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You Can’t Start Too Early – Or Can You

It’s Never Too Early nor Too Late – But….

This week we’re going to take a look at a common question that people in my line of work get, and dig a bit deeper into my standard answer, to try to test its limits.

It so happens that a couple of the client families with whom I’m presently working are showing signs of concern with the pace of our work together, which has brought this to the front burner for me.

I want to write something here that I can share with them, and at the same time make some broader points about how my engagements with a family can play out.

But first a flashback to a skit from an old Saturday Night Live episode that came to mind when I wrote the title above, which I immediately realized could be misconstrued.

 

“You Can’t Put Too Much Water in a Nuclear Reactor”

That 1984 skit featured guest host Ed Asner (begins at 53:42) as a retiring boss at a nuclear plant, who gave the workers he left behind some advice that ended up causing confusion, from which much humour then ensued.

“Just remember, you can’t put too much water in a nuclear reactor” had some workers believing that you shouldn’t ever put too much water in, while others opted for the opposite interpretation, i.e. that it’s impossible to put in too much.

My “You can’t start too early” suffers from the same shortcoming, but my sub-head, “It’s never too early” clarifies my views.

Starting WHAT, Exactly?

It may help if I define what I’m referring to when I say “start”.

My work typically involves families who are trying to ensure that the wealth or business that they’ve created can be successfully transitioned to the next generation of their family.

Those efforts involve a number of legal and structural steps and procedures, of course, but those are always handled by other experts in those subjects, not by me.

My work is in the family circle, working the family dynamics and relationships aspect, which usually includes getting the family started with regular family meetings.

The work around these efforts, bringing the family members into these key discussions, is what I mean by “getting started”.

 

Try Not to Make a M.E.S.S.

I wrote about this back on 2017, in a post called Start Cleaning Up Your M.E.S.S. where “M.E.S.S.” was an acronym I had created to help readers remember four important aspects relating to getting started.

The “M” is for “Start Moving”, emphasizing that this is much more than just thinking about it or talking about it with one person, it’s about action.

The “E” is for “Start Early”, which is what we’re looking at today.

The two “S’s” are where it can get tricky for some, especially those who feel like they need to be in a hurry to get somewhere.

Some people just don’t do well with “Start Small” and “Start Slowly”, but they’re key for a number of reasons.

 

Why You Need to Start SMALL

It’s important to start small because you don’t want to lose anyone along the way, and onboarding family members into such a process needs to be done carefully, because you really want to make sure that you will maximize their engagement.

Taking big steps would allow you to feel like you’re making big progress, of course, but if it means that some of the more skeptical family members aren’t ready to buy in, then big steps work against you.

 

Why You Need to Start SLOWLY

Back in 2018, I wrote There Is No Destination, where I talked about the fact that life is more about the journey than the destination, and that’s an attitude I encourage parents to adopt.

Going slowly, and taking small steps, is important for the engagement question too, because again, you don’t want to lose anyone along the way.

You can really only go as fast as the group is willing to go, so erring on the slow side is what I always encourage.

 

There Is No Finish Line

There’s actually no need for big steps or going fast when you consider that there is no finish line to this work.

We’re not trying to get to the last page of the book or tick off all the boxes on a checklist, we’re trying to make sure that family knows where they want to go and how they will work together.

That work never ends.

It’s Usually a Slow Journey to the Top

As the world returns to more in-person events, I’ve been playing catch up with occasions to be with like-minded colleagues. I’ve just returned from New York where I took part once again in the Institute for Family Governance’s annual conference.

I also got in some family time with my sister, my nephew, and my son, so that was a nice bonus.

Since family governance is about improving relationships among family stakeholders, this opportunity of combining the conference with personal family catch-ups was a big plus.

When thinking about a subject like family governance, I normally like to look at it from each individual family’s perspective, since no two families should approach it the same way.

However, meeting with colleagues who all work somewhere in this space allows me to also take the pulse of the professional community to see how the subject is understood and received in general, and I’m left with mixed feelings on that score.


Caring Enough to Understand

Some of those who showed up didn’t seem to care enough to try to understand the family relationship aspects that actually create most families’ governance challenges.

Perhaps I was jaded by some interactions at my lunch roundtable, but the subject of the families and their challenges in establishing some sort of governance seemed far from the radar of many colleagues.

