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The Value of a Trusted Family Business Advisor

Putting the Consent into Consensus (Part I of II)

Sometimes things that are right under our noses are the hardest to see. Few people are immune to this, although many act as if they are.

In the interest of leading by example, I usually cherish the opportunity to share things that strike me, but which seem so obvious in retrospect that I am actually nearly ashamed to admit them.

This week’s post is about how business families make decisions together. When the founder starts a business, it is not unusual for most decisions to be made in the six inches or so between the founder’s ears.

One of the “fun” parts of family businesses, and the business families who own and manage them, is that as the business makes its transition to the following generation, the number of decision-makers often increases.

And therein lie many of the major issues that these families face, as they wrestle with how the group of people who own and manage the business will decide together, communicate, and solve problems together, as the business and assets of the family move from one generation to the next.

With large groups of people, voting is frequently an option that gets explored, and is often adopted in one form or another. This works well in politics, sometimes.

In a family business, or in any family that co-owns and/or co-manages assets together, voting has a lot of potentially negative consequences. Advisors to families in these situations will usually recommend that the family work toward more of a consensus model instead.

Now we are getting back to my embarrassing admission. I always assumed that consensus meant a decision that everyone agreed to. While that is not completely wrong, it is far from being a good definition.

If I were explaining it to a kindergarten class, it might fly, but I usually deal with a crowd that is a little older, and better educated. Interestingly, my epiphany came on a college campus.

Ever since I began doing college campus tours with my son these past few months, I have heard many college admissions folks talk about what makes their institution unique.

We sat in on sessions at some small Pennsylvania colleges that have a Quaker tradition, and during one of these (Haverford, if I recall correctly) they spoke about the consensus method of decision-making on campus.

The presenter explained that consensus is working on finding a decision that everyone could and would consent to, even if it weren’t their first choice.

OMG, you mean consensus comes from consent?!? Aaaaaggghhhh! Had it really taken me 52 years to figure this out? Well, yes. But I am really glad that I did, and not just because I got a blog subject out of it.

The devil, of course, is in the details. It is all well and good for me to talk about how much better consensus decisions are, but if families don’t understand what is really involved in achieving them, how much good will come of it?

Interstingly, most of the conclusions I will now present are ones that re-occur frequently in my blogs and my discussions with families.

Here goes:

Simple vs Easy

Consensus is simple to explain, especially with my “revelation” that getting people’s consent is how it works. But simple does not equal easy, as in “easy to do”.

 

Happens by Itself, NOT

My oft-repeated “things don’t just happen by themselves” applies here too. It may be easy to get everyone to consent to the idea of making decisions by consensus, but that will often be the last decision on which consensus comes quickly.

 

Communication

A common thread in families where things run smoothly is good, frequent, clear, open communication. Enduring consensus is nearly impossible without it.

 

It Takes Time

Everyone always seems to be in a hurry. But good, lasting decisions take time. Time to talk, time to think, time to listen, time to reconsider, time to caucus, time to research, time to sleep on it, time to invite outside opinions.

The decisions that last generations are the ones that all stakeholders have consented to.

We will look into some of the details in Part II next week.

 

 

Creating Pathways for families

Sweet Secluded Rendez-Vous

rendezvous2016_archive

As I hinted last week, I will attempt to review my experience at my third trip to Rendez-Vous, the annual get together of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

A couple of months back when I attended the annual CAFÉ Symposium, I recapped my trip with a “Top 10 List” of the event. For Rendez-Vous, I’ve decided on 2 “Top 5 Lists”.

The Top 5 of the sessions I attended, will be followed by a Top 5 of the best things about attending Rendez-Vous, from my own biased perspective, of course.

 

Top 5 Sessions 

 

  1. Collaboration Day

Rendez-Vous (R-V) officially got under way on Wednesday evening, but this year there was something new in the mix, and many attendees took advantage of it.

Preceding the usual R-V was another conference called Fusion Collaboration (FC), aimed at introducing more technical practitioners (lawyers and CPA’s) into the purposeful work that attracts others to R-V.

The final day of FC was dubbed “Collaboration Day”, and through keynotes, break-outs and an interactive video case with roundtable discussions, lots of valuable lessons were learned on just what it takes for various professionals to work together on solving real family issues for clients.

 

  1. Helping or Hurting

Karen Laprade and Kyle Harrison’s breakout session once again did not disappoint, evident by the fact that they ran over time yet not a single person noticed or even looked at the door.

