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What’s the difference between a family business and a business family?  Are they really different, or just two ways of saying essentially the same thing? I like to think that the main difference is on the emphasis on each word, depending on the situation.

A family business is a Business first and foremost. Often in the early years the founder will call it a family business, even if he or she is the only fulltime family member working there. They are, after all, doing it for the family. As things progress, the spouse and children sometimes end up joining in, with the next generation getting their feet wet in the summers of their teenage years.

At this point, it becomes more of a true family business, and slowly but surely, as the size of the enterprise grows and the involvement of family members increases, all of a sudden there are more than business issues to consider, but family ones as well.  Welcome to the world of the business Family.

There usually is not a “threshold moment” when a family business becomes a business family. Sometimes one member of the family notices it before others. Often the founder can be the last one to make the realization that they have entered into a new paradigm.

Back in the 1980’s, my father decided to join CAFÉ, the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise. It offered him the chance to interact with other business people who were encountering similar situations in both their businesses and their families.  He made some great connections with other family leaders that lasted for many years, past the point where most were even involved in their businesses.

So you might think that he realized that the family part was important, but that may not be entirely correct.  Like many founders, it was his business, and everything he did was done his way. At least that was the way we saw it. But that was fine, it was his money, his effort, his risk, we were actually content to go along for the ride.

Simply joining an organization like CAFÉ does not automatically make you pay enough attention to the family part of the equation.  It often does not come naturally to an entrepreneur, who will usually be preoccupied with other, seemingly more important tasks.

But the family is always there, somewhere in the background, or maybe some members in the foreground too, and the family issues can come along and overtake the business issues at a moment’s notice.

If things stay small, and few family members rely on the business for their livelihood, things usually remain relatively simple. But as the business grows in size and scope, and as more family members become involved in one way or another, complexities inevitably set in.

When things get complicated, I usually stress the importance of communication. I always prefer to over-communicate in order to minimize the potential for misunderstandings. Many business owners don’t seem to find the time to take care of the family communications, as they are often too busy tending to the business communications.

Family meetings, where everyone is present, can go a long way to keeping everyone on the same page. I will always suggest that these meetings involve only the immediate family members (no spouses or significant others).

Most families do not start having these meetings until they approach a significant event or transition.  Better late than never. But once you set up the framework, the family members will usually actually look forward to the meetings and the realization that everyone now has the same story, and knows where things stand.

It is hard enough to solve all the business problems that can come up, trying to stay ahead of the family issues with regular meetings can at least minimize the important family aspects that need to be dealt with, not ignored.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

I don’t often start these blog posts with famous quotes, but lots of smart people do that, so why not give it a go? Earlier this week, I was reading one of the daily letters to which I subscribe, The King Report, by Bill King out of Chicago. He finished his daily piece with this:

“When you want to help people you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”  -Thomas Sowell.

I immediately printed out that page, highlighted the quotation, and put it aside to eventually use as a blog topic. I showed it to my partner Tom, to my wife, and to my kids. The more I read it, the more I liked it. Let me explain why.

I believe that too many people fall into the group of those who will be more likely to put themselves first and tell you what you want to hear rather than tell you the truth. In the case of wealthy and powerful people, it happens even more often.

My father was a very tough boss, but he was fair. He would often say that he did not have to give people hell, he just had to tell them the truth. And yes, sometimes the truth did hurt. He was very animated and loud, and when it was your turn to hear the truth, you could be sure that others overheard it as well.

As easy as it might have been to try to “protect” ourselves and drift into more of a “tell him what he wants to hear” mode, that would have just make things worse.
The people who worked for him who were willing to give him their true opinion were the ones he counted on the most.

When I showed Tom the quote, it immediately brought back all kinds of memories for both of us. We were two of the people who worked for him the longest, and he relied on us for a variety of things. Occasionally he would tell us that if all we did was agree with him, he really wouldn’t need us. We would make ourselves redundant if we were simply “Yes-Men”.

Having spent so many years in this type of relationship with our boss has had many benefits for both of us. We shared the truth with him, and we got plenty of truth back. The exchanges were often spirited and loud, but always positive, about moving closer to the best decision or course of action, and no lingering hard feelings.

We would offer an opinion, get shot down, roll with the punches and continue the debate. The eventual decision sometimes ended up looking a lot like the ones we suggested, and we knew we had a hand in directing the proper outcome, even if we never heard “hey, you were right”. We knew. He was the boss, he was at the top, he was the one ultimately responsible for whatever we decided.

