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You Look Concerned. Or Are You Just Confused?

Family Business meeting where there is confusion between members

You Look Concerned. Or Are You Just Confused?

This week I want to look at the question of clarity.

My premise is that when you can see things clearly, there are plenty of potential benefits, so taking the time to make sure that you are truly seeing things clearly is usually well worth it.

Family businesses are full of ambiguous situations that can often exist for years or even decades. Many roles and responsibilities are poorly defined, but somehow, sometimes almost miraculously, things still manage to get done.

Family businesses are notoriously resilient.

 

Communication Breakdown

One of the major challenges that most business families face is clear communication. It has always been that way, and probably always will be.

Of course each person has their own communication style, and some are simply better at it than others.

When I work with a family, I’ll often spend more time at the outset just working with them to make sure that they all really understand each other than on anything else.

I also believe that just about anyone can improve their communication abilities, if they want to. Part of my job is usually to make them understand why it’s worth their effort to do so.

 

It Starts at the Top – But…

We’ve all heard that everything important starts at the top. I agree with that, in general, but that doesn’t mean that if you aren’t the one at the top, there’s nothing you can do.

Communication is a two-way street. To me, that means that the “sender” and the “receiver” of any communication have a responsibility to make sure that the message was understood.

One of my favourite expressions is this one, is attributed to George Bernard Shaw:

“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

 

Allow Me to Clarify

Now, in the interest of being “ultra” clear, I will try to make sure that everyone reading this understands what this means.

The biggest problem with communication is that very often the person who has spoken or written something truly believes that the person to whom they were speaking or writing actually received and understood the message as it was intended.

Unfortunately, far too often, in reality, the person either did not receive the message, or they got it, but didn’t understand it.

I personally drive my family members crazy sometimes with my obsession to handle my end of any communication. “Did you hear me? Could you please acknowledge that you understood?”

 

Getting Back to Confused Versus Concerned

The idea for this blog came from seeing someone’s face and trying to evaluate what was going on in their mind. I do this a lot, and you probably do too, even if it is only done subconsciously.

The particular situation isn’t important (and, truth be told, I don’t even recall what sparked it) but it struck me that sometimes people appear concerned about a situation, but if only they were less confused, they would end up less concerned.

 

Clear Up the Confusion

My “prescription” for many families is pretty much the same.

Clear up the confusion, the ambiguity, the “fog” and the uncertainty, and everyone will have less things about which to be “concerned”.

This is why families so often feel “stuck” in a situation and then due to inertia, they remain there.

It is usually only when something changes that they get propelled into action.

 

Shine a Light

Quite often what the family really needs is an additional perspective on things. Each person in the family is naturally preoccupied with their own situation, which they typically only see from their own viewpoint.

When they bring in a person from the outside, who can then shine the flashlight onto some of the areas of confusion and ambiguity, things get a bit more clear.

 

Shared Viewpoints

If the person with the flashlight is also skilled at facilitating a conversation around ways to determine a collective shared viewpoint that everyone can buy into, then they can really start to make progress.

The word “consternation” came up when I was thinking through this “confused vs concerned” idea. I wondered why the word “consterned” doesn’t exist. Maybe I just invented it.

So, if you are consterned with things going on in your family business, I suggest that you work on ways to clarify things first.

When things are clearer, you’ll have fewer things to be concerned about.

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Combining Strategy and Structure for Families

Different shapes and forms of tents

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.

 

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Ownership: The Forgotten Circle of Family Business

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

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A Pitcher, a Golfer, and a Baby Bird

Baby bird

A Pitcher, a Golfer, and a Baby Bird

Whenever I hear a really good analogy, something in my brain gets triggered, and I want to find ways to remember it, perfect it, and share it.

When people ask me how I come up with blog ideas every week (for over 250 weeks now, and counting) I usually note that the difficult part isn’t in having enough ideas, it’s having too many.

