Guy sitting in his office facing a window

Putting “Family” in the Family Office

Back in September in From Family Business to Family Office, I finished up by noting that I’d be writing about the family office space more frequently going forward.

I diligently followed that up four weeks later with another post on the topic, Family Office: “WHAT” vs. “HOW.  But that was more than two months ago, so this is slightly overdue.

Coincidentally, I just came across an article from a recent issue of The Economist on the subject, which I found interesting, called: How the 0.001% invest.

 

 

An Investment Vehicle

An important angle of that story is evident from their secondary title:

“The family offices through which the world’s

wealthiest 0.001% invest are a new force in

global finance that few have heard of”

The story makes the point that some of the giant family offices from around the world are making waves in the financial markets like never before, which is causing them to be talked about even more.

I typically don’t talk about the “0.001%” very much, on the assumption that they are already quite well served, and because they constitute a tiny fraction of people who could ever use my services.

 

Where is the Family?

I typically write about things that actually concern the families themselves, even though most people care only about their money.

The number of people who would bend over backwards to cater to the “super-rich” to manage their wealth is huge.

The number of people like me who want to be a resource to those families as they manage the family aspects of their intergenerational wealth transitions is comparatively tiny.

So it’s up to me to ask the question, then, “Where is the family in the family office?”

 

 

Family Members as Clients

Well if the story from the Economist is any indication, nobody really talks much about the family members themselves, preferring to concentrate on the family’s wealth, and ways to increase it.

This also happens to be where most of the professionals make their money, by helping the family office make money.

The members of the family, for whom all of this work is ostensibly being done, are rarely mentioned.  They are, though, the “clients” of the family office.

Because every family office is unique to the family it serves, it is hard to know how many of them actually have deeper levels of family involvement in the work the family office does.

 

 Meeting room for family

Values, Goals, Mission, Vision

Because many family offices come about as the result of liquidity events in family businesses, many of the same issues are often found there.  Some are simpler than those in an operating business, while others are more complex.

See: Huge Liquidity Events – Great News, Right?

Hopefully, the family office is not simply making investments based on maximizing returns, if those investments would go against the values of the family.

Ideally, the goals of the family would also be taken into consideration too, not to mention the family’s mission and vision.

This, of course, pre-supposes that the family has worked together to define their values and agree on the goals, mission and vision of the family.

I’d guess that very few family offices are currently benefitting from that kind of guidance from family clients who’ve done that important work.

 

 

Family Office as a Catalyst

Regular readers know that I like to harp on the importance of having someone “with a different last name” around the table at meetings.

It’s important for family meetings to run well, and so having a facilitator who is not a family member is the best way to go.

Someone from the family office could be well placed to handle such a role.

 

 

Multi-Family Office Opportunity

For large single-family offices (SFO) there’s really no excuse for not doing the important work of involving the family and preparing the rising generation.

For multi-family offices, (MFO) the idea of offering assistance with family meetings is an opportunity to differentiate their services from those who are strictly investment managers for high-end clients.

 

 

Check Before you Sign

This is not a new idea, of course.  Many firms tout their assistance with family matters on their websites and in their pitches to potential family clients.

There is, however, a huge variation in the service levels that different firms out there can offer their clients in this area, so if part of the reason you are looking into an MFO is for help with family dynamics, be sure to ask LOTS of questions first!

 

Family Business Meeting Advice

Calm, Clear, and Connected

Each week in this space, I talk about things that affect the world of family business and family wealth, especially for families who are planning for a successful transition to the next generation.

This week’s subject is family meetings and three ways to assess them after the fact.

My premise is that you should strive for “calm, clear, and connected” meetings.

Let’s take them one at a time.

 

 

Keep Calm and Carry On

I’ve written a couple of blogs on the subject of calm, including Calm is Contagious earlier this year, and Calm-fident Advice for your Family in 2016.

When a family can meet calmly and discuss important matters while everyone remains composed, the results are usually much more satisfying than when voices are raised in anger.

It is normal for some contentious subjects to arise, on occasion, where things get a bit louder and more animated.

When the loud and angry meetings outnumber the calm ones, it’s usually not a good sign.

