Family Wealth Dynamite: One Stick or Two?

A few weeks ago in Family Governance: One Step at a Time I noted that the Institute for Family Governance’s 3rd annual conference would end up inspiring at least a handful of future blog posts.

So here we are with the first of those.

It comes from the presentation by David York, who was making his first visit to IFG.  I was already familiar with York’s work from his books and his past presentations at the annual Rendez Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

I find York to be one of the more compelling speakers in the family wealth space, and you can see for yourself by checking out one of his TED talks, A new way to think about inheritance”.


Estate-Planning Assumptions

At IFG he talked about some of the important assumptions that estate-planning attorneys typically make that should be questioned.

One of the main ones is that if transferring some wealth to the next generation is good, then transferring more wealth is better.

I think it’s perfectly understandable that most people make that assumption, because most of the time it makes sense.

But “most of the time” is not the same as “all of the time”, and that was York’s point.


A Dynamite Analogy

His analogy to explain this resonated with me so strongly that it became the inspiration for this blog post.

York stated that for some parents, handing down a huge chunk of wealth to their children can feel like giving them a lit stick of dynamite.

And, because of the prevalence of the “more is better” assumption, by the time all the technical specialists do their thing to maximize the size of the proverbial pie, instead of simply handing over one lit stick of dynamite, they can look forward to handing their kids two of them!


Parental Desires Meet Professional Customs

Part of the problem stems from the fact that most professionals have fallen into the same habits of treating their wealthy family clients in a homogeneous way.

For families that fall into a certain range of financial wealth, say the “seven figures” area, this would normally be sufficient.

But once you get into “eight figures”, and on up into nine and ten, those same rules just can’t be applied the same way.

Those parental fears about dynamite are real, but that doesn’t necessarily make them easy to discuss.

See video:  How Much is Too Much?


Family Wealth Dynamite: One Stick or Two?

Focus on Financial Wealth

The real issue is that so many of the family’s advisors focus solely on their financial wealth.  It’s easy to see and to count, and it is pretty important.  But it isn’t the only thing that the family cares about.

Sometimes the family leaders have an inkling that they should be trying to work on some of the family dynamics issues, but their advisors typically aren’t well versed in those issues and so the focus continues to be on the size of the pie.

One of my favourite ways of talking about this is the simple equation that I wrote about a couple of years ago, in Is Your Continuity Planning PAL in Danger?

The equation is this:


People + Assets = Legacy

If you don’t include any planning around the people, and you only figure out what to do with the assets, you are missing out.



Family Office: Problem or Solution?

I’ve started to write more about Family Offices here, so let’s look at how things look from their point of view.

Is a family office part of the problem, or are they part of the solution.  The answer, of course, is, “it depends”.

If the family office is mostly about financial wealth management, it is likely part of the problem, since it will be focused on producing more sticks of dynamite.

If, however, the family office also helps the family with their governance, their values and vision, and family alignment, then they can be a big part of the solution.



Human Capital

This all comes down to looking at those inheritors in terms of their human capital.

As York noted, most families would love it if their rising generation would be able to do just fine even if they did not inherit a single dollar from their parents.

And, he went on, those same parents would also love it if they had so much confidence in their children that they wouldn’t fear leaving them everything.

Is there anyone in your circle of advisors helping with those issues?




How Advisors Serve FamBiz – Let Me Count the Ways

How Advisors Serve FamBiz – Let Me Count the Ways

A typical blog post for me begins with some context about its genesis, and this one will be no different.

A few weeks back in NYC at the IFG Conference, it was at the lunch session, where we had signed up for table discussions with like-minded attendees.

I had pre-selected the table for “Family Enterprise Advising & Role of Consultants”.  I was one of the first to arrive at the table with my lunch, so I sat down at a nearly empty table that was about to fill up.


Interesting Neighbours

Within minutes, who should sit to my left but Dennis Jaffe, who had been assigned the role of discussion facilitator?

If you’re at all interested in the subjects that I write about and you don’t know Dennis Jaffe, he’s one of our true thought leaders, he’s worked with families around the world, and his writings are required reading.