The real life case stories they shared, and the input that they asked for and got from everyone was just the type of interaction and collaboration that you really only get at Rendez-Vous.

 

  1. FRED Talks

A take-off on “TED Talks”, a series of five tight 18-minute talks from a variety of experts shed light on everyting from addiction to widows finding love again, to ways that Millenials are changing how families communicate.

 

  1. Jaffe & Grubman on Cultural Differences

Dennis and Jim presented work on the three dominant cultural styles around the world, and talked about how global families have to deal with new realities arising from differences in how things play out in a home culture when the rising generation is exposed to other cultures through education and marriage.

 

  1. Gratitude

The opening keynote on Thursday by Robert Emmons was about how gratitude is so important to success and happiness, yet it costs nothing. In fact, the more you give, the more you usually get back.

And he wasn’t just making stuff up, he has a PhD in this, and shared ways to demonstrate and share our gratitude, and hopefully make that a lifelong habit.

 

 

Top 5 Reasons to Attend

 

  1. Welcoming Vibe

From the first time I attended Rendez-Vous, the vibe was what hit me. This is not a conference where experts with big egos pontificate to the wannabes, it is the opposite of that.

Every single attendee and presenter has always been more than open to talk about the issues that we all face in helping families achieve better results with their planning.

 

  1. Community

As this was my third year in a row attending, I am now at the point where I truly see and feel the community aspect of PPI, which dovetails with the welcoming vibe.

Everyone seems to share my feeling that we need to spread the message to the masses, and nobody is trying to “corner the market” because there will be plenty of work for all of us when a majority of families recognize the importance of this work.

 

  1. Dutch Treat

Small groups of attendees go to a restaurant and chat about whatever they want, and really get to know each other. This adds so much to the camaraderie of the event.

 

  1. Collaboration Unifies everything

It becomes clear that PPI is all about getting professionals from various fields to collaborate in service of their family clients.

 

  1. Jay Hughes

How could I not mention Jay Hughes? PPI’s first Laureate, and most deservedly so, Jay was present throughout, and I have rarely met a kinder, more humble man.

Thanks to Jay and John A. Warnick, PPI continues to spread its influence and grow. See you at Rendez-Vous 2017. Get off the fence, be there.

 

Facts versus Opinions and Assumptions

Hand holding a Facts 3D Sphere sign on white background.

Opinions disguised as Facts

This week I was participating in a monthly online group meeting with colleagues who are all Bowen Family Systems Theory enthusiasts, and one of them made a statement that immediately struck me as “blog-worthy”.

She was talking about her family of origin (the one in which she grew up) and when referencing her father, she attributed the description “someone who stated a lot of opinions as though they were facts”. Wow, I thought, that sounds like my Dad!

This got me thinking about the characteristics that helped my father become successful, which included his “don’t take no for an answer” approach to life, his self-confidence, and his ability to size up a situation quickly and develop a plan of action.

When I think of what helped make him a great businessman, these are some of the attributes that made him who he was. Even though I am certain about them, that doesn’t mean that my assertions qualify as “facts”. They are, quite simply, my opinion.

I am less prone to act quickly, preferring to observe matters, take in various details of what I see and hear, and then take my time before deciding if any action is warranted. Perhaps it’s just my nature, or maybe part of it comes from the fact that I usually feel like I have the luxury of time to think.

Looking back at my Dad and his own upbringing and the circumstances under which he built his business, for the first 50-some years of his life, I doubt that he ever felt like he could afford to think about taking his time.

 

Important succession character traits

When business families start to look at the questions surrounding succession of their business and who should be involved, the ways that the different generations consider these issues start to come into play.

An entrepreneurial business founder who started a company, and against all odds built it into a sizeable organization, will likely have many of the traits that my father had, including an action-orientation that leaves little time to consider various opinions about important matters.

The character traits that will help ensure that the company and the family will continue to prosper into the next generation, however, are likely to be quite different.

If the number of people involved increases from one generation to the next, as it often does, then the ability to consider the opinions of all stakeholders will likely become a factor going forward.

Sometimes the hard-charging founder will have a child who is literally a “chip-off-the-old-block”, and they will usually be seen as the “heir apparent” early on, with the thinking that what was important for the business in one generation would continue to be key in the next.

