Family sitting around a table

Providing Counsel to the Family Council

Providing Counsel to the Family Council

I enjoy wordplay more than most, and this week I stumbled across something I probably should have addressed in this space already, but seemingly haven’t.

So by exploring the words “Counsel” and “Council”, which are homonyms, I get to touch on a couple areas that are important to me and to my practice.

 

Family Counsellor

My current business card identifies me as a “Family Legacy Advisor”, but I’m never sure what I should actually call myself.

I cover a few bases by adding “sub-titles”, (Facilitator, Coach, Mediator), but even then it never feels 100% “correct”.

I prefer “advisor” to “consultant”, but when I’m crossing the border I always say I’m a consultant, because it sounds more straightforward.

Somehow, “family counsellor” feels like an appropriate title for a role I really enjoy playing, although that could also be easily misconstrued.

 

Business Family versus Family Business

Regular readers know that I often note the difference between a “family business” and a “business family”, and I have a clear preference for which entity I prefer to serve.

I like to work in the “family” circle, serving the business family first and foremost, because the family side is usually “under-served” by outside professionals.

The business circle has plenty of outside help from lawyers and accountants, not to mention various other professional consultants.

“Business counsellor” would sound kind of funny, but “family counsellor” has an interesting ring to it.

 

Family Governance = Family Council

I’ve written quite a bit about family governance, and family meetings, and one of the most basic terms in this area is “Family Council”, but until now I haven’t used that term.

Governance can get a bad rap, and too often it scares people because it sounds way more formal than it needs to be in real life.

This week I attended an event for business families held at a local University family business center, where the topic was “family councils”. Actually, since it was in French, it was “Conseil de Famille”.

There were representatives of three local business families on a panel, and the moderator asked them questions about their family councils.

 

De-Mystifying Governance

I truly appreciated the family members who spoke in front of a group of strangers about personal subjects, and I applaud the organisers for trying to de-mystify the idea of having a family council as a basic element of family governance.

However, based on some of the questions during the Q & A, I think that plenty of attendees still didn’t “get it”.

Despite the fact that the panelists were very forthcoming, explaining the nuts and bolts of how often they meet, who gets invited, what they talk about, who sets the agenda and who runs the meetings, it felt like many were still mystified by the idea.

I think it’s likely because they couldn’t picture how it might work in their own family, and I wonder if the name “Family Council” is too formal, and scares people as much as the term governance does.

 

Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary

It shouldn’t be so formal though, especially at the outset. Just have a family meeting, and let it evolve from there.

The only “revolutionary” step is bringing in an outsider to facilitate the meetings. Everything else needs to simply be “evolutionary”.

The most important part is actually starting to set up regular meetings to talk about how the family is affected by the business.

 

A Seat at the Table

Yes, even those family members who don’t work in the business, or don’t own any of the business, do have questions and concerns about the business, because they are certainly affected by it.

Providing them a seat at the table, so that they can be heard, and so that they can ask questions, is simple and basic.

If you organize such a forum before you need to do so, it will all go so much more easily than if you wait until they demand such meetings.

 

Counseling the Family Council

Meeting even just once a year is fine to get you started. But please start before you feel like you need to.

Start slowly, start small, and evolve from there. Learn as you go, and look for progress, not for perfection.

Eventually, you’ll find a family counselor to come in and facilitate those meetings, and then you can officially call it a “Family Council”.

conflict between family member in an office enviroment

Embracing Conflict in Family Business

Embracing Conflict in Family Business

Last week I mentioned the Family Firm Institute’s annual conference that I attended in Chicago in October, and how I came home with many weeks’ worth of blog material.

So today I’ll take one of the sessions that I enjoyed and build this post around it.

Here’s the title of the presentation in question:

 

“Can Embracing Conflict Spur Positive Change?”

Joe Astrachan and Carrie Hall were the presenters, and they based much of their discussion on a recent survey of some of the largest family businesses in the world.

Here is a link to their report.

Often when people like me get called into a business family, it’s because there’s something going on that could be described as “conflictual” in nature.

One of the first pieces of “good news” from the conflict is that it has heightened the sense that there’s a need to call in an outsider to help get the family to a better place.

Now, if that outsider is open-minded, well trained, and comfortable with a high conflict environment, then why couldn’t the conflct actually spur positive change?