A woman then sat to my right but realized that she was in the wrong place, and as soon as she got up to relocate, another woman I had not yet met took her place.


And Another Thought Leader

Someone welcomed her, saying “Hi Covie” and I quickly realized that I was now sitting next to Coventry Edwards-Pitt, whose books I have also read.

In fact, a few months back, she had sent me a signed and dedicated copy of her latest book, AGED Healthy Wealthy and Wise, for a client of mine, even though we had never met (it’s great to have friends in this business to hook you up!)

Many business cards were exchanged around the table and a lively discussion soon began.

Although we had all selected the same affinity table, it quickly became clear that we all worked with families in different ways.


Coaching Versus Facilitation

Someone noted that sometimes we need to tell clients things they don’t want to hear, and that on occasion, that can get you fired by the client.

Another person at our table who was an executive coach had some difficulty relating to this, and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that he works with individual clients, and he takes plenty of time to assess the coach-client fit before each engagement.

Facilitators, on the other hand, need to “please” everyone, because there are lots of people who might want to fire them.


Graduating Clients?

While we did not get into this that day, I’ve had interesting discussions with other colleagues around whether or not we “graduate” clients, i.e. work with them until they no longer need us, and can work out their family governance without us.

There are different views on this, but getting families to become self-sufficient is certainly a laudable goal for many of us.


Practitioners Spectrum

We all recognize that every family is different, and that they also change over time.  The same can be said of their advisors.

At last fall’s FFI Conference in London, I was part of a group of four colleagues who held a breakout session on what we dubbed the “Practitioners Spectrum” that looked at this in some detail.

We broke attendees into 6 groups, depending on how they normally saw their work with family clients.

We ran the gamut from Counselling and Mediation to Consulting and Facilitation, and then to Mentoring and Coaching.


Getting the Timing Right

And because families are always changing, timing is a constant issue.  Add in the fact that the work we do with families is best done when it is not urgent (not to be confused with unimportant!) people who work with enterprising families are often frustrated by delays that are out of our control.

We regularly need to compete for time with people who are very busy working in their businesses, putting out proverbial fires.



In the end, the match between a family business and their advisors can often come down to serendipity, which has long been one of my favourite concepts.

I’m reminded of a blog I wrote a few months back, Genetics, Luck, and Karma: Secrets to FamBiz Success because sometimes you just don’t know why certain things click.

But if you play your cards right, and recognize that what goes around, comes around, you will do alright.

Reminds me of another favourite saying:


“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

family business champion

The Unsung Role of Family Champions

This week I’m introducing a subject I first heard about a few years ago, but that has recently been put back on my “front burner”.

I first heard about the concept of a “Family Champion” about five years ago, which would’ve been right around the time that Joshua Nacht was completing his PhD on the subject.

Nacht’s supervisor was Dennis Jaffe, who is quite well known in the circles of the Family Firm Institute (FFI) and the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI), both of which I was then just discovering.


Like a “Product Champion”?

Decades ago I recall coming across the idea of a “product champion”, while reading some business books.

As I recall, the concept was that you needed to have one really interested and motivated person who really cared about the development of a new product within a company, if it was to have any hope of succeeding.

Later in my career, when our family’s business had successfully licensed one of our patented products to a large company to manufacture and sell in the US, we learned about the importance of a champion, the hard way.


Champ Doesn’t Work Here Anymore

The company we licensed was acquired within the first year of our agreement, and both the VP and product manager we had been dealing with soon left for greener pastures.

Our agreement “survived” the acquisition, but without a “product champion” around anymore, the product we were expecting them to make and sell (and pay us a royalty on) soon became their 99th priority.

We ended up cancelling the agreement shortly thereafter.

From that point on, the idea of a “champion”, as someone who cares about something and who will assume a leadership role in making sure things happen, became seared in my memory.

Family Circle Issues and Governance

When we think about a family business, we can safely assume that in the business “circle”, there are a number of champions around, whether they be for a product or a project.

