who do similar work, a global network is actually almost a requirement.

While family businesses dominate the economy of almost every country on the planet, the vast majority remain typically small enterprises, who don’t necessarily require much special attention.

At the larger end of the spectrum, however, where we look at multi-generational family dynasties, spanning several countries, held up by complex family groups, the needs of families do warrant special attention and specialized professionals.

Source: https://digital.ffi.org/ffi-global-conference/

The Rising Generation as a Focus

There were a couple dozen presentations over two days, and often two sessions running concurrently, so there was literally something for everyone present.

There were over 300 people registered, from dozens of countries and six continents, and while cultural variations in the family enterprise world exist, there are more common elements present, making global sharing worthwhile.

One theme I noted was a focus on the rising generation in families. There were sessions on family culture, family engagement and family learning, that all spoke to the importance of getting the younger family members interested and involved.

There was talk of “values based investing” that brought all generations to the table, and a focus on having younger family members get their “Operator’s Licence” to begin running things in the family business too.

 

Complex Family Dynamics Always at Play

Aside from the focus on a particular generation, there was also a good deal of discussion around complex family dynamics that never seem to be far away when talking about family owned and operated enterprises.

There were sessions on family meetings, ethical dilemmas in families, and mediation for families who have conflicts that are difficult to resolve.

There was even some reflection for advisors to consider how comfortable we are with conflict, so we can assess whether or not we are the best person to serve our clients in such cases.

There was a great session on mental incapacity that left me with some great take-aways.

 

Repeated Messaging for my Own Good

As part of a number of different organisations that serve parts of this field, I’m privileged to cross paths with a number of great leaders who tirelessly share their thoughts in various forums every year.

The messages can feel a bit repetitive at times, but I’ve learned that even though I’ve heard someone on a subject before, I still learn something by attending again, because surely I didn’t catch everything the first time through.

The first example was Jim Grubman on mental incapacity.  I’ve heard Jim discuss it before, but this time something really stuck with me.

We’ve all known people who’ve begun to lose their ability due to age-related mental decline, and it can cause enormous complexity for a family to deal with.

Grubman highlighted part of the reason for this, and it hit home for me.

 

Legal, Medical, Business, Emotional, and Ethical Views

The reason they are so complex is that they are viewed differently through a variety of different lenses.

A person whose mental decline has begun raises issues in law, medicine, business, family emotions and ethics.

No wonder these things are so hard to deal with!

 

Dennis Jaffe Delivers Again

A few weeks ago I wrote about Dennis Jaffe in Legacy Families Rely on a Generative Alliance. He was the closing speaker at FFI, and even though I’ve seen him present many times, I still got something new out of it.

I was also pleased to have been featured myself, as Dr. Mariana Martinez and I kicked things off during the first day’s early morning session with Bowen: From Theory to Practice. Thanks to all those who gave me great feedback!

Looking forward to FFI 2021 in London next year; fingers crossed that it will be in person!

 

 

 

Probably NOT What You’re Thinking Though

This week we’re looking at a metaphor that came into my head a couple of months ago, and that’s been on the back burner of my mind ever since.

I’ve been trying out different versions of it, and kept on returning it for more simmering, because it didn’t seem ready yet.

I hope it’ll finally be tasty enough for consumption now, and also nourishing.

 

The Cottage by the Water

I purchased a few acres of land on a river about 10 years ago, with the goal of eventually constructing a summer home there.

As it turned out, there’s a “pre-fab home” manufacturing plant nearby, “Kane Homes”, and so I eventually decided to check them out, took a plant tour, and was instantly sold.

“When we’re ready, I want to order our house there”, I told my wife.

So a few years later, we dropped in for a visit, assuming that we could order our house from the factory.

Nope, that isn’t how it works, we were told.

 

Metaphor Preview…

Before I lose you in this story, I want to give you the equivalent of that visit to the house factory in my parable about a family who wants to make sure that they succeed in creating and preserving their family legacy.

My normal blog topics deal with families who are concerned with transitioning their wealth from one generation to the next.

One thing that I often lament is that many such families, when they decide that they need to take some action to achieve that goal, will contact an attorney and make an appointment to discuss their estate plan.

While the house factory quickly dispatched us to an appropriate avenue to order our home, most lawyers are only too happy to begin writing up the estate documents at the family’s request.

 

There’s a Lot More to a Home than the House

Back to the house purchase.  Kane Homes directed us to one of their dealers instead, “Sullivan Homes”.

OK, so just like you don’t go to GM to order your car, we had gone to the wrong place first.

The good folks at Sullivan Homes didn’t want to simply sell us a factory-made house, they were interested in helping us construct our dream home.

They were the ones who were going to take care of pouring the foundation, drilling the well, putting in the septic system, bringing in the electricity, and even making sure our long driveway was wide enough to bring in the house on two giant trailers.

 

The Work that Nobody Sees

When you arrive at our place now, the main thing that you see is still the house that was built in the factory, but without the foundation, septic system, water, and power, it certainly would not be as useful or comfortable!

In a similar way, yes, you surely will need a qualified attorney to properly write up the legal paperwork to make sure that what you want to happen is properly and legally captured.

And, if you are proactive, you will also engage with the right people to make sure that everything else works the way you want it to.

Kane sells a standard house to anyone who wants one, but thankfully they only do so while working through one of their dealers who makes sure that everything fits and works for the family who buys one.

 

Process Versus Content

My analogy is admittedly a bit of a clumsy one, especially as I now pivot to the process versus content part.

The factory-built house is the key piece of content which involved a lot of man-hours to complete, but the work that was done on site, was done by various specialists who did everything that was needed to make sure the house actually “worked” for us.

That work was much more about process, and it involves the flow of water and power into the house, as well as drainage out of the house.

 

An Estate Plan is Great, But Not Sufficient

If you’ve decided that you want to ensure that everything you’ve worked for all your life gets properly passed down to the next generation of your family, then you’ve got work to do.

If you think that a visit to an estate planning attorney will take care of it all, then you are mistaken.

Many of those other things are discussed in other blogs here, so please, help yourself!