What’s the Alternative?

Too often families will avoid conflict, or even any semblance of conflict, at all cost. Certain family cultures simply don’t “allow” any expressions of confrontation, negativity, or even challenges to authority.

Unfortunately, that often masks important differences that actually really NEED to be expressed, brought out, and dealt with.

One of the first pieces I recall reading about this, the one where you could say I had my “A-Ha moment” on this subject, was “The Invaluable Gift of Conflict”, by Matt Wesley.

 

Two Main Components

The presence of conflict, aside from it resulting in the arrival of an outsider to assist in moving the family forward, is also that visible conflict is preferable to simply having issues simmer quietly under the surface.

The consequences of unexpressed issues can be bitterness and dissatisfaction that lasts for years (decades?) before finally exploding. Unaddressed issues will often only get worse with time.

But the second “good news” aspect of conflict in a family business is the “energy” that it can create, and that energy can be harnessed, for “good”.

 

Stagnation and Apathy

One of the side effects of having people who are displeased in key positions (in the business or in the family, if not both) is that it can breed apathy and a feeling that things will never change, or that they’ll only change far in the future, and only when their perceived “problem person” is gone.

That apathy and feeling of resignation can turn into stagnation very quickly.

Conflict that erupts and becomes visible can be much healthier because at least you can see it and you’re forced into action to deal with it.

 

“One Story”

Back to the presentation by Astrachan and Hall.  The biggest “take home” message for me was their idea of creating “one story” for the family to tell.  Some background and context are necessary here.

They described a situation where there was a severe rift in a family, yet a couple of the branches of the family managed to come back together.

One of the keys to making it all work, was to come up with the “one story” that the family would tell (to themselves and to the world in general) about the business and the family history.

 

Singing from the Same Hymn Book

Any family business that has lasted more than a few decades will do well to compile and tell their story, if only for the “marketing” power that this can have.

When it comes time to “inculcate” younger members of the family into the business’s culture, these history lessons are pretty important too.

But in the case of a family “coming back together” after a rift, the part of the story dealing with the cause of the rift, and more importantly, the way the family overcame it, can be huge.

 

Positive Change

The presentation (and this blog) are about positive change, and getting the story straight can have more of a positive influence than many people will realize.

The first step may just be to learn to “embrace” the conflicts that you can actually see.

You can only get through difficulties when you actually put things “on the table”. And if you need outside help, then get some.

My Notes from a Great Keynote

My Notes from a Great Keynote

The Family Firm Institute recently held its annual conference in Chicago, and the subjects covered were enough to fill out my blog calendar for the next few months. But today I’ll concentrate on just one session.

The main FFI conference wrapped up Friday, and then Saturday featured a one-day “research and education” session. I’d never stayed for the extra day before, but the lunchtime keynote alone made it well worth staying.

 

An Industry Pioneer

The speaker was none other than Craig Aronoff, one of the founders (in 1994) of the Family Business Consulting Group (FBCG) as well as a past President of FFI.

FBCG has been a leader in the field of family business advising and they are held in high esteem by just about everyone connected to this profession.

They’re a leading producer of great content as well, which actually brings me to the first of the three points Aronoff made that I want to share with you today.

 

Private Lessons

Aronoff noted that business families have different ways that they deal with their challenges, and that those who actually hire an outside family business consultant are just a small minority.

The ones who do hire such a specialist are in effect opting for “private lessons”, as he nicely put it.

You can learn to play a musical instrument in lots of different ways, especially with today’s technology. Some people will just go to Youtube and find some instructional videos, while others will hire a teacher to come to their home and offer private lessons. (My analogy, not his)

 

Market Penetration 

He went on to actually put some numbers out there, estimating that only somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of family businesses hire family business consultants.

I wouldn’t know where to begin to try to figure out what the number is, but given Aronoff’s experience in a leading position in the industry, I’m inclined to give his numbers plenty of credence.

If so few business families are reaching out and hiring specialists to give them “private lessons”, then what about the rest of the families?

 

What About Everybody Else?

I guess that the other 96-98% of families try to meet their challenges “on their own” and with help from their other professional advisors from various fields (law, accounting, tax, psychology).

I would hope that more and more of those families are at least benefiting from the ever-increasing amount of great content that is being created and shared in the burgeoning family business space.