So when I hear the same analogy coming from two completely different areas, I take notice, and I try to find ways to combine them into one blog.

 

The Pitcher

Last week I was watching a Cubs game on TV, and Jake Arrieta was on the mound. The colour commentator was John Smoltz, a former pitcher himself, and a Hall of Famer too.

He was talking about issues Arrieta had been having with control, and Smoltz mentioned that he was working on finding the right grip on the ball in his hand as he threw his pitches.

“You’ve got to think of the baseball as if it’s a baby bird”, he said (I’m paraphrasing here) “You don’t want it to fly away, but you don’t want to squash it either”.

This sounded very familiar to me.

 

The Golfer

Years ago, when I still played golf (or rather “tried” to play golf) I was having issues with a really bad slice.

A slice is when you aim the ball at the green, and you hit it and for the first second that you watch it, you’re really happy, but then the ball just decides to take a right turn, often into the woods.

I don’t recall exactly where the advice I heard came from, but I absolutely remember reading or hearing the story about the bird.

“Think of the golf club like a baby bird, you don’t want it to fly away, but you don’t want to squash it to death either”.

 

Business Family > Family Business

So what the heck does all of this baby bird stuff have to do with family business? I’m glad you asked.

When people think about family business, they usually think about the business part of it. In the term “family business”, the word “business” is the noun.

My preference is to talk about the “business family”, where the word “family” is the noun.

I think I’ve been pretty consistent with this, as even the secondary title of my 2014 book, SHIFT your Family Business, is “Stop working on your Family Business, Start working on your Business Family”.

 

Parenting

When I meet with members of a business family, it usually doesn’t take very long for issues to come up that have a lot more to do with “parenting” than they do with “business”.

And it’s the parenting part that brings us back to the baby bird analogy. As a parent myself, I too have struggled with the temptation to grip the bird too hard.

As a former child, I can tell you that at times I felt like I was a little too “directed” in my life. Being “directed” is a close cousin of being “squashed”.

 

If you love someone…

It saddens me when I meet people in their 40’s or 50’s who work in their family business, and it becomes clear after a short time with them that they’re not really there because they want to be.

If they could hit the “rewind button”, they would have made different choices. Unfortunately, there is no “rewind button”.

These issues almost always stem from the baby bird being gripped too tightly.

Instead of just throwing more balls than strikes, or too many lost golf balls, the consequences are much worse.

 

Go Fly Now

When the baby bird is held in your hands for too long, it will never learn to fly on it’s own.

Even worse, when the time comes that the bird HAS TO fly, and it can’t, because it never got the opportunity to learn to fly on it’s own, parents will often criticize them for not having what it takes.

 

Too Loose > Too Tight

While you may think that it’s simply a matter of finding the right balance between gripping too loosely and gripping too tightly, that may be true for the golfer and the pitcher.

For the parent, gripping too tightly causes far more problems.

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Happy to Be Wrong on FEX

Happy to Be Wrong on FEX

Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in the inaugural FEX Symposium in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It was the first national event of Family Enterprise Xchange, the successor organisation of both CAFÉ (Canadian Association of Family Enterprise) and IFEA (Institute of Family Enterprise Advisors).

The launch of FEX over the past several months has not been without its share of bumps in the road, as one might expect when combining groups with different histories, cultures, headquarter cities, boards and staff.

CAFÉ had been around for over 30 years and primarily served business families from its HQ near Toronto, while IFEA was still in its first decade, serving those who advise business families, out of Vancouver.

One Big Tent

The idea to take these two groups and put them together under one big tent was already pretty ambitious, but there were also a dozen or so local chapters that needed to be dissolved and centralized.

From the time it was announced in 2016, I liked it, “in theory”, yet I was sceptical about how it would play out “in practice”.

There were more times when I feared the worst. As we wrapped up the final session, I happily admitted that I was wrong.

 

Plays Well with Others

Back in the early days of CAFÉ (the 1980’s), my Dad had joined and really got a lot out of the organisation, especially his PAG (Personal Advisory Group), so I had my own historical connection there.