Having self-selected to come to this conference and sign up for a table to discuss “Family Considerations when Designing your Family Office”, I had assumed that they’d care enough about it to try to understand better.

Or maybe they didn’t understand enough to care; maybe some of each (?).

Enough about the negative, because as usual, the presentations contained many positive nuggets worth remembering and sharing.

Some Random Nuggets to Share:

Josh Baron kicked off the morning discussing Owner Strategy for Family Enterprises, and he reminded us all how important the owners of any business are and the roles that they can and should play as owners.

The group of owners is much more than whatever it happens to say in their shareholder’s agreement, and he was encouraging them to work together with intentionality.


What Does the IRS Have to Do with This?

A panel after that shared a couple of nice take-aways, notably that it’s important not to let the IRS decide things for you. 

This underscores the need to make plans in advance of anyone’s death, although I suspect that for many, those plans are actually precisely about making decisions that are very much driven by the desire to deprive the IRS of any of the family’s dollars!

They also noted that there’s a serious lack of role models for generational stewardship for families to learn from. 

I think this is largely true, and hopefully changing for the better.

On Family Business Boards:

Brendan Wall then shared his lived experience in his eponymous family enterprise, discussing How to Design and Implement an Effective Family Business Board.

Keeping the Board fresh by rotating directors on and off was noted, as was the need to put the right people on the Board in the first place.

He also mentioned that the qualities of who should be on a Board differ widely when looking at outside independent directors versus family members who sit on the same Board.


A G5 Keynote to Remember

Matthew Fleming’s keynote on the Importance of Family Values was fantastic, as he shared stories from the heart about his family, who are now in G5 (the fifth generation of his family), and how their multi-family office maintains their family’s values at the center of the work they do with all the families they serve.

He shared their model of the Four Pillars of Capital, and also left us with an existential question:

        “Is your family office becoming a bigger problem than 

                      the problem it was designed to solve?”

Hmmmm, as any family office heading towards a generational transition knows, this is an important thing to consider, as a need to evolve to serve the rising generation will emerge at some point.

More Nuggets:

After lunch we were treated to some wonderful examples of families who Use their Family Fortune to Serve their Community, as well as trip down memory lane for sailing fans, featuring a member of a three-generation family who repeatedly won the America’s Cup.

Next years IFG Conference in NYC is set for May 3, 2023, and I’m looking forward to being there once again.

I hope we’ll all be a few steps closer to the top of the family governance mountain then.

Aren’t the Three Rules “Communicate, communicate, communicate”?

This week I want to touch on one of the sacred cows of the family business space, and that’s the constant harping on the fact that improving communication is THE number one step that families need to work on.

Regular readers know that I fully acknowledge that most family enterprises are quite complex, and therefore the way that they communicate with each other can almost always be improved for the benefit of all.

This remains true, and almost surely will for as long as families choose to work together or share the ownership of assets as a group.

So I’m not planning on throwing communication “under the bus”, but I do want to shine a light on the way some people treat the subject, and simultaneously ignore a much less popular aspect of what it takes for relationships to be at their best.


So What Is It That’s Underrated?

Before I get to the underrated element, I need to give a shout out and a tip of the hat to the man who put this on my radar a couple of months back.

I discovered the Vermont Center for Family Studies almost a decade ago, when I was trying to figure out why people who work with business families should go through the trouble of learning about Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST).

At the time, the head of VCFS, Erik Thompson, just happened to be launching a training program for people curious about BFST, so I jumped at the opportunity to dive into the Bowen pool.

I soon discovered that this pool doesn’t have a shallow end, which I suppose is a good thing, since I did dive in.

So perhaps you think that understanding family systems is underrated, vis-à-vis communication, and I guess you’d be partly correct, but that’s way deeper than where I’m going.


Making Relationships Work Better

Families who continue to work together from one generation to the next need to constantly work on their relationships, because those relationships are crucial to being able to continue to make decisions together for the benefit of the family group.

Good communication will of course contribute to such relationships, but there’s a lot more to it than simply more and clearer communication.

Thompson now holds regular free online events on Zoom where he shares ideas that come from his BFST training that he now uses with his leadership coaching clients.