Ideally, there can at least be some calm parts of each meeting where the family can truly benefit from everyone’s best thinking and ideas.

 

birds flying in a V-shaped form

My Kingdom for Some Clarity

Another subject that I talk about regularly is clarity and the need for things to be clear.

Most people think that they have a clear picture of things in their own head, and that’s probably a good thing.

When we talk about a family though, it’s also important for everyone to have the same clear picture, and that’s very rarely the case.

There are many valid reasons why different people have different pictures of what they believe to be the reality.

Problems will arise when people who are working together to make decisions about important matters don’t have a common understanding of what they’re dealing with.

And a huge underlying issue here is that people often simply assume that their view is not only correct, but also that the others share their view.

One of the benefits of having an outside person present at family meetings is that this person can ask the “stupid questions” that the others would likely be afraid to ask, because they don’t want to risk appearing ignorant.

Of course, this presupposes that you can find an outsider who is prepared to act this way in the interest of clarity for the family.

I laid out some of the questions that you might ask in I Can See Clearly Now in 2016.

 

 

Connected: The State of the Relationships

The third element that I think is important for family meetings is connection.  I realize that this one may seem a bit less obvious to some, but please stay with me here.

Families work best when everyone is on the same page and everyone has an opportunity to be heard.

When I facilitate family meetings a big part of my role is to ensure that each person has the opportunity to speak and contribute.

You may wonder about my choice of the word “connected” here, and I guess I must confess that part of the reason I chose it is that “calm, clear and connected” evokes the old “cool, calm and collected” expression most of you are probably familiar with.

But the connection angle also stems from my understanding of the importance of family systems theory.

 

Family meeting

Interdependent Parts of a System

The members of a family are all interdependent parts of the family system.  I actually try to focus more on the relationships between the people than I do on the people themselves.

I try to notice all the non-verbal cues that I can when sister speaks to brother and son speaks to mother, and so on.

When everyone relates well with everyone else, meetings are more productive and the decisions that are made are more likely to stick.

 

 

Recap: Calm, Clear and Connected

No meeting is ever perfect. In fact, the focus shouldn’t be on any single meeting, but on having a series of regular meetings.

Try to get better from one meeting to the next, as the process evolves.

More calm is generally better than less calm.

More clarity, even if it takes a bit longer to make sure everyone understands things the same way, is better than less.

And when everyone actually connects with everyone else in meaningful ways, that’s ideal.

Think back to your last family meeting.  How did you do? Where can you improve?

Counterintuitive Thoughts

I can’t recall when it happened exactly, but sometime last century I first heard the word “counterintuitive” and I was instantly smitten.

What a great word.

It’s a word you don’t hear every day, that sometimes elicits a quizzical look from people.  A “fifty cent” word.

So today I wanted to blog about some of my favourite counterintuitive ideas.

 

Traffic Problems

Let’s begin with something that people who live in cities can all relate to, traffic.

When you expect that there will be lots of traffic, your first inclination might be to leave early to get where you’re going.

It may seem counterintuitive to leave late, but once the traffic has let up, you’ll have a less stressful drive and arrive in a better mental state.

 

Reliable Internet Service

I don’t know if it’s just me, or my choice of Internet service providers, but sometimes my hard-wired cable is pretty unreliable and inconsistent.

We couldn’t get cable at the cottage, so we had to “settle” for satellite instead.  I worried about reliability because I need to be able to work from there too.

I do plenty of meetings over Skype and Zoom and was worried that there would be glitches.

Counterintuitively, I cannot recall a single glitch in any call I’ve had with anyone from there, while my cable calls from both my home and office are often sub-optimal (another favourite word!).

 

 

Strong Steel, Weak Glass

Many years ago there were some home break-ins in our neighbourhood that concerned me.

I called in a security expert to see what we could do to fortify our home. I was told that one of our patio doors was a risk.  It’s a steel door containing a large window.

I assumed that the glass was the weak point.

Nope. It was the steel.

The steel is so thin that anyone with a sledgehammer could smash it, but the window is apparently virtually indestructible.

 

 

Family Wealth Transition Examples

Of course I now need to share a few examples from my professional world too.

There are many times when I suggest that people Zig when everyone else is suggesting that they Zag.