The role is actually most often actually part of someone’s job, and something that someone is specifically paid for.  In fact, if they do it well, they may even get a nice bonus.

But every family business has another key circle, the family circle, where things are often much less clear.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly, knows that I always bring things back to the family and how tricky it can be to make sense of things there.




Momentum and Making Things Happen

Because it isn’t normally part of anyone’s “job”, making sure that things get taken care of in the family circle requires someone to be an instigator and a leader, and this person is often referred to as a “Family Champion”.

Joshua Nacht, who now works with the Family Business Consulting Group, has recently updated some of his PhD work and released a book entitled Family Champions and Champion Families.

In the book, he gives some great examples of who these champions are and the roles that they play.



The 100-Year Family Businesses Project

I asked Nacht how he came up with the idea for his PhD and he explained that Jaffe was his PhD supervisor.

Because Jaffe had recently launched a years-long project of finding and interviewing 100 family businesses that had each lasted a minimum of 100 years, he employed some of his students to conduct many of the interviews for him.

It was after doing a number of these in-depth interviews that Nacht and Jaffe realized that one of the keys to family business survival was to have someone who is interested, motivated, and capable of making sure that the family circle was never neglected in favour of the business circle.



Advisors Supporting the Family Champion

As an advisor who typically works with families who are beginning to work on family alignment and family governance, I am always on the lookout for those family members who are most open to the ideas that I bring.

The family champion role is often a lonely one, because many family members are preoccupied with their own lives and those of their nuclear family, rather than that of the extended family.

Outside advisors who learn to team with family champions, the ones with whom their messages resonate the most, are best positioned to create a lasting impact for the family, by supporting one another’s efforts.



Blocks of wood with DIY letters

Family Governance – Do It Yourself?

For enterprising families to remain successful over generations, they will eventually need to begin to take their family governance seriously.

As a family grows, and as their wealth becomes more complex, they need to figure out how they will address important questions relating to ways they’ll make decisions together, how they’ll communicate, and how they’ll solve problems as a group.

The very idea of going down this road can be frightening for some, but it doesn’t have to be.



A Bank Slogan to the Rescue

The idea for this post came a few months ago when I was in the lobby of a downtown office building, which also housed a large branch of one of Canada’s major banks.

While killing time because I was early for my meeting, I was looking around and I noticed a banner for one of the bank’s investment services.

It read:

“Invest FOR yourself, not BY yourself”

Hmmm, I thought, that’s pretty straightforward and quite clear messaging.  It also happens to apply, in a way, to my ideas around family governance.


FOR the Family, BY the Family

If you’re familiar with my writing, you likely already know that when it comes to family governance, I believe it really needs to be done “For the family, by the family”.

But, I never said it needed to be done by the family, by themselves!

In fact, I can think of a number of reasons why a family shouldn’t turn the development of their governance procedures into a complete “Do It Yourself” project.

Let’s take a look at a few of them.


sunset and a lighthouse


Get on Track, Stay on Track

Developing governance systems is actually quite a project.  And, it’s often a project that really isn’t anyone’s “job”.

Sure, getting started and keeping it going often falls to one or two key people, but it’s never the only thing that they have to worry about.

Hiring someone to guide you in this project means you also have someone who will keep things on track, because it’s really pretty easy to let things slide if nobody is making sure that things are continuing to evolve on a more-or-less regular basis.



Third Party Neutral

Establishing family governance naturally involves getting a number of people together to discuss many important details.

Even though the people are related, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll always agree on everything.  Discussions can get personal at times, and that’s another reason to bring in an outsider.

A trained facilitator will also bring an objective, neutral viewpoint that just isn’t there when the only people around the table are family members.



Things Don’t Happen By Themselves

An expression that I use frequently is “things don’t just happen by themselves”.

I guess I already covered this in my first point, but it bears repeating.

An outsider who comes in with a mandate to make things happen is more likely to help the family persist, even in times when they begin to feel like they’re not making progress quickly enough.



Hire the Expertise You Need

Enterprising families usually have a wide variety of human capital to draw from, as many family members have useful talents that help the family continue to be successful.