The problems with that line of thinking include:

  • The skill sets involved in growing a business from the ground up, versus those of maintaining it, are sometimes quite different;
  • Technology changes over a few decades can be considerable;
  • The main group of concern may no longer be the company, but may well have shifted to the family.

 

Expert Opinions are still Opinions

There is no simple answer to these questions of course, but as an advisor to families who are faced with business and wealth transition situations, I can affirm that the most successful plans come after consultation with the stakeholders.

The leading generation often seeks the input of trusted advisors, all expert in their particular domain, like legal, tax, or accounting. These experts are also prone to offer up their opinions cleverly disguised as facts, which makes them seem incontrovertable.

When a family gets the experts involved before including the family, a plan is usually presented to the family after it has been made, as a “fait accompli” (note that “fait” is French for “fact”).

The opinions of those for whom the plan was made, usually the children, will not have been considered (at least not their true opinions). More likely the parents will have made assumptions about what was best for them, without asking.

When you look at how often “assumptions” and “opinions” get treated as “facts”, you can understand why so many family business transitions fail.

Stick to the facts.

Parenting & Family Business Leadership

Many people throughout history have worn both the “family-business-leader” hat and the “parent” hat simultaneously.

A certain percentage of them have excelled in both roles, some have been much better at one than the other, and still others never really mastered either.

Of course there are plenty of areas where the things one does in one area will undoubtedly have an effect on the other, because it is virtually impossible to separate the roles completely.

And just as I noted above, where some people excel at both, others at neither, and many at one at the expense of the other, the same can be said about certain actions that one takes while playing these roles.

There are many trade-offs where it seems clear that working late and missing your kid’s soccer game is a plus for the business and a minus for the family, or the reverse is true if you leave early to make it to the game but don’t finish that important order.

I like to think that the best thing that I can do as a family business advisor is to point out the situations that are in fact a lose/lose, and help families avoid them, and also point out the possible win/win situations, and help families exploit those.

It sounds simple when put that way, but simple and easy are NOT synonyms.

Interestingly, the two examples of the lose/lose variety that arise most often are opposite sides of the same coin, and they have to do with how we treat our kids and value their input.

On the one hand, there are lots of examples of parents who spoil their children with easy, high-paying jobs, with low expectations of performance. This is not great business leadership, nor is it great parenting.

The other side of that coin also occurs rather frequently, and it looks like this: The kids work really hard, are underpaid, are ready to take over the business, but they are never given the reins, because the parents are not ready to let go. Once again, the business suffers, and so does the family.

It all comes down to finding the correct balance, just like Goldilocks. We don’t want the porridge that is too hot because it will burn our tongue, and the cold porridge is just, well, yucky.

So what is the secret to finding that balance? Part of it is simply recognizing that you are playing both the role of the parent and of the family business leader. But that clearly isn’t enough, because as we just saw, you can actually screw up on both simultaneously.

Besides recognizing that you are playing two roles, it is important to think about your perspective, and to compare and contrast that perspective in two major ways.

First, look at the way you are acting in the two roles from a TIME perspective, and think back to when you were the age that your children are at now, and how you were treated and would have wanted to be treated.

Then look ahead to when your children will be at the age you are at now, and consider your relationship with your parents. If that is too extreme, think back ten years, and then ten years ahead.

After doing the time perspective exercise, simply take a moment to reflect on how you see things, and imagine how the other family members see things from their point of view, today. I will guarantee that if you ask them if they see things the same way that you do, you will be in for at least one or two surprises.

The key word in that last sentence is “if”, as in “if you ask them”. In my experience, few family business leaders will actually take the time to ask their children how they see things.

Yes, I know that you are the one running the show, and all your hard work is what got you here. Congratulations.

But do you have the courage to ask your children how they see things? You may be surprised with what you learn.

 

Life Is Finite. Deal with It.

Sometimes a provocative title just feels right. This one came to me last week, upon learning of the death of a one-time friend of who passed away a few weeks ago.

This brought to two the number of friends in their early 50’s that I lost in 2015, and I was a bit shook up by the news. Both were men for whom I had a great deal of respect and admiration, and both left a few teenagers fatherless.

As a father of two teens, in my early fifties, I feel like there is something here for me to think about, write about, and do something about. I have already started the thinking, and I am currently doing the writing, soon will come the time to start doing the doing.

I know that few people like to be told what to do, so I long ago tried to abandon that method of persuasion. And while I appreciate the importance of thinking, contemplating, and planning, that will only take you so far. The results anyone gets in life usually come back to the ACTIONS that they have taken.