When I entered this field, I reflected on how many families I could realistically work with directly during the next 25 years of my career, and I had trouble getting to triple digits.

But that only includes families for whom I would be their provider of the “private lessons”.

Between writing, speaking and teaching, I have the potential to be a resource to so many more families.

 

Values: Guide & Goals & Glue

One final note on my take-aways from what Aronoff talked about.

(I should also note that the main subject of his talk was research and its relevance to the field of family business, which I’ve decided to ignore in this blog, since it’s not my area of interest or expertise.)

He quickly mentioned the importance of values to family businesses. (Please see: FAMILY BUSINESS: HOW DO VALUES FIT IN? for my take on this issue).

He noted that from his perspective, values provide the 3 G’s:

The Guide, The Goals, and The Glue.

As a fan of anything that helps people understand and remember important concepts, I found this noteworthy.

 

The Glue and the Grease? 

I’ve had a blog idea about glue stuck in my head for a few years now, involving “Glue and Grease”, but I’ve yet to find the substance in nature or industry to complete the analogy.

What I try to bring to families who hire me is a bit of both; glue to help keep things together, but also grease that keeps things running smoothly.

Any engineers or creative types out there who think of a substance that fits this analogy can look forward to a hat-tip and shout out from me for sharing ideas for that blog.

I remain available for private lessons for select families, and I will continue to add and share content to this fascinating field.

Note: Last week this space featured its first ever Guest Blog. Unfortunately I was a less than perfect host for my guest, and when I posted her piece I accidentally dropped a few paragraphs in the middle of it.  It has now been corrected, and can be found here: Lessons Learned from Women in Family Business

(Sorry Kim!)

Horse shoe with a 4 leaf clover and a lady bug

Genetics, Luck, and Karma: Secrets to FamBiz Success

Genetics, Luck, and Karma: Secrets to FamBiz Success

People ask me where my blog ideas come from, because I find something different to write about each week. My answer: “anywhere and everywhere”.

This week it’s from watching Jeopardy, and one of Alex Trebek’s brief interviews with the contestants.

 

Top 5 of All Time

A bartender named Austin Rogers had a fantastic run recently, running up over $400,000 in winnings in just over two weeks, which placed him in the top 5 of all time Jeopardy winners.

After he had accumulated some sizeable winnings, Alex asked the likeable young man from New York to what he attributed the success he’d been having on the show.

His honest reply struck me as quite refreshing:

“Genetics, Luck, and Karma.”

 

Fits with Family Business Success Too

 I couldn’t help think how nicely these three elements fit with family business success too.

I realize this isn’t necessarily obvious, but hey, that’s why I write these blogs, to share my thoughts on just this kind of thing. Let’s take them one at a time.

 

Genetics

The family business angle fits pretty clearly with the genetics comment. “He sure seems to take after his Dad”.

Yes, indeed, we do inherit many traits from our parents, and in a thriving family business, the hope is usually that the next generation will have many of the same positive characteristics that made the parents successful.

Problems can arise though, when the children have different positive traits, and clashes can happen when the generations don’t see eye-to-eye on everything.

 

Luck

Luck is a bit harder to get agreement on. Successful people like to think that they alone are responsible for their company doing well, and in most cases that’s true, but it’s only part of the formula.

I can’t help think that luck has more influence on how things turn out than most people acknowledge.

Yes, I’m quite familiar with the expressions “You make your own luck” and “The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get”, and they resonate nicely with me too.

But, for every business person who blames failure on “bad luck”, there’s probably another who should be thanking “good luck” for their success.

 

Karma

If you think that luck was a difficult concept to grasp, let’s move on to karma, and try our luck there.

Let’s start with a quick Google search, which turned up this nugget:

          Karma (car-ma) is a word meaning the result of a person’s actions as well as the actions       themselves. It is a term about the cycle of cause and effect. According to the theory of Karma, what happens to a person, happens because they caused it with their actions.

That wasn’t exactly what I thought my search would turn up, but who the heck am I to argue with Google? That might not bring me good karma. (See what I did there?)

A lot of different things come to my mind when I think about karma. The “Golden Rule”, and “Do unto others” are a couple of them.

I also think about humility, and not acting like you’re better than everyone else, because that probably won’t create good karma.