Now, as one of over 250 “FEA” designates who did the FEA program and passed their rigourous written and oral exams over the past few years, I have an even more personal connection.

I’m also well aware of the fact that some families aren’t really comfortable surrounded by so many advisors, feeling a bit like chickens mixing with foxes.

As an advisor who came from the other side, I feel like I “get it”, and know how to behave less like a fox. I had less confidence in my fellow advisors, however.

 

Fearing the Worst

I was worried that some advisors would not appreciate the families’ discomfort with having so many of us around, and that they might behave in ways that justified the families’ reluctance to attend.

Once again, I am happy to admit that I was wrong.

As it turned out, there was a critical mass of advisors, such that we mostly stuck together, with many friendly groups from the same class cohorts spending lots of time together.

 

Stronger Together

The families who attend FEX are there to learn, and the advisors who have done the FEA program have demonstrated that they too are aware of how important it is for them to learn and stay abreast of leading edge thinking in the field of family enterprise.

In the early days of writing this blog, my marketing people would ask me if I wrote these blogs for families or for their advisors.

My answer was always a sheepish “Yes (?!?)”

I write for the families looking for guidance AND for the advisors who are trying to provide the best guidance they can for those families.

It isn’t “either/or”, it’s “and/both”.

I also write for me, to force myself to clarify my own thinking.

Yes, some of my posts are more slanted to advisors and some are more directed at families, but how different are the messages? Not that much.

And so it is with FEX. There are families and advisors, and all of us are trying to do better and help each other do better.

 

Great Start, More to Come

The Halifax event was a great start, and I know that the FEX team is well aware that much work remains to be done.

They have planned the 2018 Symposium for late September, in Niagara on the Lake, so they will benefit from:

  • A few extra months to prepare
  • A time of year with less conflicts for many
  • A more central location
  • A very successful kickoff event in Halifax in 2017

Congrats to all involved in making it a success. It was an awesome event. I really did not expect it to be, and I am so glad to admit that I was wrong.

(It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.)

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5 Things you Need to Know: Family Meetings

family owned business challenges

This week we are back to the “5 Things you Need to Know” format, and our subject comes via an emailed question.

An overseas colleague and fellow Family Firm Institute member recently asked me for my thoughts around family meetings.

Rather that send her a lengthy reply, I told her I would write this blog in response, and I hope that many of you find it useful.

(Note: we are talking here about enterprising families having an occasional get-together with many family members, some of whom are involved in business matters, along with many who are not.)

 

  1. Involve Many People

The more people you can have involved in planning the meeting, the better. Input and ideas should be solicited from as many of the participants as possible beforehand, and it should never appear to be a one-person show.

Furthermore, on the “many people” front, the execution of the meeting(s) or day(s) should also feature as many different people in leadership roles as possilbe, and active involvement by everyone (as opposed to passive) is a must.

 

  1. Not Just Business

The business aspects of the meeting are naturally important, otherwise you likely wouldn’t go through the trouble of officially convening everyone in the first place. But please resist the temptation to make it “all business”.

If you want people to look forward to these events and attend them regularly (see No.3, below), they ought to have reasons to look forward to them.

A mix of business, fun as a large group, education, fun in smaller groups, downtime, physical activity, icebreakers, and just plain socializing are all worthwhile considerations for the schedule.

 

  1. Regular, Repeating Forum

An error that some families make is to try to have THE family meeting, once, to finally share a bunch of information that they have been keeping private for a long time. That is rarely the best course to pursue.

Rather, having regular meetings, on a repeating basis (annual, semi-annual, or other) is almost always a better idea. Those in attendance who are new to much of the content need time to absorb it, learn, and get up to speed before they can even conceive of the questions they’ll have.

The idea is to have a “forum”, or “an exchange of views” that brings out interaction and learning, which is better suited to a regular and repeating event, with an agenda that evolves over time.

