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Father’s Day Introspection 2017

That Time of Year

Every year when Father’s Day rolls around, I get mixed emotions. Being a father is truly the greatest joy of my life, and this weekend will be my 18th as a father, but also my 9th without my father.

When I work with members of a family, I like to help them see things from each other’s points of view, and asking them to project forward or backward many years comes naturally to me, stimulating conversation through curiosity.

Asking a father to think back to when he was at his son’s current age will naturally shift his viewpoint.

Likewise, having a son project to when he will be his Dad’s age and imagine what that could be like, forces him to adopt a different mindset.

 

My Own Journey

For the first few decades of my life, I only saw Father’s Day from one perspective.

When our son was born, I developed a new appreciation for the third Sunday in June, as I was now a father too. Having my father still around then, I got to experience the “dual roles” of son and father.

I didn’t get to enjoy too many of those, unfortunately, as my father was struck down too soon by cancer, so now I am back to only one way of experiencing this special day.

 

Father–Son Experiences

This past week I was in Halifax for the Family Enterprise Exchange’s (FEX) Symposium, where there were plenty of father-son teams and stories.

(There were of course mothers and daughters too, but this is my Father’s Day blog and I’m a guy, so please excuse the gender slant this week.)

Whether it was a father and son on the stage, recounting the evolution of their relationship, or members of a family at my table during one of the sessions, I couldn’t help comparing what I was seeing and hearing to my own experiences.

It felt like most of the relationships I witnessed were healthier and more open than the one I had with my father, and much closer to what I feel like I’m living with my son (and daughter).

 

Objectivity Problem?

I can’t be sure of my biases here, but I think I’m being pretty objective.

Were these isolated examples of great family relationships?

Was my view of them skewed by their efforts to show “good behaviour” in public?

Was it a sign of the times that younger generations have got the father-son relationship figured out better?

I can’t be sure, but I do know that the fact that my Dad and I were in a family business together certainly DID have an effect on our relationship.

 

“We’re Not Gonna Do That”

I shared a fundamental story of ours many times during the FEX Symposium, one that I wish had turned out differently.

In the mid 1980’s my Dad had joined CAFÉ (Canadian Association of Family Enterprise, forerunner of FEX) while I was completing my Bachelor of Commerce studies at McGill.

Those studies were part of what I understood to be my “duty” as his only son: to fulfill my “destiny” as his successor.

One day he told me that many of the advisors who had spoken at CAFÉ events were very much against the idea of hiring your kids right out of school and straight into the family business.

I recall looking at him with a hopeful twinkle in my eye (which he clearly didn’t read the way I had hoped), waiting for the next line.

At that point he put his hand on my shoulder and “reassured” me with, “But we’re not gonna do that!”

Once again, he decided for we.

 

Wait, Why Not?

My hope is that modern day sons would have the courage to say, “Wait, why not?”

I really wish that I had, and if my son were faced with such a situation, I hope he would too. But I don’t plan on ever putting him in that kind of situation.

And for any other father-son team experiencing this question, please resist the temptation to taking this short cut to working in the family business.

 

Worth the Wait

If it’s right, it’ll be even more right, later.

Let your kids become their own selves first, outside their parents’ shadows.

It is worth it for them, and it will be for the business too.

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5 Things you Need to Know: Professionalizing your Family Business

Personalizing your Family Business meetings

Most family businesses start small and are run rather informally, usually with one or two people calling the shots. As the business grows, more people are brought in, and things can go along for years without much in the way of any formal procedures or written rules.

When one person can no longer stay on top of everything, their ability to delegate will largely determine how much the business can grow.

As the next generation joins the business, a certain level of informality may be part of the culture as well. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but behaving at the office as you do around the dinner table can have its drawbacks.

Many people recommend “professionalizing” your family business, and with good reason. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you do it?

I’m glad you asked…

1. Education

An obvious place to begin is with the education level of the next generation of family members entering the business.

If your children have the ability to go to college or university and get a degree, that’s a plus.

If they can get an advanced degree, that’s better.

If they can do that AND go and get a few years of work experience working for an unrelated business, that’s best.