 

Humble and Kind

The Karma idea made me flash back to a blog post from June 2016, Humble and Kind, in which I wrote:

And if you do start out humble and kind when you are young, how did you get that way? My guess is that most of it comes from your parents and the example they set.

When family businesses fall apart, it is usually in large part because of family conflict, so what happened to the humility and the kindness?

When I first thought about Karma and family business, I thought about in the ways that the business interacts with customers, suppliers, and competitors; you know, the outside interactions.

But now that I’ve re-read the excerpt from that blog, it makes me realize that the internal Karma, within the family, is probably even more important.

Teaching your children about karma brings good karma.

 

Something to Think About

Back to Austin, our Jeopardy contestant. He eventually lost a game and was dethroned, but his reaction seemed to fit with his penchant for keeping the karma gods happy.

He was last seen laughing and high-fiving the woman who beat him.

His luck might’ve run out, but his karma was going strong.

Word purpose in a dictionary

5 Things you Need to Know: Purposeful Planning

Once again this week’s blog comes from a being an interested listener/participant on the weekly teleconference of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

The guest thought leader was Babetta von Albertini, who is a relatively new PPI Member, but who also heads up the Institute for Family Governance, which will have its 2nd annual conference in NYC in January 2018.

That these two groups fit together well should go without saying.  Purposeful Planning and Family Governance could almost be considered two sides of the same coin.

 

Case Studies

The title of the call was “How to Give Powers to Trust Beneficiaries” and during the first part, von Albertini covered the details of two actual case studies that she was involved in recently.

As I listened attentively, I had a bit of an “A-Ha” moment and I realized that Q&A time (where often the questions are replaced by comments) was fast approaching.

I jotted down a few notes about the cases she’d presented, and I concluded that she’d almost given a perfect definition of what Purposeful Planning is (or should be).

 

Jumping In

I was the first person to “Press 1” so I got the floor first (this isn’t unusual for me on many of these calls).

If you listen to the recording, you’ll note that my summary was well received by the host, the speaker, and subsequent participants.

This not only stroked my ego, but also inspired this blog post.

Without further ado, here are:

5 Things to Know about: Purposeful Planning

 

  1. High level, strategic planning

So many of the people who are “experts” in the field of estate planning or succession planning are actually specialists in certain “tactics” that are often employed in the process.

Purposeful planning takes things to a higher level, and looks at things from a bigger picture view, from a higher level.

It truly is a strategic exercise, and it involves the complex interaction of a variety of specialist fields.

 

  1. A team of experts, collaborating together

Because it is complex by nature, a truly strategic effort necessarily involves a variety of specialists.

But a bunch of experts who stay in their silos rarely makes for a great plan. The experts actually need to collaborate and work together to find the solutions that suit the family client.

 

  1. The family is at the center of everything

As I just alluded to, the client is the family, AND the client is at the center of everything. Purposeful planning looks first and foremost at the purpose of the wealth, which is to serve the family.

Too often, estate and succession planning are simply a compilation of tactics put together in a way that sounds great, in the same way that Giorgio Armani looks great on the mannequin in the store.

If it isn’t custom tailored for me, it probably won’t fit, and it will ultimately be uncomfortable and look silly on me.

But I will have paid a hefty price for it…

 

  1. Simplicity is valued over complexity 

The case studies that were discussed on the call also involved a very interesting key step along the way. There were many long legal documents, including a bunch of trusts, but there was also a painstaking review process of those.

The key step was a two-page summary that was prepared for each document, which laid out, in simple terms, what was included in the 60- or 80-page document.

That way, anyone and everyone could actually understand them and discuss them intelligently.

Wow, clarity and simplicity, what a novel concept!

 

  1. Beneficiaries are empowered 

One of the major concepts that I left for last but not least, is that part of the family-centric nature of purposeful planning actually strives to empower the next generation beneficiaries.

How many of us have heard of people who are “trust fund babies” who are actually severely hampered by their position as recipients of funds for little or no effort?

Purposeful planning tries to actually empower them to have a say and some control over their lives, and doesn’t treat them as less capable people who are simply entitled.

 

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Members of PPI probably already “get” most of what I’ve written above, but sometimes we all need to be reminded of some of these things.

More than that, we need to grow the number of those who get it, and make this planning the rule rather than the exception.

The Dimmer Switch

The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off

The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off

This week I’m going to touch on a very big topic that I haven’t written nearly enough about. It’s also a subject that lots of families face, whether they have a business or not.