It was during one of these recent calls that he said the magic words that inspired this post:

       “Communication is Overrated.  Self-Regulation is Underrated!”

Okay, so any regular reader will know that at this point I jotted those words down with a huge smile on my face, knowing that I had just landed myself a blog topic.


There Are Two Parties in Any Communication

Whenever there’s any communication, there are (at least) two parties, one who’s attempting to deliver the communication, and someone else, who’s the intended recipient.

On which end do you suppose the self-regulation comes into focus?

This is a bit of a trick question, I’ll admit.

Your first inclination might be to consider the receiver of the communication, and the importance of not overreacting to what was said (or written). And that makes plenty of sense.

But, and this is where Thompson was actually pointing, too often it is the people who are delivering the communication who could benefit from working on their self-regulation.


Communication as a Weapon

He then related a scenario that came from the “couple’s therapy” realm that some may be familiar with.

Two spouses are encouraged to work on the ways that they communicate. One dives in head first and begins reading up and studying and taking communication courses, so as to be better armed for the task.

However, lacking the requisite self-regulation, they now use this “one-up” position to lord this over their partner.

I’m communicating properly, you’re not!”

Can you see how the communication “silver bullet” clearly missed the mark?

Can you imagine a similar scenario with family members who work together?


It’s Never as Simple as It Appears

This is yet another example where “how you are” (i.e. being) is more important that “what you do” (i.e. doing).

Self-regulation is the “being” part, while communication is the “doing” part.

Yes, continue to work on how you “do” communicate.

And, also focus on how you regulate yourself when you’re doing it.

Some New Ways to Look at Conflict in Families

Anyone who’s ever been involved in a family enterprise knows that the potential for conflict is never far away. 

Those of us who work in an advisory capacity for such families have seen every sort of denial and attempt to pretend that “our family is different”, yet those are actually quite rare.

There isn’t necessarily anything new under the sun for me to share here, but I did come across a couple of new angles on this question recently, and I thought they were worth writing about, if only to spur more discussion on the topic.


A Recent FFI Session on Conflict

The Family Firm Institute hosted a recent half-day webinar on the subject of conflict, and since two friends and colleagues of mine were among those presenting, I thought I’d check it out.

They did a nice job of covering the territory and the feedback was great. My take-away tidbit, though, came from a comment from another experienced practitioner in one of the break-out rooms.

She’s someone who not only works with business families, but has also lived the family business experience, having followed her father into this work.

She recalled a quote of his, which was the initial inspiration for this post:

           “We don’t run from conflict. We dance with conflict”

“Ooooh, I like that”, I thought, as I jotted it down. “This will turn into a blog post”.  (Thanks KSM)

Something Good from Social Media

The second different angle that came my way followed in short order, when I wasn’t expecting it, from social media.

I love LinkedIn and have found many treasures there, initiated plenty of relationships there, and swear that there’s nothing else like it for business.

But my go-to “regular” social media is Twitter, which I use mostly for news, sports, and politics, because I’m a bit of a junkie for those subjects.

But every once in a while, I get a great nugget there too, and this was once such case.

I follow Dan Rockwell, a.k.a. LeadershipFreak, and he shared a tweet about conflict that included this magic line:

                         “Conflict Is a Leadership Opportunity”

If you go to stevelegler.com and use the “search” function and type in “conflict”, you’ll find blogs, videos, podcasts, etc. that discuss conflict in various ways.

But I’ve never, ever, heard it put this way, and it struck me.


One Plus One Equals Five

So now we have a couple of elements to work with, and you may already see where I’m going.

We’re talking about dancing and leadership, and when people dance together, ideally, in most cases, someone takes the lead, and it helps when their partner is a good follower.

This metaphor actually has some legs, and the feet at the end of them are wearing their dancing shoes!

And we haven’t even brought in the dance teacher yet, who, if they’re any good at their job, will always play the appropriate level and speed of music so the dancers can succeed.


Willing Partners as a Starting Point

In order for any family to deal with their conflict, they need to acknowledge that it exists, and then someone needs to have the courage to take the lead and put it on the table and insist that it’s high time that the family face it and manage it.

Notice I did not say “make it go away”, because that’s usually not a very realistic expectation and can be a bridge too far.