However, it’s pretty rare for a family to have exactly the expertise required to lead the development and implementation of their governance procedures.

The good news is that there are people who know what needs to be done and can be brought in as the important resource that the family needs.



Architect, Contractor, Decorator

When you bring in such an advisor, you’re looking for someone who is partially an “architect” to get the design right, but also partially a “general contractor” who will help build it.

As things progress, continuing on my building analogy, you will also want to benefit from that person’s expertise and experience as kind of a “decorator” who helps the fine-tuning as well.



Guidance and Facilitation

Ultimately, you will need someone who can provide the guidance you need as well as the facilitation required to get the family to come up with the systems themselves.

Ideally the family will co-create their governance.  You cannot just “buy” your governance from a consultant, although that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who will try to sell it to you.

I suppose you could “save time” and buy it, but most family members won’t buy into a system if they weren’t part of creating it. It just won’t stick.


Ikigai: A “Four-Circle Model” of Human Capital

This week we’re going to look at an interesting model that I came across last year, and talk about how it might apply to enterprising families.

When I first saw it, I mistakenly thought that it was already quite well known, but it doesn’t seem to be.

At the FFI conference last fall in London, one of the presenters had it on a Powerpoint slide and asked how many people were familiar with it.  With dozens of people in the room, I was one of less than a handful of people to raise my hand.

The model comes from Japan and is called Ikigai, and the sub-title of the graphic I found calls it “A Japanese concept meaning ‘A reason for being’”.

Ikigai: A “Four-Circle Model” of Human Capital

Pretty Heady Stuff

I guess that makes it seem like pretty heady (and potentially “heavy”) stuff, but I promise not to go too far afield here.

As usual, I want to look at how things affect families, whether they run a business, have a family office or are simply part of the “ultra-high-net-worth” set, and are concerned with raising their offspring to have meaningful lives.

For most parents, few things are more important than raising our children, with the long-term goal of having them turn out to be well adjusted and happy.

Some adopt a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards their offspring’s career goals, while others are quite directive.


What You Love, What You’re Good At

The old standards of “do what you love” and “find something that you’re good at” are still as pertinent as ever when we try to guide our children as they make choices while they’re coming of age.

Of course there are a number of other considerations that also come into play, and the Ikigai brings up a couple of them.

Some people will look at the other dimensions and quickly agree that they are also important, but my point here today is that they don’t necessarily apply equally to everyone.


Show Me The Money

In addition to loving what you do and being good at it, for most people it’s also important to get paid for their work, so finding something that you can be well paid for is often very important as well.

Notice that I said “often”, and not always, because I’m not talking about “most people”.

Families that have already succeeded at accumulating significant wealth can prove to be important exceptions here.


What the World Needs

Personally, I’ve seen other models that noted the three aspects we’ve already covered, but the one “new” or added dimension is the one where you also consider “what the world needs” in the mix.

This seems to fit quite nicely with the way many Millennials are typically portrayed.

More than ever, it seems that many in the younger generation truly care more about the collective than they do about increasing their own riches.

So in some cases, people may find it more compelling to look for careers where they feel like they are making a positive impact on the world, as a higher priority than making a lot of money.


Different Generation, Different Drivers

Trying to find something that checks all four boxes may seem like a low-percentage game.

That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done or that it isn’t worth trying though.

Plenty of people have done well and lived very rewarding lives while only really “succeeding” in a couple of the four areas, thank you very much.

Many parents have sacrificed a lot and worked at jobs that they never loved but needed to do to provide for their families, with the hope that someday, their kids could have a better life.


The Resource Generation Set

I recently came across an organization that’s attracting many young people from financially wealthy families who want to make a difference in the world.

They call themselves Resource Generation, and appear to want to help create a world with more equitable social justice.

I’m sure that those who are involved must have some very interesting dinner conversations with their families.

It appears that there are indeed some people who are more concerned with the way the world works and less concerned with making money, because they already have plenty.

And I think that the Ikigai model can go a long way in helping families discuss these important subjects together.