The idea came to me a couple of weeks ago while listening to the weekly teleconference of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

As I had stated in Huge Liquidity Events – Great News, Right?, there was going to be at least one other blog that came from that call.

The great nugget for this blog actually came from the Q & A at the end of the call. (Many Thanks to Matt Wesley of Merrill Lynch)

 

Having the “Money” Talk 

One of the call participants asked a question about helping their client families have the big talk about wealth.

You know how this goes. Wealthy parents talk to their advisors, the advisors strongly suggest that the parents begin to share information about their wealth with the kids, and the parents usually balk.

They understand that they should have the talk, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to do it.

 

The Dimmer Switch Analogy

The man who asked the question was looking for ways to help his clients begin the important stage of sharing information about the family’s wealth with their children.

The answer that came back was brilliant, and it is one that I plan on using. Parents often think about this “talk” as an all-or-nothing proposition. They shouldn’t!

It’s not a binary situation, where you go from complete “secrecy” to “full disclosure”.

It’s NOT a regular light switch, where the family was in the dark, and you flip the switch up and now everyone sees everything.

 

Time for your Pupils to Adjust

If you’ve ever gone to the movies during the day and you walk out into the daylight, you know that it takes time for your eyes to adjust.

In the same way, you really don’t want to “blind” your children with everything in one shot.

There is no need to quench their thirst for information with a firehose.

I like the dimmer switch analogy for a couple of reasons.

 

Shine a Little Light

I think the idea of “shining a little light” is the perfect antidote to the idea of “keeping them in the dark”.

And everyone knows what a dimmer switch is, and what it does. It allows you to control the amount of light.

So where should you begin?

 

Why Are We Here?

So let’s say you’ve decided that you can’t wait any longer and you need to talk about your wealth with the next generation of your family. Great. It’s not rocket science.

A frank and open way to get started is to tell them that you love them and that you care about them, now, and for the rest of their lives.

You could also share that you understand that if things go as they usually do, they will very likely outlive their parents, and that’s a good thing.

So, given that, there’s a lot of “stuff” that you have accumulated over the years and you need to begin to figure out what’s going to happen with it all after your gone.

 

One Step At a Time

The stage is now set. You have made them aware that you will be having some important discussions going forward.

And you control the dimmer switch, on both “how much” and “how fast” you’ll shed the light.

You don’t have to do it all today. Or even this week. Or this month. But preferably once you start, you do continue again sometime this year.

They may ask questions. That’s a good thing. You need to respond to all of their questions, but that doesn’t mean that you have to tell them everything they want to know.

Take your time. Turn that dimmer switch very slowly. But do turn it. And don’t turn it back the other way, although I’m not even sure if you can turn this metaphorical dimmer switch back towards darkness.

 

Dialogue > Monologue

You may have pictured yourself giving your family a speech about this subject. I strongly urge you NOT to look at it this way, or to act this way.

The “go slow” approach works well because you can adjust as you go. A dialogue, where you take the time to listen to their questions and concerns, is what you should be going for here.

 

5 Things to Know: Asking for Help for a FamBiz

5 Things to Know: Asking for Help for a FamBiz

5 Things to Know: Asking for Help for a FamBiz

This week we’re back into the “5 Things to Know” series, and the topic comes from something that happened again recently, happens to others, and will surely happen in the future.

I’m talking about a member of a family business reaching out for help, and then backing off. So here are my 5 things on asking for help for your FamBiz.

  1. It’s Not Easy, or Even Simple

If you’ve read my stuff, you know that I make a distinction between what’s easy and what’s simple.

People who haven’t lived in a FamBiz often think that our issues are “easy” to deal with. My response is that the issues are usually “simple” (i.e. easy to explain) but rarely easy to actually handle properly.

For a family business member to reach out to an external resource is not easy or even simple.

Family businesses almost always have a culture of inward stuck-togetherness that looks down on asking for outside help

A lot of good stuff stems from that type of culture, but a reluctance to ask for help is one of its main drawbacks.

 

  1. It Takes Courage

Because of the family dynamic that “we’re all in this together”, if one member of the family is troubled by what’s going on inside the group, it takes plenty of courage to even think about bringing in an outsider to help.