These days sometimes I will go on a rant about something when talking with Tom, and he will usually just sit there and smile. It is usually only mock anger, and it comes across more as a schtick than anything else. But it brings back memories of working for someone with so much energy and passion, who was not afraid to let his feelings show.

Tom will laugh off my mock anger and remind me that after the number of times he got sh*t from “The Big Guy”, anything that I could throw at him would seem like a light breeze after a tornado.

All that to say that we both have plenty of experience in telling people the truth, even when it contains elements that they do not really want to hear. It is essential to what we offer our clients, because they are likely to have too many of the other types of advisors already.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Open Architecture? Isn’t that a Computer Term?

This will be the third and final blog post on ideas that came out of the recent Family Office eXchange workshop that we recently attended in NYC. In my latest post, I mentioned that this term through me for a bit of a loop when I first heard it during the personal intros that all the participants were asked to make.

A man was describing the Multi-Family Office that he worked for, and was proudly stating that they were 100% “open architecture”. I recognized that phrase, having heard it in the past, but I was pretty sure that it had something to do with computer programming.

Putting it into the context of what the man was saying, and hearing it again a couple of other times later that first morning, it began to make sense to me. But the surprising part for me was not that this firm was 100% “open architecture”; it was that any other firm would NOT be. Let me explain.

This man was right to be proud of his firm, because their policy was to offer their clients all sorts of investment products and services, offered by all sorts of companies. That sounds great, and it is. But what, then, do other firms do? This sounds like a great idea, offering your clients choices, allowing them to pick and choose various investment products and services from every possible vendor.

But that is my point. It is so obvious to me, and hopefully anyone reading this, that this is the way that advisors can best serve the needs of their clients.  So why doesn’t everyone do it?

My father used to say that there are really only two reasons to do something: for love, or for money. When some advisor suggests that you invest in the financial products that just happen to come from the same employer that they work for, do you think that they are doing it for love? Me neither.

The move to open architecture is long overdue, but it is proceeding at a snail’s pace. A Google search of the term landed me on the website of a large US trust company, which had a brief document that talked about the use of open architecture by trustees.

“Conflicts of interest often occur when institutions offer only proprietary (in-house) products”. It also spoke of “clients’ uneasiness over lack of objectivity”, and ended with a statement about a new definition of the term “trusted advisor” that “provides the best advice possible without limitations on choices of investment options”

That document was dated less than a year ago. What took you so long? Then I came across a recent issue of Barron’s magazine with a story on the subject. It noted that some firms started offering open architecture  “Ten or more years ago”, but that others are just getting around to it.

Unfortunately for Canadians, many investment trends seem to take a while to reach across the border. A bit like multi-family offices. But they do go well together. We don’t have any products to sell, so it’s a no-brainer for us.

Back to my dad again: “Selling is reducing your inventory. Marketing is solving the customer’s problem.”  Personally, I hate selling, and I always have. The only thing we are “selling” now is our services, which, when you think about it, is really marketing. We know that there are people facing the same sorts of situations and problems that we have dealt with for years.  And we know that we can help solve them.

I always did like marketing better than selling.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

I consider myself a bit of a political junkie, so the current election in Quebec is a lot of fun for me to watch.  The TV debates take on huge importance since many casual observers choose whom to vote for based solely on this very limited exposure to what the candidates have to say. The debates are a key opportunity for voters to get to feel like they “know” the person for whom they will eventually cast their ballot.

Of course watching someone on TV for an hour or so is not really the best way to get to know someone, but in this case, it is often sufficient, insofar as it often confirms feelings that we already have based on other information that we have read or discussed with family and friends.

On a more personal note, we do have some relationships in our lives where getting to know the people that we deal with is much more important, especially when it comes to dealing with issues involving our loved ones and our finances, and the long term aspects of these key areas of our lives.

As parents it is normal to want to meet our children’s friends, teachers, coaches, etc. When it comes to our money, we like to think that we know the people who are managing things for us, but in many cases the bond is actually quite superficial.

Sure, when you open an account for any kind of investment, you spend a lot of time filling out forms with all sorts of information about yourself, including your net worth, your risk tolerances, and other tidbits that put you in some sort of risk profile. These forms have all become mandatory over the past decades because some investors were badly treated by “professionals” somewhere along the line.