Family Governance: One Step at a Time

Family Governance: One Step at a Time

Writing this blog every week allows me to share my thoughts on subjects relating to enterprising families and wealth continuity, and to talk about some of the best conferences I attend in this field.

There is a relatively new event on the calendar that is quickly becoming a favourite of mine, the Institute for Family Governance’s conference.  This one-day event in NYC has taken place in late January the past 3 years, and will be back again in 2020.

And it is great fodder for this blog! 

After IFG in 2017, I wrote Family Governance, Aaaah, and then last year Realistic Family Governance Goals. But this year, in addition to this piece, I’ll be following up with at least a handful of posts inspired by the conference.



Real World Experiences

As I wrote on their feedback survey, the highlight for me was the fact that there were so many examples of real families and what they have been doing in the area of family governance.

Of course there were presentations by practitioners who work with wealthy multigeneration families, but there were also plenty of people from families who shared their stories.

Now family governance is of course a niche, which I know based on some of the blank stares that I get from many people when I talk about the kind of work that I do.

The US Customs agent who asked me why I was going to New York sort of shook his head and tried not to laugh when I said the I was heading to a conference on family governance.

So the more we can get practitioners and families to share their experiences, about what real families have done and continue to do, the better for all of us who serve this field.


Frames of family pictures hanging on a wall of a house

Time, Work, Practice, Leadership

There was a panel in the afternoon where one participant talked about an important decision his family made years ago when they hired a well-known family business consultant.

There were some such consultants in the audience of course, and you can imagine how all of our heads were nodding along.

But there was something else this man said that I noted, because it echoes a message that I find myself repeating a lot.

It didn’t seem to be a prepared or rehearsed remark either, just a genuine reflection about family governance in general.

I quickly jotted down the four main words that he mentioned when talking about his family’s governance efforts.

“This takes time, it takes work, it takes practice, and it takes leadership



Doesn’t Just “Happen”

One of the ways I usually put it is to say that this stuff doesn’t just “happen” by itself.

One of the words I often add is “intention”, because being intentional is one way to describe it.

But the four words that he used really rang true, probably because he seemed to be saying them from his heart and literally from the top of his head, not on some prepared slide for a presentation.



Time and Work


Family governance does indeed take a lot of time, both in terms of manhours and in terms of months and years.  That’s why I always urge people to start before they feel like they really need to; it’s almost never too early.

The amount of work involved is often more that the family expects at the outset.  I’m sure that most advisors who work with families have had the experience where some family members start to feel governance “fatigue” at times.



Practice and Leadership

While time and work are common elements that may discourage families from implementing governance, practice and leadership are part of a different category.

Practice may not always make perfect, but his point was that you do get better at it as you do more of it.  Working with family members isn’t always easy, and we need to do it repeatedly to get better at it.

That leaves leadership, which is also required.  I would add that if there is only one leader who cares about it, the family likely won’t get very far.

If I were to change one thing in the quote I might swap out the word “leadership” and insert “leaders”, just to emphasize that it’s not a one-person job.

But of course we all recognize that good family governance must involve many family members, right?


Money bags with plants growing on top

Family Offices and Impact Investing: A Great Fit

This week we’ll look at a couple of subjects that have been written about a lot over the past few years.

I’ve written about the family office space recently, and promised to write about more often.  Impact investing, on the other hand, I’ve not written about, yet.

It’s interesting that more people are beginning to realize that family offices and impact investing actually go together like peanut butter and jelly, or ham and cheese.

I’m not claiming to have unearthed anything new here, but want to comment on some aspects of this combination that give it so much potential.



Millennials on the Mind

Let’s start with the premise that many family offices are essentially investment vehicles for wealth that is owned by a family.

Let’s add in the fact that these families want to keep their wealth in the family, and that much of that wealth is often liquid wealth, which can be invested in a wide variety of asset classes.

And finally, let’s not forget that when the wealth (eventually) gets transitioned to the rising generation of the family, there are likely going to be some millennials involved.