It’s much safer to stay quiet and hope for the best. That’s why so often they wait until the “pain point” is so great that it becomes a choice between asking for help and simply walking away.

(Note I said “simply” walking away, not “easily”)

Some think that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but it’s really a sign of courage.

 

  1. It Starts and Ends with Trust

I will overuse the word “trust” here, I apologize in advance, but please trust me.

You need to trust your gut on this. When things are bad and there’s no reason to believe they’ll change, trust me, hope is not a strategy.

You already have folks you trust on the outside, so if they’re not the ones who can help, then ask them who they would trust.

When you first contact someone, do they seem trustworthy? Do they listen more than they talk? Do you have reason to believe that others trust them?

Finally, do you believe that they’ll be able to win the trust of your other family members? If not, you’ll probably need to start over.

You can “disqualify” people quickly if you don’t feel you can trust them, but unfortunately you can’t “qualify” someone very quickly.

 

  1. It’s Possibly the Most Important Move You’ll Make

It’s not easy, it takes courage, and it involves that nebulous thing called trust, but what’s the alternative? Is it really “walking away”?

One of the biggest issues in business families, and the main culprit in most FamBiz failures, is poor communication among the family members.

It’s normal for conflict to be present. You probably can’t “solve” all of the conflicts, but you can certainly try to understand them better, so you can manage them.

But that won’t likely happen, until you bring in someone from the outside to sit around the table with you: someone with a different last name.

 

  1. If You THINK You Should, You Probably Should

Timing is everything in life, so when should you reach out for help?

Well, if you’ve been thinking about it, if you can feel it in your gut, trust your gut. If you think you should, especially if you’re lying awake at night thinking about it, then it probably is time.

If you reach out to the right person, they’ll understand everything I’ve written here; how difficult it was for you to reach out, how much courage it took, that you’ll be on the lookout for clues on trustworthiness, and why this move could prove to be so important to your family.

If you reach out and then stop responding, the outsider should give you space but not cut off completely. They’ll “get” the fact that the timing may not be right.

They’ll recognize that you’re dealing with internal issues, and that you’ll occasionally make some progress on your own, and believe that an outsider won’t be necessary, or at least you hope so.

And they might even write a blog about it, and send it to you.

Different shapes and forms of tents

Combining Strategy and Structure for Families

Combining Strategy and Structure for Families

I got an email a few weeks ago, inviting me to an upcoming Family Office conference, and the wording of the subject line caught my eye.

Now that my thinking on the issue has gelled in my head, I’ll try to turn it into a useful blog post. Here goes.

 

Strategy AND Structure

Let’s begin with the email subject line, so that you’ll get the context:

“Essential structures & strategies from leading families”

The event itself was billed as a “Family Office and Investment Conference”, but the tease in the subject line had succeeded in intriguing me to believe that they might be talking about topics that are much more up my alley (i.e. family issues)

When it comes time to plan the transition of a family’s wealth from one generation to the next, a lot of effort is usually put into finding the best way to structure things.

There are many different ways to accomplish the goal of transitioning the ownership of assets from the current owners to the future ones, and the choice of which way to go will often be driven by the family’s advisors, who each have their particular favourite techniques and structures.

The family client relies on advice from these trusted experts, who are believed to know what they are doing, and strictly speaking, they usually do.

So what’s my issue with this? I’m glad you asked.

 

The “What” Shouldn’t Come First

A family faced with this scenario is really only going to do this once per generation, and few families are experts in knowing exactly what they want, or even knowing what’s possible.

The tactical experts who advise them are just that, “tactical”, they specialize in the “what”, and when a client shows up looking for help, the expert will almost always go back to the “tried and true”.

But what if they’re pulling an old structure off the shelf that they used before for another client whose situation was completely different?

Too few advisors will take the time necessary to explore the “why” questions with their client families, and to think in terms of the overall family strategy, in order to make sure that “what” they are proposing actually makes the most sense.

 

“Why” Should Precede “What”

It’s really useful for the family to have the important planning discussions amongst themselves to plan strategy before engaging the outside structure experts.

As I wrote back in March, in “We Treat Them All Equally – (That’s Good, Right?)”, these discussions are not necessarily done quickly or easily, but they sure are important and worthwhile.

You may be curious as to my selection of the image I chose to accompany this post, perhaps wondering “what’s with all the different tents”? Each of them is a structure, and they are all different, some of them markedly so.