It’s rare for conflict to completely disappear, but acknowledging it can usually allow people to discuss it in ways that they can learn to make some changes in order to be able to manage it.


Or Maybe You Need the Teacher First

It’s great when the participants are ready to discuss the conflict and try to dance with it by themselves, but sometimes there’s an unwillingness to engage from someone, usually caused by a fear of making things worse.

In such cases, it can help if you find yourself a “dance instructor”, who can then convince the other party that you can learn how to dance with conflict together.

Or even if the parties aren’t all ready for the dance lessons, the motivated party might begin searching for someone who can hopefully lead them to some agreement down the road. 

There are opportunities for leadership whenever there’s conflict. Who will step up in your family?

Expect the Best, Train for the Worst

Friends, colleagues, and regular readers of my newsletter (same $0 as this blog subscription) know that I recently participated in a training program that was off the beaten path for those in my field of practice.

It’s taken me over a month to reflect on the experience and share it here, because there was so much to absorb.

Everyone with whom I spoke about this opportunity, before I went and since I returned, has been intrigued by the fact that I attended, and curious about what I gleaned from the experience.

This week I’ll share the salient highlights, along with some surprises.

 

“Intro to Crisis/Hostage Negotiation for MHP’s”

Before diving in, the only reason this possibility came to me is thanks to my social capital, i.e. the relationships that I’ve built and maintained with the fantastic people in the community I’ve encountered, via PPI, FFI, and FEC.

Being involved in various capacities with these peer networks has resulted in many cherished relationships, and with relationships sometimes come unique invitations.

So it was when Amanda Koplin, founder of Koplin Consulting, reached out to me and asked if I’d like to fill one of the extra spots in the upcoming training program she was organizing for her team.

She’d mentioned this weeklong program during our work together on a PPI committee, and I guess I sounded intrigued enough for her to extend this generous offer to me.

I still recall her initial idea: “In a hostage situation they send the cops, because it’s a crime; but it’s actually a mental health crisis”.

 

Role Plays and Playing Roles

So there I was in Nashville, surrounded by mental health professionals – “MHP’s” — (which I’m NOT, but trying to fit in) all being trained by ex-FBI folks.

Meanwhile, we were all learning the material these trainers normally teach to law enforcement officers.

There were some official “role plays” along the way, but I was also quite pre-occupied in playing the role of not sticking out too much.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you step out of your comfort zone. And yet, it was not nearly as uncomfortable as expected.

 

Key Takeaway Message

As I’ve shared with many since then, the most important learnings were about the attitude and demeanor one needs to adopt when presented with a crisis situation.

Not surprisingly, the ability to remain calm is fundamental to becoming a resource to those in crisis. 

Their brains are filled with anxiety and therefore not functioning in an optimal way, so just by being there and remaining calm, you can already add lots of value.

Perhaps my lack of discomfort with this aspect stemmed from the fact that I’d been down this road in previous training programs, notably those in conflict resolution and Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST).

It was underscored once again, and should never be forgotten.

 

Connecting with Those in Crisis – Not with their Heads

The second take-away was the importance of connecting with anyone in a crisis, and not just with their head. As noted above, their brain isn’t fully functioning in a crisis, so they’ll respond better to those who connect with them in other ways.

Getting someone to trust you in such situations comes down to connection at a deeper level whether you call it heart-to-heart, at a gut level, or having your souls connect.

Please note that these are my interpretations of what we learned, and these words were nowhere in the course materials.

In fact, I attended in search of learning to better connect with members of families I work with, so don’t be surprised that my learnings fall here.

 

Surprises Since My Return

Since coming back home, many people have asked about the experience, and so many of them get hooked on the hostage aspect, and not the crisis angle.

Indeed, some family enterprise situations do feature folks who do feel like hostages, but that’s really a whole other subject, because those are usually more “chronic” as opposed to the “acute” situations we learned about.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that colleagues also seemed curious about the “what to do” in a crisis angle, whereas my experience was more about “how to be” in a crisis.

Like many life situations, much of it comes down to a negotiation of some sort, which isn’t rocket science by any stretch.

Keeping a cool head always helps.

Why Succession Planning Fails…… Despite Mostly Good Intentions

We’re all familiar with expressions like “failing to plan is planning to fail”, which might lead one to believe that families experience poor outcomes because they never got around to planning anything.

