When I am asked in social situations what I do for a living, I reply with “I am a family business advisor”. The most common response to this is a quizzical look, as if to say “Is that a thing?”
And I must confess that for me, a few short years ago, it was not a “thing” in any sense of the word. As I get more involved with organisations of like-minded people, however, I am more convinced than ever in both the need for advisors like us, and the demand that we are creating for our services.
A recent story in the Globe & Mail, Ten reasons why family businesses fail, brought the subject back to the front burner for me. The story mentions, as reason #2, “Lack of trusted advisers.” It goes on to laud IFEA, the Institute of Family Enterprise Advisors, which I naturally endorse as well, being both a member and a graduate of their education program.
I would beg to differ a bit on the wording “Lack of Trusted Advisers”, however. I believe that in most cases, the family business leaders have many advisors in whom they place their trust. So there is no lack of advisors, in my opinion.
Does that mean that there is a lack of trust, then? Yes and No. I trust my mother with many things, but I would not ask her for legal advice. I also trust my lawyer, but I would not ask him for his advice on how to make those potato pancakes that I remember from my childhood. The point being, you trust different people for different things.
So what about the trusted family business advisors, then? This brings us back once again to IFEA, and also FFI (The Family Firm Institute), as two of the leading associations that bring together family business and family wealth advisors.
Both IFEA and FFI offer education and certification programs to people who advise family businesses. They also offer these people a community to share what they have learned, as well as a network of scholars who have been advancing the young field of family business advising at an ever-increasing pace.
What I was referring to above when disputing the choice of words in “lack of trusted advisers” was more about the semantics of “not trusting their advisers on the most important matters”. I always like to point out that family businesses have plenty of advisers for their business concerns, but far fewer resources to help them with their family concerns.
Combine this with the statement that more family businesses fail because of “family reasons” than “business reasons”, and you start to understand why I believe that there is a huge potential to develop advisors who understand the overlap between family and business.
Once family business leaders understand that there are advisors like us out there, they trust us with matters in these key areas. What are some of those areas? Glad you asked.
I usually break them down into three major areas: Facilitation, Coaching, and Mediation.
Facilitation is about how a group works together, and making things easier (plus “facile” in French) by acting as a go-between and interpersonal communication expert.
Coaching, for me, is mostly about bringing individuals to their true potential, helping them over obstacles, bringing out their best selves.
Mediation is necessary when there is a conflict that seems unsolveable between parties, unless and until they get outside help, from a qualified mediator. Too many families wait until they reach this stage before bringing in outside help.
Every family business advisor that I know would prefer to come in sooner, before mediation is needed. But if that is when and where the need is felt, we will gladly provide that assistance as well.