 

  1. Past History and Future Outlook

Most family businesses considering holding this type of meeting have been around for a few decades.

So, sharing stories and facts about the history of the business, 10 and 20 and 30 years ago (or often much longer) can help give everyone in attendance a better appreciation of what came before, including major milestones, successes, and failures.

The trip through time should not necessarily end with today, though. Projecting another 10 or 20 years ahead, and getting various points of view on how family members see the business and their potential future involvement is also an opportunity that should not be missed.

 

  1. Process is More Important than Content

You may approach the idea of a family meeting as a chance to tell, teach, or share a number of important pieces of information with those members of the family who are less aware than others, in order to “level the playing field” and make everyone feel involved.

That is a noble idea, and at the same time, the temptation for too much content is always there. People who are thirsty for information are not always best served with a fire hose.

A habit of regular meetings, with the participation of many people, including interactivity, talking and listening, sharing of information to level of the information playing field, getting to know each other better, and of course having fun, are the ways to judge the success of family meetings.

The processes involved in all of this are what you need to get right, and the actual content is secondary.

When you get different people volunteering to serve on various committees to plan parts of the next meeting, you will know that you have launched a worthwhile venture that will stand the family in good stead for the long term.

Although you won’t likely get there quickly, slowly but surely it can be done. And you will all be glad you made the effort.

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Is Your Family “In Line”, or Aligned?

Father and Daughter playing

The subject of family alignment is near and dear to my heart, and it has been for a few years now, probably since I first heard it.

Family alignment can mean different things to different people, but in the arenas of family business, family legacy and family wealth, it seems to be more and more common, and recognized as increasingly important.

The first time I tackled this subject, last year, I didn’t just write a blog on it, I created an entire “white paper”. However, since I kind of despise that term, I called mine a “Quick Start Guide”. Link here: Family Alignment – What it IS, Why you NEED it, How to Build It.

Part of what prompted this blog now is my newfound interest in the subject of family governance.  Well, it’s not really a newfound interest in that subject, it’s more of a newfound appreciation for the word governance, especially as it applies to families.

Back in January, my blog, “Family Governance, Aaaah!” recounted how I had come to terms with my revulsion of the “G-word”, thanks to repeated exposure to it from more and more respected places.

Collaboration and Leadership

Around the same time, I read the book “The Collaborative Leader”, and another light went on.  In that book, authors McDermott and Hall talk about two words that seem to have a symbiotic relationship (my words, not theirs).

They explained that the words “collaborative” and “leader” are actually very difficult to separate, because one is almost always used to describe the other. There is almost an implied nature of each within the other, so to speak. (Again, my clumsy words, not theirs)

To collaborate requires leadership, and to lead requires collaboration.

Hmmm, interesting, I thought to myself.  I wonder if I can think of other pairs of words like that.

 

Alignment and Governance

So naturally, my thoughts lead me to alignment and governance, admittedly, two much less common words.

My thinking goes like this.  If you want to align your family, it needs to be governable, and if you want to govern your family, it needs to be aligned.

Now if you really want to pick holes in my arguments you certainly can, and maybe not just small holes, but bear with me here.  And let’s agree to take a 2017 perspective, not one from 1987 or 1957.

Just as the definitions of collaboration and leadership have evolved, so have those for alignment and governance.

 

Getting Everyone in Line

Decades ago, having everyone in your family “in line” had a different meaning, likely much more autocratic and “top down”. I think we can all agree that that horse has left the barn.

In the same way that leaders today need to be collaborative and collaboration needs leadership, today’s governance structures exist best in situations where there is alignment.

It seems like this would be true in any situation, not just in the areas of family governance and family alignment.

Where do you Start?

The good news with these pairs of words is that in order to get moving, you can start working on whichever one resonates more.  If you want to help someone with their ability to lead, but they don’t really see themselves as leaders, you can work on their collaboration.  And vice versa.