While there certainly are plenty of those examples one could point to, that view is actually pretty simplistic, because there are in fact many professionals who are kept quite busy working with and for families in these important endeavours.

Yet despite the amount of time and expense that goes into these activities, the results are often sub-optimal.

This week I want to dig into some of the main reasons that continues to be the case.


“We’ve Already Done It – It’s Taken Care of”

For people like me who toil in the world of the “family circle”, where the relationships and human capital are key success factors, a common refrain we get when we speak to people from family enterprises about succession planning is “Oh, we’ve already done it; It’s done!”.

These well-meaning family members truly believe that because they’ve taken some structural and legal steps to address legal ownership and tax issues, that there’s no more work left to be done.

And because that work itself was long, costly, boring, and took them away from other important activities, the last thing they want is to revisit any part of it.

The professional advisors they worked with to get that important stuff done likely also led them to believe that they were now finished with this “unpleasant” work.


Making Plans for People Without Involving Them

So we’ve seen that thinking the work is all done is a common pitfall, but it’s often combined with an ever bigger misstep, which is not having all the right people at the table from the outset.

See: “Continuity Planning: Who’s at the Table?”

I know that this can sound like heresy to some, but when you’re making plans that will directly affect the next generation of your family, and in a very significant way, after all, it’s kind of crazy to me that so much of this work is being done without even so much as a discussion with those whom it will affect the most.

I wish that these situations could be the exceptions, but they are very much the rule.

Having the professional advisors of the parents draw up all the plans and agreements for the rising generation without even asking them what they want (or do not want) or telling them what they can expect, is very much the tail wagging the proverbial dog

But maybe that’s just me.


Not Keeping Everyone Involved as Things Evolve

Another reason that succession planning fails is again a variation of those noted above. This is where some plans were made, long ago, and even though many things have changed and evolved, those old plans remain on the shelf and are deemed “still good enough for now”.

Revisiting what was done way back then sounds like it makes sense, but we’ve got more important things to do now, and we will get to updating those plans when we get around to it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The business enterprise whose succession you planned for years ago is quite likely a very different business today.

Even more importantly, those heirs to whom you were leaving things when they were teenagers have also (hopefully!) evolved and grown into much more prepared adults, and their abilities, potential roles and expectations have also surely changed.


People & Relationships, Not Structures & Legal Documents

If you’ve noticed, there is a thread that runs through the problems I’ve outlined above, and that’s the fact that structures and legal documents, although important components of succession planning, are insufficient by themselves.

The people and the relationships between them, are a far bigger part of the picture, and always will be.

I know the subject can be delicate and having conversations about it can seem scary, and so most people want to avoid them.

But not having the discussions is even scarier. Making assumptions about your offspring and how they’ll handle what you leave them is fraught with potential traps and situations that can be avoided.

Family leaders who’ve achieved a lot of success expect to leave some sort of legacy, but too often they forget that this involves the people more than the financial wealth.

See Is Your Continuity PAL in Danger?

Very Important Words for Families to Understand

This week I’ll cover some ground that will feel quite familiar to regular readers, but will combine some elements in new ways.

I often spend time considering the specific words we use when we talk about ideas around working with families, and there will be some of that too.

And of course, the genesis of the idea for this blog will also be part of the scene too, because this week it comes from some folks I consider both friends and mentors.

Let’s get on with the show.


Teaching Family Governance to Advisors

I’ve been a proud member of the faculty of the Family Firm Institute for a few years now, where I was brought in as one of the instructors for the course on Family Governance. It’s something close to my heart and has long been the subject of my writings here.

When I joined the faculty, there were already some great folks teaching the many courses that are part of FFI’s Global Education Network (GEN) program.

Included among them are Kirby Rosplock and Dennis Jaffe, both of whom taught me when I was a student, and whose industry experience cast way longer shadows than mine.

It truly has been a humbling honour to work with them, especially as we were recently tasked with updating the course materials

It was during one of those meetings that the line from the title of this post was uttered, and then repeated.

That’s when I knew this would become a blog post.


An Evolving Vocabulary and Using the Right Words

The members of FFI are mostly advisors who work with enterprising families, and they enroll in the GEN program to learn from others, so using the right terminology is part of the deal.