If you Google “millennials impact investing” you will get all sorts of hits.

Much of the mindset that impact investors bring to the table overlaps almost perfectly with everything that I’ve ever read about millennials.



Family Engagement

Anyone who works with wealthy families knows that a key obstacle to successful wealth transitions has always been the difficulty in getting and maintaining the engagement of the younger generation of the family.

It’s only natural for young people to want to find their own way in the world, to explore and develop their own passions, and follow their own dreams.

Their parents, who are currently stewarding the family’s wealth, and who may have been involved in creating and growing it, often become anxious when their offspring do not show any interest in these efforts.


family Business office

Generational Priorities Converge

So for families who have liquid capital to invest in different asset classes, it isn’t much of a stretch to begin to look at investments in companies or funds that look to make a positive impact in an environmental and/or social fashion.

Impact investing is about making money first and foremost, just not at any cost.  If younger family members can identify potential investments that satisfy both a social benefit along with an opportunity to make a financial profit, it should be a no-brainer to consider such opportunities.

I’m thinking about this from the point of view of a family that is trying to find ways to combine what is important to all generations of the family.

For a family office to look seriously at impact investing even takes into account future generations, including young children and those who aren’t yet born.



Like Philanthropy, But Different

Some people confuse impact investing with philanthropy, so let’s address the comparison here.

Philanthropy is another way that some wealthy families use to bring the family together and help prepare the rising generation.  Working together on a family foundation is a nice way to learn financial literacy and how to work together with others.

Families who understand and teach their younger generations the importance of giving back to their community have realized that there are lots of win-wins here.

But impact investing is different, because it’s actually about finding ways to invest money for profit, not just out of a sense of charity.

It just isn’t about profit without regard to side effects and unwanted consequences.



Who Gets to Decide?

Of course it’s easy to say that family offices should take impact investing seriously and start doing it.  It’s another to figure out how to do it, including asking the questions around “who gets to decide?”

We’ve looked at “what” to do (impact investing) and we’ve explored a bit of the “why”, (because of the engagement of all generations), but that still leaves a lot of the “how” questions.

A few weeks back, in Putting “Family” in the Family Office, I noted:


Ideally, the goals of the family would also

be taken into consideration too, not to

mention the family’s mission and vision


Impact investing needs to be driven by the family’s vision to really succeed.

Global FamBiz Students Compete for Glory

Global FamBiz Students Compete for Glory

The University of Vermont recently held the 6th edition of their Global Family Enterprise Case Competition(FECC) in Burlington.

It was great to see this fantastic event back on the calendar after a one-year hiatus as they awaited completion of their brand new digs.

I was privileged to be back to serve on a couple of judging panels, a role I had enjoyed at 3 of their previous competitions (2014, 2015, 2016).


Truly Global Reach

I was scheduled to judge on Thursday and Friday, but because Burlington Vermont is only about an hour and a half from home, I decided to head down in time to catch the first round on Wednesday afternoon.

There were 13 teams in the undergraduate division and 12 graduate teams.  They had been drawn into divisions Wednesday morning.

As it happened, the “FFI Division” consisted of four teams from outside North America: China, Guatemala, the Philippines and Spain.

I decided to spend the afternoon watching that division because of its diversity.

Let’s just say that I was quite impressed with the caliber of presentations, even before considering the fact that most of them were working in their second or third language.

universities participating in Global family business competition

Tell It To The Judge

On Thursday my work truly began.  I was the lead judge of my panel, and as it turned out, I was also the oldest of the four judges, probably by at least a decade and a half.

We saw presentations by undergraduate teams from Canada, USA and Mexico.

Our task was to rank the four teams in order after we had seen them all present and survive our Q & A period.

As luck would have it, all four judges came up with the same rankings so our deliberations were quick.  This allowed us plenty of time to provide what we hoped would be useful feedback for the teams.

We also spent some time on allocating our six stars (points) for best presenters from the teams that we saw.  There were lots of worthy candidates to choose from.



Disagreements Happen Too

On Friday, the judging panels were mixed up again and I ended up with 3 new people on my panel, and I was no longer the lead judge.