 

Are We All In This Together?

In “Going Far, Go Together” I wrote about families that are planning to stay together for the long term.

What I didn’t stress at the time was the actual question that the family needs to clarify beforehand, i.e. does the next generation of the family WANT to stay tied together, and continue to work together as a shared ownership group.

Too often there is a presumption that the answer to this question is YES, and when that happens you can end up with siblings who are forced into partnership with each other.

If such a scenario is going to turn into a disaster because of the family dynamics, wouldn’t it be better to figure that out in advance, and not go down that road?

 

Strategy Before Structure

At the risk of harping on this too much, I’ll say it again. Before you decide on the best structures to hold the family assets for the next generation, the family needs to sort out the questions of who is on board.

It can be very tempting to choose a complex solution proposed by a tax expert who shows you to the penny how much tax you can save by going with their suggested methods, but if that solution means the next generation will be stuck in the wrong kind of tent for their trip, what was the point?

A huge tent built for the desert may not be what most of the family needs. Work out the strategy first.

 

The Forgotten Circle of Family Business

Ownership: The Forgotten Circle of Family Business

Ownership: The Forgotten Circle of Family Business

On the back of my business card, I’ve got a colourful depiction of the Three-Circle-Model that I often use to initiate introductory discussions about the kind of work I do.

Not that it takes long to draw the Venn diagram on a napkin, pad, or placemat, but since I was struck by its simplicity when I was first exposed to it, I now enjoy sharing the insights it can bring.

 

History Lesson

Harvard’s Renato Tagiuri and John A. Davis came up with the model in the 1980’s when they realized that the old “Two-Circle” version was incomplete.

It was always clear that the Family and the Business overlapped, but it was the addition of the Ownership circle that added an “A-Ha” factor.

 

In Flux Versus Static

Interestingly, while the Family and the Business are both pretty much in constant daily flux, the Ownership is usually static or fixed for decades at a time.

But when the time does come to make changes to the ownership of a family business (and it will), those changes usually affect pretty much everything and everybody.

So the term “forgotten” in the title of this blog, is meant to make the point that we don’t usually give it much thought.

But maybe we should.

 

Some Examples

Imagine a family where the senior generation still owns the business while the rising generation members have solidified their place in the day-to-day operations.

At first they will likely patiently bide their time and accept the situation and “obey” the owners’ directives. But as the years become decades, this situation can become much less palatable.

The issues that arise in this type of situation are often framed in terms of “family dynamics”, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but the best solution to the “problem” may actually come from a change to the ownership.

 

Voting Control

Sometimes families realize that ownership should transfer to the rising generation relatively early on, which often occurs at the behest of an outside expert who suggests some beneficial tax-planning strategies for making these changes.

But often the parents can’t resist the temptation to create complex share structures that allow them to maintain control.

Having ownership without control adds a complicating factor to the Three-Circle-Model.

I’m not exactly sure how to do it, but somehow a modified version of the model might be needed to illustrate those situations where ownership doesn’t include control.

But all I’m trying to do here is to illustrate ways that the ownership circle often affects many of the day-to-day family business issues, even if we don’t give it enough thought.

 

Life Events as a Catalyst

Important life events can sometimes be a catalyst to changing the ownership structure. It’s much more fun when these involve a birth or marriage than a death or divorce.

Unexpected deaths sometimes catch families by surprise and hopefully these cases serve as a poignant reminder to others to get their affairs in order “just in case”.

When there’s a long illness that precedes a death, it’s sometimes a blessing, because important moves and discussions can then take place.

Of course in some cases, family relationships are such that even when the writing is on the wall and death is imminent, the family just can’t come together and have a productive discussion and agree on how the future ownership should be structured.

 

Preparing Owners to be Owners

Luckily, for every situation where families are “stuck”, we now hear more and more about families who are working to get out in front of these situations.

Enlightened families are looking into outside coaches and/or education programs that help prepare future owners to become good owners.

While it’s true that no special training is required to own shares in a company, the people who work in the business can tell you that the ownership of the business, and how they interact with and guide the company, has a huge effect on performance.

 

It Starts at the Top

When things begin to go poorly in a business, the roots of the demise can usually be traced back to the top, and that’s the ownership.

If you’re working with a business family and there are some issues that you’re trying to put your finger on as to their source, don’t forget to ask about the current ownership structure.

