Lessons from Estée Lauder

I recently read a very brief piece on Estee Lauder, who was described as a “family business icon” by the Family Firm Institute (FFI). They also stated that her motto was “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.”

I found her motto very interesting, especially the second sentence, where she mentions selling something in which she truly believes. Obviously if you do not believe in what you are selling, it is very difficult to do a good job of selling it.

It also struck me because the word “sell” has a variety of meanings and connotations, which have also evolved over the decades since she likely came up with her motto. And as someone who despises coming across as a “salesman”, it forced me to think through her motto to try to find a way to make it work for me.

There is also the part about the difference between selling a product like cosmetics versus selling a professional service, like family business advising. The sales and marketing contexts and processes are very different. But I was determined to find the “gold” in her motto in a way that could be useful to me.

As a solo practitioner, what I am selling is myself, in many ways, and some people are over-the-top when they talk about themselves, while others are “under-the-bottom”, if you will allow me to invent such an awkward antonym.

Since I am someone who lives at the lower end of this scale, it is always a stretch for me to “sell myself”. When someone seems to be trying to hard to “sell me”, it is a huge turn-off, so I naturally assume that others also hate this tactic, and I try to avoid it, and sometimes I try too hard, to my detriment.

Back to Lauder’s motto, though, she states “if I believe in something, I sell it”. She did not say somebody, so for me, the take-home message is to focus less on the “who” and more on the “what”.

For those of you who are regular readers (thanks!) you may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about “who I am” being more relevant and important than “what I do”, so the trick is to try to find the right balance, and to come up with the proper messaging of what I can to do help business families, along with the personal branding of the guy who delivers those services.

I am so much more comfortable selling an IDEA, as opposed to myself, but I also understand quite clearly that nobody would buy the stuff that I am selling if they were not convinced that I am someone that they can trust to work with some of their most precious valuables, the members of their family.

When speaking with others who do this work, I often bring up the phrase “spreading the gospel”, so allow me to attempt to lay out what this gospel is, because that is what needs to be sold.

Let’s start with a tag line that I recently came up with, which is still a work-in-progress:   “I help business families turn their transition dreams into a workable plan”.

For a family, this is hard work, and if they don’t start early, learn to work together, and have the crucial conversations that they need to have to do the work well, there are lots of negative consequences that will likely arise, not just for the business, but also for the family.

Very few if any families will undertake this work on their own, without professional external advisors. We do exist, but the families are not always “ready” for the hard work to begin, often until it is nearly too late.

If you are such a family, or if you currently advise such a family in another professional capacity, please reach out to start a no obligation conversation.







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.


Understanding your Misunderstandings

The two key words in this blog, “understanding” and “misunderstanding” are rather long in and of themselves, and while they might appear to simply represent opposites, it is actually a lot more complex than that.

The topic is a very important one, in my eyes at least, which is why I have had it on my blog subject list for weeks now, before finally getting up the nerve to make an attempt at adding some valuable insight to this tricky issue.

I don’t remember what book I was reading when the idea of “understanding the misunderstanding” came into my mind, but I do remember that I was struck by the phrase enough to grab a pen and make a note, even though I was walking on a treadmill at the time.

So here goes.

We all go through life looking at things from our own point of view, which we see as the “real world”. And every other person also goes through life seeing things from THEIR point of view, which they in turn see as their “real world”. It is very rare for any two points of view to be 100% the same.

The differences in these points of view are quite often the root causes of differences of opinion, which in turn are the causes of misundertandings.

If and when you actually take the time to try to understand the causes of misunderstandings, you will likely learn a great deal about the differences in how you see the world versus the way the other person sees the world.

Too often, we do not take the time to even notice or acknowledge these different points of view, let alone investigate what lies behind them and have a meaningful conversation about them. But these are the most useful and meaningful discussions we will ever have, especially among family members.

In the context of family members working together in a business, it is very easy to just keep your head down and move through your day without stopping to think or talk about these kinds of things.

But every once in a while, maybe once a week, it is good to set some time aside to make sure that everyone is on the proverbial “same page”, that everyone has a common view of what is on that page, and that everyone has a clear understanding of the roles they are supposed to play.

There really is no good excuse for situations where someone, after weeks or months of working on something, says something like “Oh, I thought you were supposed to take care of that”, or “What? Nobody ever told me that I was supposed to take care of this”.

These examples are clearly the result of at least one misunderstanding, but nobody took the time to even notice them until it was too late.

When you take the time to understand the misunderstandings, you will usually be able to see some patterns in them, and when you come up with a way to address the common misunderstandings, you will go a long way to clarifying everyone’s roles.

Unfortunatley, these things rarely happen by themselves.