If you are inclined to hire your kids right out of high school, I urge you to rethink that plan, as their future and that of the company will likely be limited by that choice.

If it’s “too late for that” in your family, there are plenty of education opportunities that last anywhere from a few days to a few months that are probably worth looking into.

It is never too late to learn new things and to upgrade one’s skills and abilities.

2. Hiring Non-Family Employees

The quickest way to professionalize any business is to hire people who are professional in the way they operate, hopefully also bringing along some work experience.

Aim to bring in outsiders who are MORE professional than the people you currently employ, treat them professionally, listen to their ideas, and learn from them.

You can only go so far without great non-family people on your team.

3. Outside Professionals

Every business needs and has outside professionals that they deal with, like accountants and lawyers. They often began with friends or whomever they could afford when starting out.

As the business grows, it is sometimes necessary to move up the ranks and switch to professionals who are at the level you require.

It is quite possible that your business has outgrown your professional advisors, and an upgrade will be needed. It isn’t always easy to cut these ties, but can be necessary.

4. The HR Department

During the growth of any business, the need to begin to treat Human Resources as its own department becomes key. The sooner you acknowledge this, the better.

Your business can only grow as quickly and as far as the ability of your people to grow along with it.

A real HR department will think twice (hopefully) before agreeing to blindly hire a family member and put them into a role for which they are ill suited and unqualified.

This issue has tripped up more family businesses than you can imagine, as mistakes like this cost not only the department where the person works, but can get everyone shaking their heads about what is important to the business.

The biggest part of this comes down to attitude. Have you realized how important humans are to your company, as a resource?

Finding, onboarding, and keeping great people is a must for just about every business. And so is having the right people filling all key roles.

5.   Board of Advisors

Last but certainly not least is the company’s board. I know that even fathoming a true Board of Directors is a complete non-starter for most small family businesses.

So why not start small and informally, with a board of advisors?

The outside perspective alone is worth it, even if it is only to help you look at your own family members more objectively.

Bringing in independent advisors (preferably NOT your current lawyer and accountant) can be the single biggest step to professionalizing your family business. Just ask anyone who has done it.

An Offer He Can’t Refuse

Family Business continuity

This week contained a flashback for me. I was a guest speaker at a University business school, five hours down the highway. There I was, standing before a group of students getting ready to soon begin their careers, much like I was “just” 30 or so years ago.

Invited by two colleagues/friends who teach “Managing the family Enterprise”, I had sent along copies of my favourite book, SHIFT your Family Business, so that the students could be prepared to ask whatever they wanted of its author.

 

Lucky You!

I began by asking the students if they felt lucky (no, not because I was in their presence). To my surprise, heads began nodding, even before I shared my thoughts about why they were in fact quite lucky to be sitting where they were.

I related my story of being in their shoes in the 1980’s, getting ready to work in my family’s business, but doing so without the benefit of a single course related to Family Business.

This was no slight to my alma mater, it was more about the timeframe. I explained that the Family Firm Institute just celebrated its 30th year in 2016, and CAFÉ (Canadian Association of Family Enterprise) also had its 30th recently. This “field” is still quite new.

I also shared one of my favourite stories about my Dad, who had joined CAFÉ in those early years, and his reaction to the great advice he’d heard from the advisors at those earliest CAFÉ events.

It was quite à propos in this setting, as these were undergraduate business students, like I had been at the time, many preparing to join their family companies in the coming years.

 

“We’re not gonna do that”

“You know, these people at CAFÉ”, I related my Dad’s words, like it was yesterday, “they say that you shouldn’t hire your kids right out of school, you should make them get a ‘real’ job first”, he said, as I nodded, hopefully. “Well, we’re not gonna do that”, he continued, patting me on the shoulder.

For effect, I acted it out with a student in the front row.

I also added that not standing up to him and questioning him, and not suggesting that I would like to pursue that option, turned into one of my biggest regrets.

 

Case Study: Corleone Family

The class uses one family business case for the entire semester, and this year’s choice is the Corleone family, of Godfather fame. “Cool!” I thought, as I learned this fact during a call with one of the instructors a week prior.