There’ll often be some good clues there.

 

Photo credit: Richard Legler

Sharing Some Rocky Mountain Kool-Aid

Sharing Some Rocky Mountain Kool-Aid

I just returned from another fantastic Rocky Mountain experience: four jam-packed days, over two conferences, hosted by the Purposeful Planning Institute.

This has become an annual trek to Denver for me, which will surely continue for years to come.

 

Four Going on Five

I first attended PPI’s “Rendez Vous” in 2014 and returned again the following year. Last year, they added something new, an additional conference called “Fusion Collaboration”.

I decided to do both in 2016, and I jumped in with both feet again this year.

There was some confusion again, on the part of some attendees at either or both this week, about the difference between these two conferences.

I came up with an analogy that got a great response from everyone with whom I shared it, and the title of this post gives you a clue as to what it’s about.

 

Try Some of this Great Kool-Aid

Fusion Collaboration, the newer portion, is aimed at technical professionals who deal with business families, and families of wealth, and its goal is to introduce these more transactional folks to some of the other, deeper ways that these clients need to be served.

The presenters at Fusion are mostly specialists who work on the less technical aspects of wealth transfer, in what I like to call the “family circle”.

Many people used to call these the “soft side” (and still do), but now it’s more often dubbed “relational”, or “family dynamics”.

Fusion Collaboration is PPI’s attempt to get them to try Purposeful Planning Kool-Aid and “get them hooked”.

 

Let’s Swap Kool-Aid Recipes

By Wednesday evening, Fusion was wrapping up, and many of the lawyers and accountants and transactional specialists were preparing to depart, only to be replaced by a fresh crop of attendees.

The people who came for Rendez Vous, for this, its seventh incarnation, didn’t need to be enticed to drink the proverbial Purposeful Planning Kool-Aid.

Most of these people already subscribe to “Kool-Aid Aficionado” magazine, and they bring their Kool-Aid mixing and serving tips and recipes to share with their friends.

Besides the relational experts, many traditional transactional professionals who’ve become Kool-Aid fans also attend this conference regularly.

 

What’s In this Stuff?

If you’re curious about the main ingredient in this enticing beverage, it was nicely summarized by PPI’s founder, John A. Warnick, in one slide, which read:

                      Purposeful Planning   =   “Client-centric”   +     “Family-centric”

Most professional advisors already recognize the importance of putting the client’s needs and desires at the heart of wealth transition planning,

They also usually understand (in theory, at least) how important it is to bring next generation family members into the picture, preferably early on.

 

Secondary Equals?

Many of those who’ve traditionally driven the discussions around the pieces of wealth and business continuity, and transitions to the next generation, would consider themselves the primary drivers of this important work.

That may be true in the strict “transactional” sense, but more and more families are demanding a more holistic approach, which naturally involves a host of other experts from different, perhaps “secondary” domains.

Ideally, a collaborative group, or better yet, a team of advisors, will work together to figure out and design a complete inter-generational solution, along with the client family.

In order to do this work efficiently, and effectively, it really helps if the advisor team can work as collaborative equals.

 

Who Are They?

To give you an example of the types of specialists I’m talking about, here are some words and titles from some of the business cards I collected this week.

  • Legacy Advisor
  • Independent Trustee
  • Family Enterprise Advisor
  • Facilitator
  • Coach
  • Consultant
  • Psychologist
  • Gift Planner
  • Communications Specialist
  • Family Dynamics
  • Philanthropy Consultant
  • Family Legacy Advisor

And I know I’ve easily missed at least a handful of specialties.

 

July in Colorado 

After the opening dinner of Rendez Vous, as a table exercise, the “Elders” in attendance were asked to share with the “Tenderfeet” why we keep coing back every year.

At my table, most agreed it was the people, all of whom seem to come for the right reasons, i.e. to serve families better.

It’s also a great place to fill up on information, ideas, best practices, contacts, and lots of hugs too.

Oh, and Kool-Aid, of course!

Hoping to see you in Denver in 2018.

Would you like a glass, or a whole pitcher?


Links to previous Rendez Vous blogs:

2016SWEET SECLUDED RENDEZ-VOUS

2015RENDEZ-VOUS WITH A PURPOSE

2014THE RISING GENERATION IN FAMILY BUSINESS