In December of each year, my executive coach, Melissa, encourages her clients to think of one word that they will use to guide them for the next year, kind of like a theme to pursue. Last week I emailed her to tell her that my word for 2016 will be ACTION.

Please notice that I did not title this blog post “Life is finite, think about it”, or “Life is finite, write about it”. I specifically chose the expression “Deal with it”, for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that it is meant to be provocative, and be noticed. But more than that, I hope that people will take the actions required to properly deal with the reality that everyone’s days on earth are numbered.

“Deal with it” has become almost a throw-away line, akin to “get over it”, and there is also that element that I am going for. But I am also hoping that the action of dealing with it will begin to happen, at least for some of my readership.

Since last summer, Tom, my long time friend and the brother I never had, who also plays the role of non-family member of our family council, has been pestering me about updating my will. Initially, it was, “yes, after the summer, when the kids are back in school.” He continues to pester me, but that is on me, not him.

They say that leaders go first, so I am hereby committing to undertaking my personal will review and updating in 2016-Q1, and until such time as I have completed it, I shall not push others to do so. I do promise to write again about the experience, in ways that can hopefully again encourage others to follow suit.

In the meantime, if you have not yet picked up and read “Willing Wisdom”, by my friend Tom Deans, that is as good a place to begin as any. Deans believes, as I do, that not only should your will be up-to-date, but that its contents should be shared with the family.

Sometimes people refer to themselves as “thought leaders” (kinda makes me laugh sometimes), so I will try to be an “action leader” on this.

Let me leave you with one major thought: Talking about sex never got anyone pregnant, and talking about money never made anybody rich (or poor, for that matter). So can we please stop acting like talking about death will kill you?

Ideally, after you die, your family will be sad and they will miss you. The grief should be plenty for them to deal with. Please take the time to make sure that everything else is in order, and spare them having to also deal with a big mess that you could have (and should have) taken care of in advance.

If you are fortunate enough to be part of a family that owns a business or has significant wealth, then this is even more important.

Now is the time to Deal With It.

 

Procrastinating or Preparing?

Procrastinating or Preparing?

Most weeks I write my blog post on Saturday, and sometimes even on Friday. I am just starting to write this post on Sunday, and the late NFL games are already on, so I am clearly behind schedule.

The title of this piece is “borrowed” from the name of a report that EY (Ernst & Young) just published, but I changed the order of the words.

It would be nice if I could honestly say that I put off writing this in order to really “feel” the procrastinating part, but that would be disingenuous on my part. I just plain did not feel inspired, and I had other things to take care of. I even went and visited my mother.

Why is it always so easy to put off doing important things? Well lots of times it’s because we are too busy doing things that seem more urgent. It really is an easy trap to fall into.

Hey, my Mom’s computer mouse died, and I am kind of her go-to tech guy, and she deserves to be able to use her computer whenever she wants to, so I had to go and install a new mouse for her, like, today.

Back to the EY report, which is called “Preparing or Procrastinating” and which is all about “How the world’s largest family businesses undertake successful successions”, as the secondary title says.

They surveyed over 500 of the largest family businesses in a total of over 20 countries and asked them how they handle the important task of succession. They worked with researchers from Kennesaw State University, who have a strong reputation in Family Business.

From their survey results, they have compiled a number of separate reports, and they are all available on their website. They have really been doing a nice job in this space with great content lately. I guess that with over 200,000 employees worldwide, it should not be unexpected that they put out high quality stuff.

This report talks about some of the things that successful families are doing to make sure that the generational transfer of the business is done well.

They list four main things that their survey respondents had in common, the assumption being that if these big family businesses did these things, and succeeded in becoming big businesses, then a lot of smaller family companies could benefit from following in their footsteps and emulating them.

I won’t get into all four of their points, but want to highlight the first one: Clearly define who is responsible for succession.

This is my favourite because it is not that obvious. If you don’t think that succession is YOUR responsibility, then you really aren’t procrastinating, you’re just being ignorant or oblivious.

But succession doesn’t just happen by itself, and it is not an event, it is a process. And ideally a long process. And someone needs to make sure that the proper preparation takes place.

It turns out that Board of Directors, at 44%, came out on top in the survey, as far as succession responsibility is concerned. This was followed by “owners/family council” at 23%, and the CEO at 22%. “Other” was at 11%.