I really enjoyed doing “my homework”, watching the movies over the weekend so I could contribute to class. I hadn’t seen them in decades, and had forgotten how Vito actually stepped aside, letting Michael take over decision-making without second-guessing him, well before his unfortunate demise.

 

Family Governance

This class also featured a group presentation on Family Governance, and I have to admit that I got a kick out of the fact that the team used a quote from my book on one of their Powerpoint slides, with attribution, and my name spelled correctly.

Last week I wrote about the Queen and Prince Charles, and now the Godfather, what’s next? (Hint: more on Family Governance).

 

Should Have Refused

Back to the title of this post, courtesy of Vito Corleone, likely recognizable to most readers.

The reason I use it here is to underscore that I now recognize that the key word in the sentence is “can’t”.

More and more these days, kids are in fact refusing their parents’ offers to join the family business. To me, that is a good thing.

I should have refused too, but I didn’t. It would have been better for me, and actually better for the whole family, but it did not fit the shorter-term plan of the patriarch.

 

Love of “Business” vs Love of “My Business”

In response to a question from the class, I suggested that I strongly support teaching the “NextGen” about “business”, and even to “love” business, as part of “financial literacy” and to pass along the entrepreneurial family spirit.

But loving “business” and loving “this particular business that Dad started” isn’t the same thing.

Imagine if Michael Corleone had been able to use his great skills in the truly legit ways he had hoped, without the family baggage…

 

 

Pruning the FamBiz Ownership Tree

Family Business - Family Ownership Tree

Family businesses come to life in different ways, but their ownership structure usually starts out pretty simple. With the coming of age of the next generation of family members, things inevitably get more complex.

Preparing the rising generation to work in the business is a subject that gets talked about quite a bit. Preparing them to be good owners is also something that we are beginning to hear more about as well. All of this is good news.

But my subject today is based on a real life case, brought to my attention by a colleague. I asked her for permission to address it in this space, because I have not seen much written on it, and it can be pretty tricky.

Unfortunately there isn’t necessarily an easy solution, but then again, in the arena of family business, there rarely is.

 

The Case of the XYZ Family

My colleague and I are members of a “study group” of a dozen or so members of FFI, we come from a handful of countries, and it is always interesting to note the cultural flavour that comes with the stories we share.

The XYZ family is based in another country on another continent. X and Y are brothers, and they own their business 50/50. So far it’s pretty simple. Oh, one more important point, X is a silent partner, and Y runs the business.

I don’t know for sure but will assume that there is no shareholders agreement in place, likely because of the standard, “hey, we’re family, we trust each other, we will work it out” attitude.

 

Arrival of the Next Gen

The business continues along without issue, and the brothers start families of their own.   Y, the active brother, has a son and a daughter. X, the silent brother, eventually also has a daughter.

Just to add a bit more complicating “spice” to the story, Y’s son, Z, ends up going to work in the business along with his Dad, Y. X remains silent. Everything is fine, right? Well, for now, seemingly, yes.

 

Projecting the Future

So if you are Z, the son working in the business, what might concern you, long term? What issue keeps you up at night, to the point that you would raise it with your friendly neighbourhood family business consultant?

If you guessed “ownership”, give yourself a gold star.

The young man has likely already witnessed some of the difficulties that his father has had in running the business while being responsive to a silent partner, uncle X.

When he projects to the future, he sees a situation where he is the only family member working in the business, but his “silent partners” could be his sister, and his cousin.

If ownership follows the standard equal distribution among children that is the default in their country, he foresees himself owning 25% of the shares, and having to answer to his 25% owner sister, and their 50% owner cousin.

 

Sustainability in Question

When something can’t go on forever, it won’t.

Just to make sure we see the difficulty here let’s add another layer. Let’s say Z has five kids, and his sister and cousin only have one child each. And let’s say only one of his kids joins the company and runs it, along with his silent relative partners.