If you have an aversion to family governance, you can work on family alignment, and for those who think family alignment is too “touchy feely”, maybe you can convince them to work on family governance.

Are You Feeling Lucky?

If you’re lucky, your family (or the families that you work with) will automatically have leaders who love to collaborate and people who “get” governance and are easily aligned.

Most people aren’t that lucky. Most people need to work at these things.

My favourite expression in this regard is “Things don’t just happen by themselves”.

Some of the current buzzwords that I hear and like on this subject are the following:

  •  Deliberate
  •  Intentional
  •  Purposeful

Please recall that your legacy comes from both people and assets, and your wealth and legacy won’t preserve themselves.

Bottom Line: You can work on better alignment through governance, or better governance through alignment, but you need to work on them. Intentionally.

Is your Continuity Planning “PAL” in Danger?

Family Business Continuity advice

This past week on Tuesday, at Noon Eastern time, as I quite often do, I participated in the weekly teleconference of the Purposeful Planning Institute. https://purposefulplanninginstitute.com

I’ve been a member of PPI since 2014 and will be attending their annual Rendez-Vous in July in Denver for the fourth straight time. If I could only attend one event each year, this would easily be the one. http://purposefulplanninginstitute.com/rendezvous2017/

 

Planning Fatigue

This week’s call was about “planning fatigue” and dealt with ideas professional advisors could use to overcome situations in which client families don’t move forward on transition plans as expected, hoped, and required.

Because the entire process is long and complex, clients sometimes lose sight of why they are doing all this work and things can begin to slide, and sometimes never get completed as intended. This can be a huge issue, and PPI is the only organization I know of that actually talks openly about this kind of stuff.

Every Tuesday PPI holds a teleconference, with a host and an invited guest expert. This week’s featured Timothy J. Belber, PPI’s Dean of Fusion, with guest Kristin Keffeler. They’ve collaborated on client family files in the past, which was evident, as they gave plenty of real life examples of situations they faced together.

These PPI weekly calls are all recorded and archived, so even when members can’t make it live, we can always listen to the recording later.

 

Three Major Classes of Danger

While discussing the problems of not completing a family’s planning work, Belber mentioned the three major classes of dangers that exist when things are not carried out to the end.

“Hmmm”, my ears perked up, “I wonder what these three classes are!”

These three main danger areas, can actually serve as the three major headings that we should be thinking about at every step along the way: People, Assets, and Legacy.

 

Checklist?

I wrote them down, and immediately wondered if everything could all really be boiled down to those 3 simple elements. The fact that I am writing a blog about it should give you my answer.

In fact, as someone who thinks in lists of 3, I will now incorporate these into an easy-to-recall checklist, but not necessarily just while thinking of “dangers” per se, but as important elements to always keep in mind.

I expect them to become a good PAL of mine and I don’t like it when any PAL of mine is in danger.

 

People

This one should be front and center, but often isn’t. When we are working with a family to make decisions on “what to do” in an estate plan, tax plan, business plan, or more generally “continuity plan”, I always think about how every decision will affect the people.

(See: http://shiftyourfamilybusiness.com/2015/04/12/successful-planning-who-should-be-involved)

Many professionals in this space are specialists in protecting the assets, and they do a great job, but sometimes the people are given secondary consideration (if any).

It should go without saying that when those people for whom we are making the plan are adults, it is wise to seek their input at some point. This is heresy to some, I know, but it is 2017, not 1977.

 

Assets

This element usually doesn’t get forgotten, mostly because it is the domain of so many professionals in the family’s sphere.

I won’t give this one too much space, save to remind you of one of my favourite expressions on this point.

“We spend too much time and effort preparing the assets for the heirs, and not nearly enough on preparing the heirs for the assets.

 

Legacy

This one is a bit trickier because it’s less tangible, but Belber also mentioned his way of thinking about this too, and I want to share it here as well.

He noted that your legacy is what others think, feel, and say about you.