And one of my new favourite expressions is “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

 

 

A Bigger Pie Won’t Solve Everything

There is a propensity for people to think that more money is always better than less, and that therefore, making the proverbial pie bigger should always be the goal.

But for a family, there are other forms of wealth besides financial.

Families who concentrate solely on making more money, under the assumption that everything else will work itself out, are fooling themselves.

It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true.

There comes a time in every family’s life cycle when the focus should switch from how to make the pie bigger, to how the pie will be shared and maintained in the future.

 

A Looser Grip is Safer

On a related note, many of those who create a lot of monetary wealth also like to control everything (and everyone) they can.

When it comes to family members, I will always maintain that holding on with a very tight grip is not a recipe for success.

You probably know people who are guilty of this, even if you have not thought about it in the same terms as my metaphor.

When anyone tries to exert complete control over others, it will eventually backfire.

It always does.

Kudos to those who recognize this and choose a looser grip.

 

Slow Down, Go Far

As I wrote in Going Far? Go Together, I believe that family business and family wealth are much more about “going together” than they are about “going fast”.

If you are concerned with doing things quickly, then going alone, or doing things by yourself, can make perfect sense.

But family wealth eventually reaches a stage where it becomes more about how those who will be on the receiving end of the transition are able to function together as a group.

This ability to work together is rarely something that they’re all born with, and as such, it takes time for it all to come together.

 

 

No Rush, Except…

You really shouldn’t rush the process.

In fact, there is only one thing you should rush here.

Hurry up and get started, so that you can then slow down and take your time getting it right.

 

 

The Importance of Family Vision

The Importance of Family Vision

It’s been over a year since I wrote about Family Vision specifically, so I think I’m due.

(5 Things You Need to Know: Family Vision)

 There are of course more than five things that anyone could say about every subject, and family vision is one that I think should be discussed more broadly, more deeply and more frequently.

But first I’d like to go back to the first keyword in the title that I decided to put on this post, i.e. “Importance”.

Questions Around Importance

A natural place to begin would be to ask “why” family vision is important.

But since this is my blog and I make the rules here, I’m going to “zag” instead of “zigging” and answer a few different questions instead.

I hope that no one thinks I’m acting like a politician when I answer a different question than the one that was asked.

My Dad used to say “You can do whatever you want, but don’t become a politician, because then even your friends will think you’re an a**hole”.

(My son recently reminded me of this, so yes, I have passed it down!)

 

– For Whom is Family Vision Important?

Making sure there’s a clear family vision isn’t an important consideration for every family.

In fact, I’d bet that most families have never even thought about this at all, and that’s OK.

But I don’t write these blogs for most families. I’m reminded of something my Aunt said to my Mom after she read my book, SHIFT your Family Business. “Oh, that’s a book for rich people”.

Well that isn’t the word that I would’ve used, but she isn’t wrong either. Most of what I write is geared towards “the 1%”.

I like to think that my ideas are just as valid, generally, for all families, but realistically, the higher up the wealth spectrum the family is, the more likely my thoughts will resonate with them.

 

– When Is Family Vision Important?

Just as family vision is not necessarily important for every family, neither is it important at all times.

Years and even decades can pass during which it never becomes salient. So when is it likely to become important?

Essentially, as soon as more than one generation of adults is involved, I believe that it is high time to think about working on a family vision.

As soon as the wealth that has been created goes from being the wealth of its creator to the wealth of the creator’s family, having a family vision becomes important.

When the wealth creator goes from thinking about “my wealth”, to “our wealth”, the paradigm has shifted.

 

2 kids walking down a road

– Where is Family Vision Important?

So assuming that a family is actually one for whom family vision is important, and that they are now at a point where the wealth is considered to be “family wealth”, where does the vision actually fit into things?

Discussions about family vision usually begin in the context of a family meeting.

If a family fits the profile based on the first two questions (“for whom” and “when”) but still hasn’t begun to have regularly scheduled family meetings, then that’s the most logical place to begin.

When starting out, I always suggest that families identify the smallest logical group of people to convene, usually the parents and their adult children. In-laws and children can be added later.

When I say, “regularly scheduled”, that doesn’t necessarily mean frequent.