How would it be to own 5% of a company and run it for relatives who own the following shares:

Owner-Manager:        5%

Siblings:                        5%   /   5%    /   5%   /   5%

Cousin:                       25%

Second-Cousin:        50%

 

Thanks, but No Thanks!

Talk about a thankless job. Family businesses CAN last many generations, but those that do are the exceptions, not the rule.

We often look for whom to blame when they don’t last, yet sometimes just the way they are structured and the simple math of family division make it nearly impossible to make this work.

 

So Do We Give Up?

No.

We look ahead and foresee the potential issue, and talk about ways to resolve it. The brother owners need to realize that this can’t work long term, and figure out their next steps.

Assuming that Y can buy out his brother’s 50%, that would resolve a big chunk of it, for now, anyway.

They might even use a formula that Z will be able to follow to eventually buy out his sister down the road.

Bring it up, talk it out, resolve it before it kills the business.

 

 

 

Family Governance, Aaaah!

Good Governance Structure for Family Business

It’s hard to get a handle on “governance” sometimes, and depending on the context, its meaning and connotations can vary greatly.

In some contexts, it’s a pain in the backside. In others, you can’t live without it.

Put me in the “can’t live without it” camp when it comes to family business continuity and family legacy.

Governance in those situations can be tricky, but you really need it, and this post will shed light on that perspective.

 

Institute for Family Governance 

This week I was in New York for the first annual “Institute for Family Governance” conference. The IFG is in its infancy, and came into existence at the crossroads of STEP (Society for Trust and Estate Professionals) and FFI (Family Firm Institute).

Babetta von Albertini, of Withers Consulting Group in NY, the Program chair, is a member of both FFI and STEP, and I first met her at the FFI annual conference in London in 2015.

She is the driving force behind IFG and must be congratulated for pulling off a great kickoff event.

She also announced that the 2nd annual IFG conference will take place on January 25, 2018, and that none other than the legendary Peter Leach of Deloitte UK will be a featured speaker.

 

What the Heck is “Family Governance”? 

“What is Family Governance?” could be the proverbial $64,000 question. But it’s more like the $64,000,000 question, because sometimes size does matter

If your family net worth is in the range of $64,000, please skip the rest of the questions, thanks for your time completing our survey.

If, however, your family net worth is in the $64,000,000 range, perhaps this topic is one you need to be paying attention to.

Okay, let me rephrase that.

If you care what happens to your wealth over the next generation or two (or more), then good governance will be important. If you don’t really care what happens after you die, don’t bother reading past this point.

 

What Happened to “Governance, Ugh!”? 

For longtime readers and fans of my work (Hi Mom!) you may be confused by the title of this blog, which seems to suggest, via the “Aaaah” after “Family Governance” that it’s something good, and which brings relief.

You may be thinking “Hey Steve, how does this square with Chapter 8 of your book, SHIFT your Family Business, which I clearly recall was titled “Governance, Ugh!”?

My answers to this are many, including:

  • Thanks for noticing
  • Yes, it IS available on Amazon
  • Evolution

 

The Evolution of Governance

Back in 2013 when I wrote the book and called that key chapter “Governance, Ugh”, I did so based on my perception that the word actually conveyed that “Ugh” reaction to a large number of people.

I like to believe that the world of Family Business and Family Wealth has evolved somewhat since I wrote it, and based on what I heard in NYC this week, it has.

Even if the “world” has not yet evolved, though, I know that I have. Let me elaborate. I have always known that good governance is essential to creating a sustainable legacy for a family.

I used to be afraid to tell people that they needed “governance”, but shying away from the word made it seem “unspeakable”, which may have conveyed that it was also undesirable..

 

My Own Evolution

When the Institute for Family Governance, came to life, and when I realized that I was excited to discover it, that told me that I have evolved, as has my thinking and my desire to call it what it is.

Yes, we can continue to refer to it as “decision-making”, and “communication” and “structures and processes”, and “how we are all going to get along together” and “formalized rules and regulations”.

At the end of the day, for me, the best word to encapsulate all of these is GOVERNANCE.

 

The Real $64 Million Question

The real question is WHY is it required.

My short answer is:

Because your Wealth and Legacy won’t Preserve Themselves.