Now I know that just about every family business, no matter how big or small, has a CEO, even if they don’t use that title. But how many have a board of directors, or a family council? A lot fewer.

Preparing for succession, which I actually prefer to call “Continuity Planning”, is important, and it takes time. The longer you wait to start, the harder it is to pull off properly.

If you don’t have a board or a family council, and you are the majority owner, the person responsible for succession is probably the person you see in the mirror.

Oh, and you may be overdue to at least call your mother.

Click here for EY’s Preparing or Procrastinating

Évolution ou Révolution? À vous de choisir…

Évolution ou Révolution? À vous de choisir…

Étant né dans une famille entrepreneuriale, j’ai toujours eu un intérêt à suivre leurs différentes façons de faire. On peut y voir de très beaux exemples de pratiques qu’on voudrait utiliser comme modèle, et d’autres qu’on voudrait éviter à tout prix.

J’aimerais partager une façon de penser à ce sujet qui m’est venue à l’esprit dernièrement.

Dans n’importe quelle famille, au cours des années et des décennies, il existe une certaine évolution naturelle. On est né, nos parents prennent soin de nous, et éventuellement, nous avons nos propres enfants, et nous prenons soin d’eux.

En même temps, nos parents vieillissent, et ils bénéficient du fait qu’ils ont eu des enfants, qui deviennent une ressource pour eux, quand ils ont besoin d’aide. Les enfants finissent par prendre soin des parents.

J’espère que mes enfants seront là, disponibles et motivés pour me venir en aide quand j’en aurai le besoin.

On pourrait décrire cette situation comme une évolution. Les membres de la famille passent chacun par toutes les phases de la vie, de façon assez prévisible, dans la majorité des cas.

Mais là, arrêtons de parler de familles en général, et concentrons-nous sur les familles entrepreneuriales. Il y a beaucoup de différences entre ces familles et des familles dites “normales”, mais nous allons viser une caractéristique en particulier.

Je ne présume pas que toutes les familles qui sont menées par un entrepreneur qui a eu beaucoup de succès sont pareilles, puisqu’il existe beaucoup d’exceptions à la règle.

Mais trop souvent, les entrepreneurs qui ont bâti leur entreprise, et ainsi leur fortune, ont beaucoup de difficultés à laisser leur place à ceux qui suivent.

Ce n’est quand même pas trop surprenant. Ils ont réussi leur vie en se battant à tous les jours, très souvent face à du monde qui les doutait, et qui leur disait qu’ils ne réussiront pas. Malgré ces obstacles, ils ont quand même survécu, et même triomphé!

Éventuellement ils atteignent l’âge de 65, 70, 75, 80, et tout le monde se met à les questionner sur leur avenir, sans vraiment cacher leurs opinions, qui penchent sur l’idée de ralentir, passer le flambeau, jouer au golf, et voyager.

Ces gens ont passé leur vie à contredire ceux qui les questionnaient, pourquoi changeraient-ils maintenant?

Le plus gros problème revient au sujet que nous discutions tantôt, l’évolution. Nous avons constaté que l’évolution était plutôt naturelle.

Mais quand on essaye trop fort de combattre l’évolution naturelle, il y a quelque chose d’autre qui arrive. J’appelle ça la Révolution.

Pendant que l’entrepreneur atteint 65, 70, 75, etc., qu’est-ce qui se passe avec ses enfants? Ils arrivent à 35, 40, 45, 50, etc., mais la place qu’ils s’attendaient à prendre n’est toujours pas libérée. Au début, ils patientent, pensant que le “jour J” arrivera sans doute bientôt.

Malheureusement pour eux, ils risquent d’attendre beaucoup plus longtemps qu’ils le souhaitaient, ce qui sème les graines de la révolution.

Il n’y a pas de solution miracle à ce phénomène, mais j’aimerais vous donner un peu d’espoir.

D’abord sachez que dans la grande majorité des familles, les parents décèdent avant leurs enfants, donc la nature est toujours de votre bord, si vous êtes parmi ceux et celles qui commencent à manquer de patience.

Mais sans farce, j’ai quelques conseils qui vous seront peut-être utiles.

D’habitude, la confrontation ne fonctionne pas très bien, mais le silence non plus. Des conversations, ouvertes, honnêtes, et qui mettent les cartes sur la table, sont de rigueur. Mais quand on pousse trop fort, trop vite, on risque de provoquer de la résistance.