So governments imposed KYC rules, (“Know Your Client”) which are supposed to stop brokers from loading up a widow’s account with speculative positions that could end up sending her to the local food banks and thrift shops once these investments go sour.

The relationships we have with those who manage the things that are most important to us work both ways, of course. We like to think that the people who are working for us are trustworthy and that we know them well. But they should also know as much as possible about us if they are to do a proper job for us. Depending on circumstances though, this is not always easy or possible.

When entrusting someone with important tasks and assets, it is always nice to feel like you understand the character of the people that you are dealing with. When you deal with someone who was recommended to you by someone you trust, that can be helpful, compared to just finding someone from the phone book.

So all this brings me to these blog posts that I have been writing here for the past few months. I try to write them using simple terms and language, so that even my preteen kids can understand them. And for the most part they do. I know, because I ask them to read them and then tell me if my thoughts are clearly expressed and if they understand what I have written.

They often ask me “who reads these blogs?” My honest answer is, “I don’t know”.
I then add that I am much less concerned with wide distribution of my messages than the ability to provide a deep understanding of what kind of person I am.

Tom and I are offering our services to what is admittedly a narrow segment of society: families with significant assets who are dealing with how they want those assets to serve the members of their families for the long term. Nobody is going to hire us before they have a very good feeling about who we are, how we think, what is important to us, how we work, and how we communicate.

As I have told my kids and anyone else about this blog, I want anyone to be able to come to our website and spend 20 minutes or 3 hours and just read these blog posts that we are writing.  I like to think that after anyone spends a bit of time reading these, they will have a pretty good idea who they are dealing with.

We trust that most people will get the impression that we are “two real square guys”, as my father would have put it. Yes, kids, that was meant to be a compliment in the “old days”.  Back to politics for a second, your grandfather also suggested to people NOT to go into politics, because then “even your friends with think you are an A**hole”.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Bosco is eight years old, and he has been living with us for over six years now. He is the friendliest dog you could ever meet. Unfortunately, he suffers from severe canine halitosis. But it is not as bad as it sounds, because as some of you have likely figured out, canine halitosis is just a fancy term for doggy bad breath. Sorry if I had you going there for a second, but I wanted to make a point here.

When you deal with professionals, the terms that they use on daily basis amongst their peers often creep into their discussions with “regular people” who are less familiar with their jargon. So you may find yourself subject to advisors who speak to you in a way that is difficult to follow.

Many people who are guilty of this kind of poor communication do not even realize that they are not getting through to their listeners. Some actually do it on purpose (even if only subconsciously) in order to make themselves seem superior. If you are the type who thinks “if the dog has bad breath, just tell me he has bad breath, don’t make it sound like some deadly disease”, then I hear you loud and clear.

Unfortunately many people will not recognize themselves as having this fault. After we sold the operations of our family business, it took me a few years to figure out what I would do career-wise. After a stint as an intellectual property licensing consultant I began to take on more of a portfolio manager role in the family office, which lead me to sign up for the CFA program.

Some friends looked at me like I was crazy. Why should I put myself through the trouble of studying all those hours in order to get another certificate on my wall and three more letters after my name? I worked for my family business, who was I trying to impress? The truth is, I did it for defensive purposes first and foremost. I knew that as someone who managed wealth, I would have people approaching me regularly, trying to convince me to invest in their products or services.

Many of those people would have those three letters, CFA, after their names. Those people must be smart, because many people enroll in the CFA program but a large percentage never get through it. So if they tell me that what they are selling is good for me, who am I to argue? Well, when they see the same three letters after my name, hopefully they understand that I understand.

You may think that this shows some insecurity on my part, and you may be right. But I am glad that I did it, and truthfully it was one of the most challenging things that I have taken on. The fact that I signed up for the program a week after our first child was born made it that much more of a challenge.

At the time I did not foresee the current career turn that I am making. Offering services to other families would not have even been a consideration if I did not have those credentials. Having an understanding of the financial products out there allows me to be kind of a translator, helping to explain seemingly complicated ideas to those who are not used to the concepts.

It is also a lot easier to ask questions for someone else. “I am pretty sure that I get it, but could you please explain to Mrs. Jones why she should add this product to her current holdings at this time?” is better than just nodding your head even though you are not sure you understood. When you get right down to it, if you cannot explain it to someone else in simple terms, you probably don’t understand it well enough yourself. And if that is the case, you probably shouldn’t be investing in it.