Family governance is a must, and it must be custom-developed by your family, for your family.

But it is definitely OK to get help with this. It is even highly recommended to do so.

 

To Be Continued

Watch this space for an upcoming blog:

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Governance.

Coming in February 2017

 

Lessons from a Drowned Phone

Lessons from a drowned phone

Happy New Year?

The first week of a New Year seems destined to bring up a challenge for me. Last January I was involved in a car accident that resulted in a concussion, and 2017 started with me accidentally drowning my phone.

I must admit that given a choice for 2018, I would sign up for stupidly putting my phone in the washing machine over innocently getting rear-ended at a red light.

Even though I have nobody to blame but myself for the phone fiasco, I must admit that this year is off to a better start than last. And of course the drowning of my phone has given me a juicy blog subject to boot.

 

The Incident

Last Friday when I finally found my misplaced phone in the “last place I looked”, i.e. the pocket of my jeans, in the washing machine, well into its wash cycle, I was relieved that at least I had solved the mystery of “where the heck is it?”

The thrill of finding it was quickly extinguished of course, as I had already concluded that it was now merely a paperweight.

 

Now What? 

Saturday morning I went to my phone service provider with it, holding a glimmer of hope that it might still be useful. No such luck.

I purchased a new phone, and then came the time to transfer what I had in my old phone. There is a great app you can use to transfer stuff (photos, contacts, apps, etc.) from an old phone to a new one. But it doesn’t work when the old one is dead.

 

Parallels

My work is all about helping families define and preserve their legacy, which includes very important steps that I explain to client families, which they cannot skip if they want to keep the odds of success on their side.

My old phone had lots of important stuff in it that I wanted to continue to benefit from. But it was now dead, and I had not done what was necessary to preserve what was in it by backing up everything.

Now, recreating what I had, became a much bigger challenge. In fact, some stuff, like photos, was gone for good.

Most of those photos weren’t critical, but they did have some value, which was now lost. Likewise, much of what the senior generation members have in their heads is not truly critical for the survival of the family, but it can often rise to a level above simply “nice to have”.

In case my analogy has been lost on you, allow me to spell it out more clearly. If you wait until after people have died to try to have a valuable relationship with them, it is MUCH harder to do.

 

Contacts

What about contacts? The way things turned out for me, thanks to technical ineptitude and the lack of foresight on my part, when my contacts updated on my phone, I got hundreds of names and email addresses from everyone I had ever emailed through my Outlook account, a majority of which are useless now.

The cell phone numbers that I actually wanted and needed were nowhere to be found.

I now have to delete a whole bunch of useless stuff, and I need to email a bunch of people and ask them for their cell phone numbers again.

So I got a lot of stuff I don’t want, and the stuff I want, I need to actually work to get, even though I already had it before.

This is kind of like having to go through all of the files and documents of a deceased relative, while never having had the benefit of the personal introductions to people who were important to the family.

 

Lesson Summary

  1. Whatever happens, it could be worse. Phone issues are preferable to concussions
  1. To have a back up, you actually have to DO a back up.
  1. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

Please realize what you have and figure out how to preserve it. And I’m not just talking about your phone.  There are so many things that the NextGen and the NowGen need to work at transfering.

Better get started today.

5 Things you Need to Know: Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry Lessons and Advice

Sibling Rivalry is a subject that has been around forever, yet despite that, it has somehow not been one that I have tackled in this space over the four-plus years I have been writing this blog.

Following my post “5 Things you Need to Know: Family Inheritance” from November, I have decided to return to that format and devote this week’s installment to Sibling Rivalry.

If you have suggestions for other topics that you would like to see me address here in this same format, please let me know, I love reader feedback and input, as well as a challenge. My idea is to have the “5 Things you Need to Know” become a semi-regular feature.

Without further ado, here are my…

 

5 Things to Know: Sibling Rivalry

  1. It’s “Built In”

Where there are siblings, there is potential for rivalry. Mom and Dad will usually try to minimize it, but truth be told, as soon as the second child is born, the rivalry is on.