Having a regular annual meeting will often suffice, and that’s preferable to having a few ad-hoc meetings over a few months and then not getting together again for three years.

– What is Family Vision Anyway?

Just what goes into a family vision will vary from one family to the next. No two families will go about figuring theirs out the same way, either.

The actual “content” or result of the vision is less important than the process the family goes through to define it.

If the family can answer the question “Where are we all hoping to go together?” I think that they’re well on their way.

Is it a family credo or motto? Yes, possibly. Is it a mission statement? Yeah, maybe that too.

Is it carved in stone? Well, maybe, eventually, but I’d suggest writing it down in pencil first, just in case.

So when’s the next family meeting?

Video version of (5 Things you Need to Know: Family Vision)

Text saying accountability

Accountability in the Family Business

Back in June, in Five Things FamBiz Can Learn from Fortune 500’s, I noted a few ways Family Businesses could benefit from emulating large corporations.

After it went out to subscribers, I got an email from an old friend, suggesting a 6th thing I could’ve added: Accountability.

So I explained to “Gary” that my lists always stop at 5 (much to my wife’s consternation) and maybe I could tackle accountability in a future post.

 

And here we are…

 

Noticeable In Its Absence

 

Gary doesn’t come from a business family himself, but he did marry into one, so he’s familiar with some of the dynamics involved.

His email to me included this sentence:

“After placing individuals in the right “seat” for them to succeed, you must hold them accountable for both the execution of the strategy and corresponding results.”

This made me wonder if some of Gary’s in-laws were perhaps not being held sufficiently accountable for their execution and results.

Accountability is something that’s much easier to notice when it isn’t there, and often especially so by outsiders whose workplaces are much more formal than many family businesses.

 

General Accountability… with Exceptions (!)

 

Of course, there are some cases where lack of accountability causes more problems than others.

You may be inclined to think that as long as there is some accountability in a business, then that’s better than none at all.

Well, that would make perfect sense in many cases, but maybe not in some family businesses.

If you’ve ever worked for a company where everyone is held to account, except those who have the same last name as the boss, then you know what I mean.

 

Formality is your Friend

 

One of the bad raps that family businesses often get is that they are not run as professionally as they should be, and that’s often true.

I like to think that that it has more to do with the size of the company than whether it’s family-owned and operated.

A strong correlation between firm size and formality makes more sense to me than one centred on the level of family involvement.

 

Family Business Relations

Minimal Standards for Success

 

Gary mentioned strategy and results, so let’s look at those.

In the original post, I mentioned “Executing on Strategy” as my fourth point.

Now IF the business has a clearly understood strategy, AND those charged with its execution have the resources available to do their jobs effectively, then it makes perfect sense to hold the people accountable for the results.

Unfortunately, in too many family business cases, people can easily argue that they’ve been set up for failure because of a lack of clarity and/or resources.

 

 

Give Me an Another Chance

 

Nobody’s perfect and everyone deserves a second chance, right?  And family businesses are supposed to have more of a long-term orientation, so let’s not be too quick to judge, right?

The point where a lack of accountability really rears its ugly head is when it goes on and on, year after year, and nothing changes.

It’s never easy to have to come down hard on relatives, but at some point, it can become a matter of survival for the business.

 

Family Business Relations

Direct Reports

 

One of the simplest ways to minimize this issue is to try to make sure that nobody reports directly to a parent or a sibling.

In smaller companies, this can be almost impossible, but wherever it can be done, this should be a no-brainer.

 

 

Problems at the Top

 

One place that you might not expect there to be a problem with accountability is at the very top of family business, especially when the founder is still running the show.

But the fact that one person feels that they’re accountable only to themselves will probably catch up to just about every person at the top.

Most founders are reluctant to set up a board of directors for their business, because they prefer to run things as they see fit, by the seat of their pants, and never need to answer to anyone else.

 

Who can blame them?

 

The A-Ha Solution

 

At some point, when (if?) they realize that they are in fact mortal, they might wake up to the fact that once they’re gone, a board will be just what the doctor ordered for the company to succeed.

 

So why not set up the board now, to instill

accountability for the next generation, later?