If we try to tie a Legacy to People and Assets, exactly HOW you leave those Assets to those People should be pretty important, shouldn’t it?

If you worry too much about either the Assets or the People, at the expense of the other, your Legacy will surely suffer.

 

Conclusion

Maybe it should be People + Assets = Legacy?

Either way, I have a new PAL. He can be yours too.

 

  

Liquidity Events in a FamBiz: Pros and Cons (Part 2)

Advantages and Dis-advantages of Liquidity Events

Part 2 of 2 – The Cons

 

Last week we looked at some of the positive aspects of a Family Business liquidity event, so now it’s time to look at the other side. Longtime readers may recall a 2014 blog, Solid Wealth Vs. Liquid Wealth, covering some of this territory.

Today we’ll look at career questions, owners who suddenly “expect” to get “their share”, the leaky bucket syndrome, and family alignment.

 

Career Questions

When a family owns a business, many family members often have jobs and careers that depend on the company. A liquidity event will usually affect that in a big way, and typicallly NOT positively.

Even in cases where only a small number of people depend on the business for their livelihood, those people will usually be intensely affected by the change. Yes, a few people will likely still be needed to manage the liquid assets and other company and family affairs, but their roles will change, and not just a little.

Then there is the question of skill match. You have people you want to give a job to, and you have stuff that needs to get done. Yes, THAT skill match. How will that look after a liquidity event? Does your VP of HR child have what it takes to manage your investments?

 

Can’t I Just Take “Mine”?

Last week I ended the blog with a laugh, directed at those who “own” a piece of a family company who would like to have the ability to liquidate their ownership.

This week, I will turn and laugh instead at the person who controls the liquid assets and wish them good luck in satisfying a contigent of co-owners, trying to keep them happy.

If you own 10% of DEFG Corp., that’s all well and good, but try spending it.

But what happens when DEFG is sold for $XX,000,000? It’s suddenly tempting to try to get your hands on the $X.X Million that is “yours”.

Note that I used quotation marks because it may not be as much “yours” as you hoped or thought. (See Putting the OWN in Ownership)

 

What Happened to It All?

The answer to the question about “taking mine” is almost always “NO”. And that’s followed by an explanation about why the family is planning on keeping all of the wealth together, and will manage it for the long-term benefit of the family, including current and future generations.

The fear that these families have, and it is a REAL fear, is illustrated in the image that I chose to accompany this post. Most people won’t come out and say this, so I will.

If you simply take the liquid wealth and divide it up among the family owners, many of them will simply urinate it away. Okay, so I used a different word, but I am sure you get it.

That fear is very often justified. Is there a component of control and “I know better what’s good for you than you do”? Yes, and as long as the one contolling it can pull that off, they will be alright with it. The wealth creator can usually do it, but for their kids, it’s not as easy or obvious.

 

Family Alignment

“It’s hard to keep a family united around a pile of money”

I wish I could remember where I first heard that spoken, because it has stuck with me. It was surely said by someone who was preaching the benefits of family philanthropy, because getting family members excited about working together for some common good is one of the chief benefits of the establishment of more and more family foundations.

The subject of Family Alignment is worthy of much more treatment than I can give it here, and for those interested, you’re in luck. Please check out my Quick Start Guide on the subject. Family Alignment: What it is, Why you need it, How to build it

 

Liquidity DO’s and DON’Ts

My preferred style is NOT to tell people what to think, but to make sure they don’t miss out on things that they should think about.

Whether or not to pursue selling a business, or entertain an offer for one, is very personal and depends on a whole variety of circumstances, and timing is often a huge variable.

Thinking through “what comes next” for you and your family should be done before you sign the official paperwork, not after.

 

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5 Things you Need to Know: Family Governance

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Governance

A few weeks ago, at the end of “Family Governance, Aaaah!” I promised to follow up with more on the subject, in my “5 Things” format. I said it would be out in February, and this being my final blog of the month, that means now.

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