In fact, depending on the age of the older sibling, the rivalry can begin as soon as they learn that Mommy is going to be delivering a new bundle of joy, that will undoubtedly compete with them for love and attention.

So if it is built in, the best we can do is to try to be aware of it, and understand what is going on so that we, as parents, can best deal with its fallout. Pretending that it doesn’t exist in OUR family is not very helpful.

 

  1. It brings out the WORST in people

If we think about sports rivalries involving our favourite team, we can often recall events that took place during games where opponents did things that are memorable for the wrong reasons.

There is an added layer of intensity when rivals meet, and sometimes people do things that they would never dream of doing in a similar circumstance but with different particpants.

For siblings who have been in competition with each other for many years, most of their interactions can be positive for years on end, but one never knows when something that has been festering beneath the surface will finally blow up.

 

  1. It brings out the BEST in people

Rivalries are usually based on some sort of competition, but what is actually at stake can vary greatly from sports trophies to love, power, and money.

But isn’t competition good? Actually, in many if not most cases, yes. And it is when the competition is healthy that it can do just that.

The trick is to get the conditions right for the competition, and hence the rivalry, to be “healthy”. All or nothing situations, fight-to-the-death scenarios, one-winner/many-loser set-ups are unnecessarily rivalrous.

Healthy competition is often set up as a Win-Win situation, in finding ways to make the proverbial pie bigger, in creating ways for each participant to excel in their own way, and having everyone contribute to the common good.

 

  1. Blame the parents!

In the previous point, I used words like “conditions”, “situations”, “scenarios”, and “set ups”, which relate to the context within which siblings can be exposed to rivalry with each other.

Who creates the context in which the family lives, if not the parents? When parents create conditions for rivalries to bring out the worst in their children, the parents should bear their share of the blame.

Sometimes it is done subconsciously, and other times because they think that they are doing what is best, but in truth, many unhealthy rivalries can be traced directly back to the parents.

 

  1. DON’T blame the parents!

Wait, what? Didn’t I just say the opposite? Well, yes, but just because the root of the rivalry can be blamed on the parents, that doesn’t mean that100% of it rests with them.

When the offspring become adults themselves, at some point they must assume responsibility for themselves and cannot forever blame Mommy and Daddy for “loving Johnny more”.

Where you are today is the result of everything that has happened to you in your life thus far, including the way your parents and siblings interacted with you.

Where you go from here depends on what you do starting today.

Sibling rivalries are all around us and are not necessarily bad or good.

If you are involved in one as a sibling or parent, what can you do to help make it “less bad”, or “more good”?

 

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Inheritance

Family Inheritance Advice - How to avoid problems

Family Inheritance

While few people actually relish thinking about the details of the inheritance they will leave their family when they die, most do spend at least some time wondering how to make sure that things will go well among their heirs.

We’ve all heard of families where relationships were harmed, sometimes beyond repair, as the result of how this important question was dealt with. If you do not want to be one of THOSE families, please read on.

Also note that these are five things everyone should know and understand, but that doesn’t make them an exhaustive list of important considerations, or even a “top 5 list” for every family situation. This blog should never substitute for legal advice for your unique family situation.

 

  1. Big or Small, the same issues arise

You don’t have to have a net worth in the gazillions to be affected by the potential negative fallout from poor decisions in this area.

Siblings have been known to never speak to each other again as the result of parental decisions that were made that surprised everyone, even in cases where the inheritance barely covered the cost of the funeral.

Rule 1: Don’t assume that there isn’t enough to worry about

 

  1. A WILL is Key

It should go without saying that every adult needs a will. Unfortunately, statistics show that many do not.

Many people who don’t likely assume that they have plenty of time to take care of it, you know, “later”. There are cemetaries full of people who guessed wrong on the question of exactly when they were going to die.

You need a will, and it really should be current. A good rule of thumb is to review it every five years.

Rule 2: Make sure you have a legal will, no excuses!

 

  1. A Will is NOT Enough

Now if you have your will in place and are thinking you are in the clear, well, sorry, we still have (at least) 3 more items here!