We were in a graduate division, and the teams we saw were from Canada, USA, Germany and Sweden.

When it came time to determine our rankings, unlike the previous day, the four of us were all over the map.  There were three teams who received a top rank, including one that had received a fourth-place vote as well.

This deliberation wasn’t as simple as the previous day’s.


 study rooms for students at a university

Not Much Difference

Family business cases, whether in real life or as captured by those who write cases for University classes and case competitions, are always very subjective.

By “subjective” I mean that every person can interpret everything they read, see, and hear according to their own personal filters, experiences and understanding.

When the teams completed their 20-minute presentations, we had a 10-minute Q & A to probe for more depth and clarification.

We got to hear a lot in that half hour, but considering these cases were based on real-life situations that had decades of history behind them, we were really only scratching the surface.

In the end, the difference between first and fourth was not very large on either day that I judged.



Better Every Year

From the first time I attended FECC until this year’s edition, things have been getting better every year.

Likewise the field of family business as a subject that Universities teach is also advancing, and the profession of advising business families continues to move in positive directions.

If this blog post is starting to sound like it’s coming from a big fan, then you’re reading it correctly.  If it also sounds like I am angling for an invitation to return as a judge next year, that’s also a strong possibility.



And the Winners Are

On Saturday night the winners were announced.

Congratulations to the undergraduate winners, from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

In the graduate category, the winning team was from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Click here for all final results.

And the whole University of Vermont crew deserves kudos once again for a fantastic job of creating and hosting this unique event.

Kid laughing on the bench

“Nose In, Fingers Out” for Family Business

“Nose In, Fingers Out” for Family Business

Today’s topic is one that I’ve been thinking about for a while, ever since I first saw it mentioned back in 2017.

If you Google “nose in, fingers out”, you’ll see that it has been used by a number of people, attesting to its usefulness in creating a mental image that most people can quickly grasp.

I need to give a hat tip to Larry Putterman for putting it on my radar screen first.



It’s All About Boundaries

A topic that arises often in business families is that of “boundaries”, and there are many reasons for that, and anyone who has ever worked with, or in, a family business knows what I’m talking about.

But while the “nose in, fingers out” idea is about boundaries, it is also a subtle way to discuss how boundary lines are not all necessarily a solid concrete wall, but perhaps just some steel slats.

Boundaries are important, but we need to think about, and talk about, what the boundaries are supposed to accomplish, if we are going to establish the optimal boundaries for our situation.



From CEO to Chairman

The area that Putterman specializes in is Boards of Directors, and in the family business context what he is most often referring to relates to a person who has decided to scale back their involvement as part of a transition.

The former leader of the operations of the business, likely the CEO, has decided to pass on the reins of the operations, but to stay involved in a lesser capacity, and not disappear altogether, at least not yet.

There are different ways to take these kinds of steps gradually, of course.  My father brought in a non-family President and stepped into the Chairman role, but kept the CEO title for himself for a while.

Quite often the biggest step is the one where the CEO mantle is relinquished, and only the Chairmanship is retained.



How Much Is Out, How Much Is In?

In a family business, an outgoing leader will (hopefully) get to the point where, for many reasons, it makes more sense to scale back their involvement, moving from day-to-day operations to more of an oversight role.

These kinds of transitions happen all the time.

But sometimes they work out well, and other times, well, they just create problems.

This is where the “nose in, fingers out” idea comes in.



What Is Permissable?

The devil, as they say, is always in the details.

The nose and the eyes go together, so you are allowed to look around and sniff around as much as you like.

As you would expect in an oversight role, continuing to observe whatever is going on in the company is allowed and even required.

Below the nose is the mouth, of course, and this is usually the first place that problems begin to arise.



The Mouth Can Be a Finger (?)

If the nose and eyes go together, does that mean the mouth does too?

Probably not.

Once you step back from the day-to-day to oversight, what you say to people, at least those who are involved in the daily operations, needs to be weighed very carefully.