Bulb light

Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s

Family Governance: From Filaments to LED’s

When it comes to “Family Governance”, there aren’t many bigger fans than me.

I’ve written several blog posts specifically on the subject on this site, and there’s even a chapter in my book, Shift your Family Business, titled “Governance, Ugh!”

That exclamation –ugh- makes it seem like I don’t like governance, but in the book’s context, it’s clear that I do.

For any family to have a realistic chance of their wealth surviving over generations, they’ll absolutely require some form of governance.

 

Family Constitution? Yes, but…

The form and structure of that governance, as well as how it evolves over time, is where all the many important questions and decisions come into play, of course.

My advice is to always start small and take it slowly.

You’re looking for a durable “solution” to last generations, so there should be no reason to rush something through in weeks or even months.

One place that I would almost never choose to

begin is with the writing of a family constitution.

And that’s especially true if it’s one dictated by the wealth creator and patriarch, by himself, without consulting any other family members.

 

Misguided Ideas

One of the peer groups in which I participate with other family business and wealth advisors recently tackled such a case.

Here’s a bit of the background provided by a colleague I’ll call Nelly.

A family patriarch, “Jack”, who was also the wealth creator, was approaching his 80th birthday, and one of his financial advisors had spoken to him about succession and transition planning.

Somehow the idea of a “family constitution” came up and Jack loved it. He then sat down and began to draft it by himself.

 

How’s That Working Out For You?

As Jack shared his progress with family members, he began to become concerned with their lack of enthusiasm.

The financial advisor who initially mentioned the idea of the constitution was way out of his league to be of use to Jack now, but thankfully, he called in Nelly’s firm for help.

As Nelly shared with our peer group, she was slowly encouraging him to involve other family members in the creation of their constitution.

After several repeated suggestions, he actually started to warm up to the idea.

As Nelly shared with us, there was a light bulb going off from time to time, maybe with only “one or two filaments flashing”, but she was starting to get through to him.

 

Input from the Rising Generations

Of course, a couple of filaments do provide some light, which is better than complete darkness.

But it’s 2018, and those bulbs harken back to Thomas Edison and aren’t exactly “current” anymore.

I pointed out that perhaps what they needed here was some LED lighting, not more filaments.

Jack was preparing to leave his wealth to his children and grandchildren, but he was missing out on the opportunity to have them involved at this key stage of planning.

 

For the Family, By the Family

I’m not sure what became of Nelly’s work with Jack and his family, although I suspect it’s ongoing.

I’m not saying that involving the family is simple or easy, because it’s not.

But I am saying that it’s more than

worth the effort when done right.

Jack created the wealth, so he can technically do what he wants with it, and even give it all away to charity.

But he has expressed a desire to pass it on to his family. So what he’s actually trying to do is transform his personal wealth into family wealth.

The best way to do that, is to create some form of governance, for the family, by the family.

 

And What IF He Does It “His” Way?

If Jack rejects Nelly’s ideas and simply ploughs ahead with authoring the constitution himself, I predict one of two results will occur after Jack dies.

If the family gets along and the wealth is structured rather flexibly, the family will make whatever changes they see fit, using his constitution as a mere guideline, which will fade away over time.

Or, more likely, if the family does not get along well, or if the structures are very rigid, the family squabbles will begin right after Jack’s funeral.

Jack has a choice, but I sure hope he listens to Nelly.

Grandpa’s filaments won’t be quite as useful in his grandkids’ world of LED’s.

 

Name tag with prepared written on it

5 Ways FamBiz Rising Gens Can Prepare

5 Ways FamBiz Rising Gens Can Prepare

People in and around family businesses everywhere spend lots of time worrying about the rising generation of the family, wondering if and when they’ll ever be “ready” to take over from their parents.

There are as many variations of the situation as there are families and businesses, but there are some things that many have in common.

Those who are not content to just “wait their turn” can do a lot more than simply “be patient”.

With that in mind, here are…

 

“5 Ways FamBiz Rising Gens Can Prepare”

 

  1. Get Mentored

A mentor is usually someone older than the mentee, typically by more than a decade (and often two or three decades older).

The most important detail for a rising generation family business mentor is that they NOT be the parent, or any family member who is ultimately their boss.