You have decided to leave certain assets to certain people in a certain way, and it’s all written up legally in a will. Here is the important question: do the people who will inherit your assets KNOW what they will be inheriting?

At least some form of basic communication is absolutely essential. If you haven’t already done so, please make sure that everyone understands what is going to happen. If you can let them all know together, at the same time, even better.

Letting them assume, and having different people understand different versions of it is a sure recipe for trouble.

Rule 3: Your heirs should know what is coming

 

  1. “Pre-Mediation” Can Make Sense

When a dispute goes into mediation, parties are brought together, and along with a neutral third party, they examine everyone’s interests and work towards a satisfactory conclusion.

The idea of pre-mediating is to put the scenario on the table with the parties before it actually comes into play.

The main point is that if you leave things to your heirs in the way you planned, AND that will cause problems after you are gone, why would you not want to re-adjust while you still can?

If this idea scares you, then that is a sign that yours is actually precisely the kind of situation that could most benefit from this.

Rule 4: Play out the details while you still can

 

5 “Surprise” is NOT a Good Thing 

I have heard Tom Deans (author of Willing Wisdom) speak several times. He describes the sound that many lawyers tell him they’ve heard from at least one surprised heir at the reading of many a will.

It is difficult to convey in writing, but imagine a gasp with an audible “aaargh” or “euhhhh”.

That surprised sound from any of your heirs is NOT what you should be going for.

Rule 5: Let your family grieve and celebrate your life, not shake their heads in disbelief.

 

If you know someone who should be thinking about these questions but may have been avoiding them, please feel free to forward this to them. You will both be glad you did.

 

It’s All about Getting Started

Getting started with your family business with the right advice

The start icon. Start symbol. Flat Vector illustration

Most of us usually have a pretty good idea of “what to do” in situations, and we think about our motivations to clarify the “why” as well. Today’s post is going to look at the “how and when”, and getting started on the important steps in generational transitions.

Timing can so often be crucial in life; how often have you either just been “in the right place at the right time”, or just missed an opportunity because an open door suddenly shut? Of course there are also occasions when we are too early as well.

For every “early bird” who gets the worm, there is a “second mouse” that gets the cheese. My bias is to move early, and I know that if anyone could ever convince me to try parachuting, I would likely pull the cord too early rather than too late.

In a business family, there is often a desire to have the hard work of a generation carry on into the next, and hopefully to subsequent generations as well.

One of my favourite expressions is “things don’t just happen by themselves”, and maybe that’s because working with these types of families has underscored the importance of taking action.

Inter-generational transitions are complex matters. The more people involved and the larger the asset base in question, the trickier things get. The more complex things are, the longer it will take to get things right.

So the “what” in this case is preparing the inter-generational transition, the “why” is because we want our hard work to benefit future generations of our family, and the “when” is, well, whenever I get around to it (!?).

Hopefully you caught the problem in the previous sentence.

As mentioned above, my bias is that it’s better to start too soon than too late. Complexity can slow things down more than you can ever imagine, and when important questions come up, and they always do, more time to get things right is very helpful.

When is the right time to start?

Sometimes you just know, and sometimes you need a push. Divine inspiration is not always forthcoming.

The two main generations, let’s call them NowGen and NextGen, don’t always see eye to eye on the timing.

In many cases the NextGen pushes for action but is met with resistance by the NowGen, but it can also be some variation of the reverse situation. Sometimes the NowGen is met with disinterest from the rising generation.

The biggest causes of delaying action on these key matters are: fear of conflict, fear of mortality, not knowing how to begin, not having anyone in charge of the process, and being too busy with more urgent matters.

Fear of Conflict

“We can’t talk about that, because it will cause a rift”. If that is your case, are you assuming that the underlying issue will just go away, or that the kids will figure it out after you’re gone?

Better to talk about it and smooth over any potential conflict while we can still modify whatever we have planned and explain all decisions. If you suspect conflict, getting out in front of it is better than the ostrich approach.

Mortality

Talking about sex never got anyone pregnant, and talking about money never made anyone rich, so talking about your eventual death is not going to kill you either.