Problems and confusion arise quite quickly when the old boss walks around and tells “his people” what to do.

In fact, it is at this point where the mouth has become tantamount to a finger.



Encouragement Yes, Direction No

When the ex-leader talks to the employees, care must be taken to limit their words to encouragement and not direction.

When they are in a board setting or discussing things with others involved in oversight only, then the mouth is once again an agent of the eyes.


Road directions in a desert


What About Other Family Members?


There is another area where the nose in, fingers out situation comes up in family business that I’d also like to touch on here.

It’s the one where family members who do not work in the business interact with others, often siblings, who do.

There are boundary issues here as well, as those who don’t work there have an information disadvantage that they usually need to overcome.

Sometimes their questions seem a little too much like fingers in, rather than just noses.

For those being questioned, the best defence for this is to try to be as transparent as possible, and to get out in front of any questions.

If you satisfy their noses, they will be less tempted to poke their fingers in.



Boat at sea

Equanimity: Yours for only $250 Million!

Every so often, I hear a word that sounds kind of familiar to my ears, but that also gives me a bit of an uncomfortable feeling.

Usually, the feeling is one of guilt, because that newish, cool word sounds like something that I really should understand, but I’m not 100% sure that I do.

Alas, we cannot know all of the words, and even if we learned one new word every day as some might suggest we do, I’m not sure you could ever learn them all.



Audible Strikes Again

Over the past few months, I made a few trips to our cottage to work on my next book, and I’ve been taking advantage of my subscription to Audible, the audiobook division of Amazon.

When I listen to music while driving, it sometimes puts me to sleep, so audiobooks have been a godsend.

I recently listened to a couple of books about meditation and mindfulness, and it was in one of those that the latest “special” word struck me: Equanimity.

It sounded majestic and important.  But I didn’t feel like I knew enough about it, even though I was falling in love with the word.



Let’s Google It

As recently as a few years ago, I would have gone to the bookshelf with the dictionaries and thesaurus and looked it up, but like many people I just Google everything now.

Lo and behold, thanks to some dumb luck with timing, there was a news story out about the world’s most expensive yacht that also happened to have a cool name: Equanimity.

Like a little kid seeing a shiny object, of course, I had to read about this huge yacht that the Malaysian government had just seized that was said to be worth $250 Million.

I’d worry about the definition later.

I even watched a Youtube video of the scandalous Asian billionaire owner getting his first tour of the vessel a few years earlier.


Dressing store

Definitions and Meanings

But let’s get down to business here.  From Google, here are some definitions and meanings I liked:

mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper,

especially in a difficult situation.


Equanimity is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience

of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other

phenomena that may cause others to lose

 the balance of their mind.


Stable and Composed

Most people probably like to think of themselves as stable and composed, and I guess that most of the time they are correct.

The problem isn’t what happens “most of the time” though, the trouble is what happens “in a difficulty situation” or when “emotions and pain” are part of the equation.

And when you happen to work with other family members, you know that emotions and difficult situations come up all the time.



Be the Bigger Person

I always say that the only person you can control is yourself, and so the onus is on each and every one of us to strive for our own equanimity, and try to be the most stable and composed person that we can be, in every situation.

Can meditation help you become better at this?  I think it can and there is more and more research all the time that supports this view too.

But before we can get too far, we really have to make a personal decision that this is something that we really want to do, and that we are ready to make the efforts that will be required.


Finding Inner Peace

In July 2018, in Rest in Peace, While You’re Still Alive, I wrote about this as finding peace,

But whether we call it peace, calm, composure, or equanimity, it really doesn’t matter, because we all have different versions of it that resonate with us better.

The important thing is to work on getting better at self-awareness and self-control.



Good for Each Generation

Whether we’re talking about the “now generation” who are currently running the family business, or the “next gens” who are rising to eventually replace them, this is equally important.

It even helps if you have advisors or coaches who exhibit equanimity to help you along the way.

I’ve been in meetings with families where everyone was even tempered, and I’ve been in others with other families where tempers really flared.

Even a little bit of equanimity goes a long way.