Le respect et la patience sont aussi importants. Certains disent que ceux qui ne veulent pas partir ont peur de perdre leur identité et leur raison d’être. Aidez-leur à surmonter ces défis, réconfortez-les de toutes les manières possibles, mais soyez prêt à recevoir des objections tout au long du trajet.

Ces options sont préférables à la révolution, mais parfois la menace d’une révolution est quand même nécessaire. Mais avant d’y arriver, pensez peut-être à rentrer une personne externe, pour faciliter les discussions. Vous en connaissez sûrement au moins une.

 

Sibling Rivalry

Getting Brothers on the Same Page

Getting Brothers on the Same Page

This week, I was approached by a colleague about a pair of brothers, who are operating a business together, who are approaching a crossroads. My colleague asked me for some input on what kinds of issues they would be facing, and how he might offer to assist them.

(This made me flash back to a blog from April 2014, about another pair of brothers who worked together).

He didn’t give me too much to go on, and I’m not even sure how much information he had himself, so I will have to fill in some of the blanks with my own assumptions. This is fine because anything I offer here cannot be prescriptive, nor should it be overly directed to the specific facts of their case.

So here is a scenario, including my assumed facts:

Two brothers, in their late 50’s, co-own their company, which they have grown over the past 30 years or so. Both have children, but they are too young to take over right now. “Frank” has a vision of somehow keeping the business in the family, while “Sam” just wants to sell.

As usual, I have many more questions to ask before being able to supply any useful answers. Here are a few that come to mind immediately:

Are these paths mutually exclusive?

Not necessarily. If Frank has an interest in staying on and eventually bringing his kids into the business, there are certainly ways that this can be done. If Sam wants out, they would need to come to a negotiated agreement on the sale price, including the terms and conditions, which would allow Frank to buy his brother out.

Frank would need to be sure that the leadership and management roles that Sam had assumed would be covered off by someone, and they would need to come up with a financing arrangement that would allow Frank to purchase Sam’s shares over time so as not to put the company at risk.

–  Can the business be run by a non-family member?

If Frank is not the type to run the business by himself and if it will be a number of years before his kids would be ready to assume key roles, the option of hiring professional outside management can also be an interesting idea.

Not all family businesses pass directly from parent to child; often some trusted managers assume top roles for a number of years while the next generation completes their years of preparation to take over the top job.

–  Has an outside buyer been identified?

If an outside purchaser has been identified, a sale of the business, whereby both brothers actually cash out, could be a blessing in disguise. Sam can close the book and move on, and Frank would be free to do as he saw fit with his proceeds.

–  Could Frank help his kid(s) run another business?

Some parents love running a business and long for a relationship with their children in which they can pass on that love to their offspring. But many times the particular business of the parents is not in a field that captures the imagination of their kids.

How about taking the proceeds and finding a business opportunity in a field that the children are attracted to, and helping them start their own business in that area?

–  Where should the brothers begin?

Ideally, Frank and Sam can discuss all of these options before going too far down the road with any particular option.

–  Beware the advisor who only carries a hammer!

Too often, guys like Frank and Sam are not sure where to turn, and they take the first piece of advice that comes their way if it sounds plausible. Remember the saying about a man who only has a hammer, who looks at everything as if it is a nail?

Business advisors, most of whom specialize in one particular area, are also prone to this type of reflexive advice. For big decisions like these, taking the time to look at ALL of the options makes the most sense.

 

“WHEN” you Sell your Business (not “IF”)

If you own a business, you may not ever think about selling it. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t. Sell it, I mean, not just think about selling it.

You may change your mind one day, and after looking at various options, decide to sell it. That actually happens more often than many people would imagine.

There is a whole other way of looking at this question, and I think it makes a lot of sense, and it also helps get a number of important discussions under way.

My colleague Grant Robinson, founder of the SuccessCare group that is now part of BDO, likes to put it quite forcefully, and he says it like this: “One Day you WILL sell”.

Let me say it a bit more crudely. When you are dead, you cannot own your business anymore. (It must be a law or something!)

Whether you like it or not, and even whether you know it or not, it is true. When you die, you actually “sell” everything you own, including that business you worked so many decades building.

If we know that we will sell one day, and we have no choice in the matter, well, why should we care? If we have NO choice, why bother worrying about it then?