Personally, I’ve tried to shy away from using the term “succession”, in favour of “continuity”, but most people still use succession, especially with the popularity of the TV series Succession these days.

So when Kirby blurted out “Succession without governance equals chaos”, who was I to debate her words?

And then later when Dennis reprised her words, verbatim, that was it, I had my money quote.

It does kind of summarize a lot, especially in only five words.


So What Do We Mean by Governance?

I’ve long known that the term “governance”, especially when related to a family, can elicit groans, skepticism, and a general “allergic reaction” from many, if not most.

I normally try to soften things by adding that family governance essentially boils down to 3 questions:

  • How are we going to make decisions together?
  • How are we going to communicate?
  • How are we going to solve problems together?

I still talk about those, but today I want to add some meat to those, because they sound just a bit too simple and theoretical when you get right down to it.

Those “how” questions lead to a need for further clarification, around other questions that start with “who”, “when”, and “where” that typically get lost in the shuffle until it comes time to implement the governance.


What About the Chaos, and How Do You Avoid It?

Now the idea that “chaos” results from ignoring governance as an intergenerational succession approaches is one that some may doubt.

Well, if you want to tempt fate, “stick around and find out”, to borrow from a recent meme (a cleaner version of FAFO – see Urban Dictionary).

The basic questions posed above won’t answer themselves, and are best discussed:

  • well in advance of any issues, 
  • in as collegial an environment as possible, and 
  • with as many members of both generations as you are able to involve

Regular, Repeating Meetings to Discuss and Agree

The secret, if there is one, is to begin having a series of regular meetings, where, slowly but surely, you begin to learn to work together to find the answers to those questions.

You can’t be in a hurry to finish, because you will never finish. You’re playing the infinite game, it’s all journey, with no destination.

This can be hard for many to grasp, but that attitude is necessary to develop, and it can be contagious.

There won’t likely be any single memorable meeting, just many small decisions, made together, over time, that’ll enable your family to succeed with your succession, without the chaos.

Because succession without governance does equal chaos.

The Order is So Important

This week we’ll be looking at some ideas that are a bit different from those I’ve been sharing lately, so please join me as I “freestyle” a bit, while still trying to keep it real, too.

As is sometimes the case here, there’s kind of a convoluted story to how I got here, and I’m so glad to have a place to share these musings with others who appreciate my missives.

Contrasting a couple of words that exhibit some similarities is nothing new here (see On Observing and Absorbing in Enterprising Families and SFTU Versus STFU) for a couple of examples.

This week, we’re going to deconstruct “striving” and “thriving” to see what we can learn.

My first conclusion, which I hint at in the title, is that doing them in the right order is key. 

A second take-away involves the fact that family members from different generations should probably experience them at different times.


What Does It Mean to Strive?

Let’s start by looking at the meaning of the verb “to strive”. 

Here are some Google results I like:

  • make great efforts to achieve or obtain something
  • struggle or fight vigorously.

I like those because the words “effort”, “obtain” and “struggle” really resonate with me when I think about striving.

They feel to me like they are all about what you put into something.


What Does It Mean to Thrive?

Now let’s move over to the verb “to thrive”. 

Here’s some of what Google comes back with:

  • grow or develop well or vigorously.
  • prosper; flourish.

Now when I look at words like “grow”, “develop” and “prosper”, what I see are the results of some of those same efforts that one has “put into”.

This exercise has already borne fruit for me, as the “input vs. result of the input” angle is an unexpected bonus for me.

Now let me get to the convoluted story to set up the bigger picture for enterprising families.


Beginning with the End in Mind

With a tip of the cap to Stephen Covey, let’s begin with the end in mind, which is how this topic landed in my lap to begin with.

I was on a Zoom call where a recently retired executive was talking about her exit from her prominent role in her organisation, and she smiled as she shared how it was all going.

“It feels like I’m thriving without striving”, she related.

I quickly jotted those words down, believing that that would be the blog post subject.

Lately I keep hearing about the fact that everyone in my field talks about preparing the rising generation of the family, while the senior, “NowGen”, who are expected to exit, aren’t considered enough.

“I’ll write about how important it is to find opportunities for them to thrive without striving”, was my idea.

Well, not so fast.


Where Else Does This Apply? (Everywhere!)

