Legacy Families Rely on a “Generative Alliance”

More Metaphors and Vocabulary Discussions

Just how should we refer to the type of families we work with as advisors who toil in the intergenerational wealth space

There’s no shortage of monikers, from “UHNW” and “Business-Owning” which I really don’t like, to “Enterprising” and “Intergenerational” that are a bit better.

My latest preference is to refer to them as “Legacy Families”, because they’ve arrived at the point where the combination of their longevity and their accumulated wealth make the family’s legacy rise to the forefront of their concerns.

 

Distinguishing Features

Of course many of the families we deal with haven’t yet achieved true “legacy status”, and that’s OK too, since the intention to get there is often a key driving force to do the work necessary to get there.

I mentioned longevity, and typically we’re looking at a few generations, meaning that the family and the wealth have remained together through at least one generational transition, and hopefully more.

Dennis Jaffe, noted researcher and advisor to such families and a leader in this field, has set his research cut-off at 100 years or more and often uses the term “generative families”.

I’ve known Dennis for a few years and he’s easily the person I’ve heard speak most often on subjects relating to the successful transition of wealth within families.

 

Borrowed from your Grandchildren

His latest book is called Borrowed from your Grandchildren, the title of which makes one quickly realize the recommended attitude that’s necessary in such families: to become proper stewards of their assets for the generations that will follow.

I interviewed Dennis for the Let’s Talk Family Enterprise podcast and have recommended his book to my own clients.

The idea for this blog comes from another podcast interview I heard where he mentioned the three major groups that are always present in his study of one hundred, 100-Year families.

Jaffe calls them the “generative alliance”, but I’ve dubbed them the “generative trinity” because they evoke the “holy trinity”, even though I typically keep my posts religion-free.

 

The Father, the Son, and…..

For the uninitiated, the holy trinity is “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, and considering that Jaffe’s three groups include the “current leading generation of the family” (Father) and also the “rising generation of the family” (Son), the trinity idea feels pretty apt.

You may be wondering who gets to play the role of the Holy Spirit in this metaphor. I hope your curiosity has been piqued, since that’s where we’ll now turn our attention.

Non-Family Employees, Advisors, and Board Members

The third key group of people happens to include a host of non-family professionals, both inside and outside the family’s operating businesses.

We’re talking about key employees who are not family, independent Board members of family companies, family office executives, and of course all manner of outside professional advisors who work with the family over the long term.

Jaffe points out the importance of all of these non-family people in the successful intergenerational transition of the wealth owned by such families, because he continually saw this group of people playing key roles in the hundred successful families in his study.

 

Outside the Family System, and Bridging Both Groups

When a family business starts out, there’s often some insularity and thinking that outsiders can’t be trusted, cost too much, or that they don’t “get us” enough to be valuable resources.

Families who remain steadfast to that position and can’t get past it are often doomed to limit their success to the human capital of the family, to their own detriment.

While the benefits of outsiders are numerous and varied, one of the areas where their potential input is often overlooked is in acting as a bridge between the current “NowGen” of the family who are leading things today, and the rising “NextGen” family members who are expected to lead in the future.

 

Independence and Interdependence

Such outsiders to the family are not part of the “family system”, giving them an independent and less biased view of the family members, not clouded by family dynamics.

While that independence is important, these people also often have plenty of interdependence with the two groups, in that their own livelihoods can be intricately linked to the success of the family.

Non-family professionals play a key role in intergenerational success of legacy families that should not be overlooked, nor taken lightly, especially when they work together.