Well, you may not have a choice over the question of “whether or not” you sell, but you sure have plenty of choices as to the HOW, the WHEN, the “to WHOM”, and especially the terms and conditions. “The terms and conditions are the most important part of any deal”, my Dad always said. (Yes, I was paying attention).

You can act like you will own your business “forever”, and as far as you are concerned “forever” and “until I die” may be synonymous. But aren’t the cemetaries full of people who thought the world would stop turning after they stopped breathing?

I trust that my point about not being able to own a business forever has been made. I hope you also noted the part about “the business you worked so many decades building”.

If you have children, you also likely spent many decades helping them “build” their lives. They are likely also the key people who will control your legacy after you are gone.

You have the option of continuing to work in your business, for the long term, as if you will own it forever. That is your right, and you would not be the first (or the last) person to go about your life and your business this way. For many, it is the only thing that they know how to do.

I would offer you another perspective. At some point, it usually makes sense to stop working IN your business, and start working ON your business. I am not claiming any original thought in this concept, books have been written about this.

At the same time, you may love the fact that you have built a great family business. Family businesses can be wonderful, and very often they are.

But have you ever looked at it from the perspective of the family, instead of always concentrating on the business? Do you realize the difference between a family business (where the noun is “business”) and a business family (where the noun is “family”)?

The subtitle (or secondary title) of my book, SHIFT your Family Business, is “Stop working IN your family business, Start working ON your business family”. The book came out in July 2014, and I have since looked for other ways to get the message across, but I think that it still resonates well.

If you stay the course, work on making the pie as big as possible, and get carried off to the morgue with your boots on, you will SELL your business on terms dictated by others, and it will be too late for you to have a say on any of the important Terms and Conditions.

There is a better way. You know there is. But only you can make that call.

 

OSFM: One Size Fits Most

During one of my too-frequent hotel stays this summer, I noticed a bathrobe hanging in the closet of my room, and there was something about it that struck me. There was a tag sewn into it, with the letters “OSFM”.

This set my “blog antenna” into action, as usual, as I wondered at first what those letters stood for, and then after my “A-Ha” moment when it dawned on me, the antenna kept vibrating until I had come up with a way to tie this into my work with business families.

As the title of this post has already given away, OSFM stands for One Size Fits Most. True enough, for most people, the robe in the closet would fit. For those who know me, you have already figured out that I am one of the exceptions. So be it.

There was probably a time in decades past when the more all-encompassing term “One-Size-Fits-All” would have been used, but either through a realisation or some sort of legal threats, the robe makers re-stated the case to “most”, which is surely more accurate.

So what does this have to do with family business?

All business families rely on outside advice from professionals of one kind or another, even though most really do not enjoy the process. They will usually try to limit these occasions as much as possible, wanting to minimize costs and what they often perceive as non-family people trying to influence things that are too close to home, and none of their business.

But here is where the downside of this comes in. Because of this reluctance to allow outsiders to truly get to know and really help their family, what ends up happening far too frequently, is that these advisors will “recycle” solutions that they have used for other families.

The family ends up with a solution that probably does fit MOST families. But it will not always fit THEIR family.

The advisors themselves can be part of the problem as well, if they do not know how to ask the right questions of the family leaders, or if their accounting or legal practice is set up in a way where cranking through a file as quickly possible so you can get to the next one and send out another invoice is part of the culture.

Inter-generational transitions are complex, and few professionals understand all the pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together.

When the lawyer works on his part, the accountant on hers, the wealth managers on theirs, and the tax specialist on hers, the client will often end up with what they believe to be a great plan.

The problem is that they can live with that feeling for many years before anyone learns the truth and that the pieces did not fit together very well at all. Not only will the one size not fit the family, it would not fit ANY family. Unless that family wanted a robe with different sleeve lengths, a non-matching belt, and polka dot elbow patches.

The complex planning that goes into the business or wealth transition from one generation of a family to the next MUST be a coordinated activity.

There is more and more recognition of the need for one of the advisors to have the “inter-disciplinary fluency” (term coined by Dean Fowler, I believe) to coordinate the process among the professionals.

“One size fits most” might be good enough for a lot of families, but I don’t think you truly believe that it is the best that you can do for YOUR family.

No professional will be able to truly be of service if you don’t both take the time required to work through a proper plan from A to Z.

And if you end up hiring someone who doesn’t fit into the hotel’s bathrobe, that’s OK too.