As I considered that after having strived for so many years during one’s career, later on it would be good to simply thrive, based upon all the hard work one had already put in, I then thought about the entry, as opposed to the exit.

Imagine my “A-Ha Moment” when I realized that sometimes, especially in very successful families, the rising generation show up and are already thriving thanks to the family’s success, while many of them have not been forced to strive for themselves.

Thriving without having strived seems like a bit of a disconnect.

If you know anything about the challenges that such families face, you will instantly recognize how relevant this can be.


Stumbling Upon a Fundamental Truism

Success means more when it is connected to one’s own struggles to achieve it. 

This reminded me of one of my favourite Zig Ziglar sayings about putting in the hard work early in your career:

If, early on, you do:                   what you’re supposed to do 

                                                      when you’re supposed to do it, 

Later, you’ll be able to do:       what you want to do 

                                                      when you want to do it.

In a family enterprise, there is a time for striving, which hopefully leads to thriving. There can then be many years of striving and thriving at the same time.

Eventually, the leaders become elders and can continue to thrive, but without necessarily having to strive as much anymore.

After all, there are younger family members who are there for that, and presumably they’ve been well groomed for that.

Plenty of Reasons to Make Such a Move

What used to be an obscure corner of the world of wealthy families has begun to go more mainstream over the past decade or so.

Whereas the term “family office” has existed for a long time, it used to elicit raised eyebrows of confusion, which nowadays have given way to nodding heads instead.

In many cases the confusion remains, but more people have heard the term and hence think that they know what someone is referring to when they hear it used.

Let’s dive in and look more deeply at this, from the perspective of the family who should be at the center of any family office, rather than the view of the professionals who work for such enterprises.


“If You’ve Seen One Family Office….”

Confusion about the family office space is compounded by the fact that no two family offices are alike, nor should they be.

They exist to serve a family, and every family is different and therefore has different needs, plus these needs evolve and change over time, meaning that they’re in a regular state of flux (or at least they should be).

This topic could take up an entire book (and it has) and I’m trying to hit a sliver of it in a blog post, so let’s get to the question in the title, “Why would a family even consider setting up a family office?”


On Inflection Points, Evolution, and Leadership

I’ve written on this subject before, notably in Putting the Family in the Family Office, for my site, as well as for other websites, for example, Don’t Forget the Family at the Family Office.

For a family to suddenly decide it needs a family office, there’s usually a catalyst, and the most frequent one is a liquidity event. 

For readers unfamiliar with that term, think about a family that owns a business worth $100 million one day, but then sells it and suddenly has $100 million of “liquid assets” instead.

Such a family suddenly has a new set of priorities and needs, and a family office can be the ideal way to address those.

Other families create a family office when they reach various inflection points as they evolve, often when there’s new leadership in the family, thanks to a generational transition.

But let’s never forget that the family’s needs should be driving everything (although this is often the exception rather than the rule).


After the Why – When, Where, Who and How

The Why and the When are typically connected, as the event kicks things into motion, bringing up other questions.

I laugh when I see articles about the best places in the world to set up a family office, focused on jurisdictions that are advantageous for tax and investment reasons.

Regular readers know my penchant for focusing on the family’s human capital over its financial capital.

The Where may become a factor as things evolve, but is rarely a huge concern at inception, unless there are billions of dollars involved.

The main questions I suggest families focus on are all about Who and How.


Don’t Forget the Family!

I’m a firm believer in having some family members involved at some level, because the family office will be responsible for a huge amount of the family’s net worth, and like any family business, the owners can and should play an important role.

If no family member is qualified to play the top investment role or handle other important executive functions, it becomes paramount for someone from the family to at least become quite conversant and comfortable with these subjects.

There’s certainly at least an oversight role that needs to remain in the hands of competent family members.


One Person at a Time: Grow with the Flow

One of the most important parts of the How is the question of timing.

I almost always advocate for a “go slow” approach, because you really want to get the culture right.

Hiring a person and making sure they’re the right fit takes time, and when you set up a family office, you’re truly playing the long game.

You need to find competent people to fill the roles that you can’t handle within the family.

When you add more people, you want to make sure they all fit well together too, and that’s not something to rush through either.

And since they’ll all be serving your family, you’ll want more than one family member involved in the selection process too, maybe several.