Get over it. If you are equating your exit from certain roles in your business with your death, that is another issue, and there are ways to deal with that too.

How/Where to Begin

Start talking about the subject and ask questions of other family members to get their ideas about what the future might look like when the next generation is in charge. Listen, and then ask more questions, and listen some more.

Who’s in Charge?

If you are reading this and liking what you see, then please go and take charge of the process. Then bring someone in from the outside who will help keep you on track.

Too Busy Putting Out Fires

Not everything that seems “urgent” is that important. Prioritize, delegate. Learn to work on what is truly important to the big picture.

You probably should have started a while ago, so get moving already.

 

Harnessing the NextGen in the FamBiz

 

Twin sisters riding horses in the sunset by the sea on the island of Ada Bojana, Montenegro

While attending the annual conference of the Family Firm Institute in Miami, one of of the breakout sessions contained a kind of A-Ha moment for me.

It was not a “knock your socks off” A-Ha, but enough to stimulate a blog post, which may not be a very high hurdle, considering I write one of these posts every week. Alas, it contained a “juicy tidbit” that struck me as worth pursuing here.

Now an FFI conference will always feature several well-known family business experts sharing their thoughts, but my little A-Ha occurred during a session where the presenter was relatively unknown, as he was not a FamBiz guy, but a branding expert.

It was Paul Bay, an L.A. Dodgers fan from London (!), which I learned at the opening cocktail the evening before his presentation. His typical get-up includes a three-piece suit and a pair of sneakers. I guess that’s part of his brand, and it was working for him.

 

A Branding A-Ha?

If you’re hoping my A-Ha had to do with branding, you’ll be disappointed, because that wasn’t it. It was all about the harness. The harness? Well actually, the verb, “(to) harness”.

As I write this, I am trying to recall how the slide with the word “harness” at the top actually fit into his branding talk, and I am at a loss. I did, however, take a picture of the slide in response to my internal A-Ha.

Down the left side of the Powerpoint slide were the words “Guide, Direct, Govern, Constrain, Control, Hold Back”.

On the right-hand side were “Involve, Collaborate, Gain, Be Guided, Be Inspired, Be Directed”.

This was the first time that I ever thought about the fact that there are two sides to the harness coin. (Insert “A-Ha” here)

 

Harnessing in the FamBiz

When you think about the “NextGen” in a family business, the way the family looks at what they are harnessing, and why they are trying to harness it, you can easily see that it can go both ways. How they harness it becomes key.

The positive side of harnessing, “involving, collaborating, gaining, etc.” looks at ways that the family can take the talents and inputs of the rising generation and put them to positive use, to grow the family capital and the strengths of the business.

On the other end of the spectrum, “constrain, control, hold back, etc.” you have a host of actions that unfortunately also occur in too many family businesses.

 

Wild Horses on my Mind

So I began thinking about wild horses and what it must have been like when the first brave souls came upon them and were motivated to try to harness them.

Horses, even wild ones, do not seem the type of animal that would need to be harnessed to dampen any negatives of their behaviour. I can only imagine that the power and strength they exhibited was seen as worth the trouble and danger of attempting to harness them in the first place.

So if you have a business family, and there is a rising generation that is coming of age, how are you looking at harnessing what they can bring to the table?

 

Horses with Potential and Passion

Some horses are easier to harness than others, and I can only imagine that those who are identified as having great potential will often be those for whom the time and effort are the most worthwhile.

Few of us have the skills of a Dr. Doolittle, to actually speak “horse” to find out just what a particular equine has a passion for (Math? 2 + 1 = Clop, clop, clop! Good girl, here’s a carrot.)

 

Questions and Conversations

Every parent actually speaks a language that their children understand, but not enough of them will take the time and make the effort to have the conversations (plural) necessary to ask the important questions, like:

  • Do you have a passion to contribute to the business?
  • Do you have a passion to contribute to the family?
  • What human capital do you already have, and what are you prepared to develop, to contribute?
  • Is there a “harness” that fits you so comfortably that you will feel happy and motivated to wear it proudly?

THEIR passion is the key to good harnessing.