What works well is having a regular forum in which one person actually goes out of their way to make sure that the entire group has a common understanding of what their goals are, AND that each person understands what their role is supposed to be. Some people call this “leadership”.

Call it your weekly “Goals and Roles” meeting if that helps you focus, but make sure that you try to understand your misunderstandings to get back on track.


La magie exponentielle de la collaboration familiale

J’ai eu la chance dernièrement de dîner avec un homme qui fait partie de la deuxième génération (G2) de sa famille entrepreneuriale, et comme d’habitude, j’ai appris beaucoup de nouveau sur sa famille, mais j’ai aussi entendu de vielles histoires communes.

Quand je mentionne que les histoires étaient communes, je veux dire que tandis que chaque famille se croit unique, (ce qui est VRAI), ceci ne veut pas dire que cette famille ne pourra pas bénéficier des idées et de solutions que d’autres familles ont déjà utilisées.

Et, comme c’est si souvent le cas, les situations qui préoccupaient ce monsieur n’étaient pas nécéssairement des questions concernant les entreprises que possèdent la famille, mais plutôt sur les relations entre les membres de sa famille.

Le temps que nous avons passé ensemble était très valorisant pour moi, puisque l’homme venait de lire mon livre, Changez votre vison de l’entreprise familiale, et le fait qu’il me citait des passages que j’avais écrits était un peu nouveau pour moi.

Il avait apprécié mes idées sur l’importance de penser à un avenir où la génération qui contrôle pour l’instant ne sera plus en charge, et de prendre de l’avant en s’organisant, comme famille, pour prendre la relève.

Mais même si les transitions du côté “business” sont en partie déjà entamées, c’est surtout du côté “famille” que les futurs problèmes auront encore plus de conséquences, et ils doivent s’en méfier encore plus de ceux-ci.

La bonne nouvelle pour lui, c’est qu’il a une soeur qui semble aussi concernée que lui du fait que le temps est arrivé pour agir. De plus, il y a, dans cette famille, aussi au moins un membre de la troisième génération (G3) qui est d’avis que ce serait important d’agir maintenant, pendant que le leader du G1 est toujours présent.

Et de là le titre de ce blogue. En réfléchissant sur leur situation, j’essayais de trouver une façon d’expliquer à cette famille comment l’intérêt des différents membres de la famille pourrait s’avérer très pertinent pour eux.

Cette belle situation pourra même presque garantir que leur famille puisse vraiment faire des progrès intéressants, comparée aux familles où chaque membre se croit seul et impuissant de faire bouger des choses à lui-même.

J’ai finalement décidé d’aller avec une analogie mathématique, et je veux la partager avec vous ici.

Si une personne agissant seule peut avoir un effet sur une situation qui se mesure par un facteur de 1, je soumets qu’en travaillant ensemble, deux personnes pourraient avoir un effet exponentiel, c’est-à-dire 2 au 2ième pouvoir, pour un résultat de 4.

Évidemment je n’ai pas de preuve scientifique pour la théorie que j’avance, mais pensez-y un moment.

Dans une famille avec une quinzaine ou une vingtaine de membres dans les trois générations, la force que deux membres agissant ensemble peuvent avoir, pour faire des suggestions, des démarches, ou des changements, se doit être beaucoup supérieur aux résultats qu’une personne toute seule pourrait espérer.

Allons un peu plus loin, maintenant. Si les deux premiers réussissaient à convaincre un autre membre de la famille d’embarquer dans leur cause, imaginons comment leurs chances s’amélioreraient à trois!

Je prétends qu’on pourrait appliquer exactement la même formule que tantôt, c’est-à-dire qu’avec 3 personnes, nous serons rendu à un facteur de 9, ou 3 fois 3.

L’idée de s’organiser en famille suscite souvent de l’hésitation parmi ceux qui voient les obstacles plus clairement que les bénéfices. En se mettant ensemble, petit à petit, les membres intéressés par ces démarches se donnent la chance de surmonter les premiers obstacles, et de créer du momentum.

Voici les conseils les plus importants que je peux vous donner au sujet de la participation (ou non) des membres de la famille qui vous inviterez à vous joindre:

  • Vous pouvez définir le groupe que vous visez de n’importe quelle façon logique que vous voulez. (ex., G2 seulement; G2 et conjoints; G1 et G2 famille seulement; G3 seulement; etc.);
  • C’est plus facile de commencer avec un petit groupe;
  • Aussitôt défini, pour n’importe quelle réunion, vous devez inviter tous les membre de ce groupe;
  • Vous ne pouvez pas forcer quiconque à participer.

Avec ceci, je vous lance le défi. Avez-vous le courage qu’il vous faut?