A mentor can be from within the company, or from an outside organization, and will have some life and career experience that can be shared, on an occasional basis, over lunch, coffee or by phone or Skype.

 

  1. Create and Lead a Project

Up-and-coming family members in a business often have difficulty carving out their own leadership abilities, separate from those of their parents.

Creating their own project, either within their department, or as something new and intrapreneurial, is a way for them to show that they are able to make something happen on their own.

Of course they need to do more than just conceive an idea, and actually lead the necessary steps to do the work and bring it to a stage where the project can be deemed an accomplishment.

 

  1. Work on Sibling Unity

Unless the person is an only child, they will need to continue to deal with their sibling relationships for many decades to come.

Whether their siblings are working in the business or not, and even if they seem to display no interest in the business, those relationships should not ever be taken for granted.

Especially when there are siblings who never work for the family company, it behooves the ones who do to continually over-communicate what’s going on.

This should be done as “matter-of-factly” as possible, and never as bragging about one’s accomplishments or complaining about how tough it is to work for the parents.

Siblings may not be part of the business circle, but they are always part of the family circle, and don’t forget that they’re likely long-term ownership circle partners too.

 

  1. Build Your Network

While it is very important to get to know the people from outside the company who currently deal with the leading generation, from bankers, to customers and suppliers, having their own network is also beneficial.

Joining peer groups and making sure that they develop connections in their own age group will pay dividends down the road.

When their turn comes to take the lead on things, they’ll want to be able to call on their own contacts and people that they trust, and these relationships take time to develop.

It’s never too early to begin to cultivate a network of people you know and can trust.

 

  1. Round Yourself Out

Most people come into the family business from a certain specialty like finance, accounting, or marketing.

It is great to have a big strength on which to build your career, but the higher up the organisational ladder you go, the more that you can be a “generalist”, the better.

So if they’re known for their skills in one particular area, it may be a good time to work on building some skills and getting experience in another area where they’re currently less strong.

Once they get to the top, they’ll need to be able to properly relate to everyone, from a position of strength.

 

And Don’t Do This

The five ideas above are some ways that they can begin to take important and useful steps to ensure an eventual smooth transition.

Here is what they probably want to avoid.

  • Complaining to anyone who’ll listen that the current leaders are hanging around too long.
  • Whining that nobody takes them seriously
  • Bad-mouthing key employees
  • Being a part of “the problem” rather than bringing solutions
  • Displaying work habits that make them appear entitled

There are plenty of positive things they can do while they wait, and that includes some of the ideas outlined above.

Good luck!

Kids making a mess

Who Messes Up What, Or What Ruins Whom?

Who Messes Up What, Or What Ruins Whom?

This week’s post is one that I’ve been looking forward to writing for a few weeks now, ever since I had lunch with a colleague and relayed this story to her.

It was her reaction that made me realize how simple and yet how powerful it really is.

Considering that I’ve been writing this weekly blog for over five years now, I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this yet.

 

Credit Where It’s Due 

Before telling the story, I should note that I would love to give credit to the person who told the story when I first heard it, but I really have no clue who it was.

It would not surprise me to learn that it was during one of the weekly teleconferences of the Purposeful Planning Institute, because those calls have inspired many of these blogs.

In any event, it’s one of those stories that has probably been played out in various versions hundreds of times, all over the world.

So my version isn’t a true, “verbatim” recounting, but more like a parable.

 

I Worked Hard for All of This

A successful businessman is meeting with one of his trusted advisors, as he begins to think about how he’s going to deal with the considerable wealth he has built up.

He mentions how hard he’s had to work for what he now has, and then adds,

“And I don’t want my kids to screw it all up”.

This part of the story likely sounds pretty familiar to many professionals who work with clients who’ve built up large amounts of wealth.

It’s not unnatural for anyone to be concerned that the fruits of their labour might be squandered.

 

The Other Side of the Coin

Later in the discussion, likely in response to a question posed by the wise advisor, the man has a bit of an awakening, and says,

“But I don’t want all my wealth to screw up my kids, either”.

If you’ve read even a few of my blogs, you already know that this was the true “A-Ha” moment of the story for me.

 

The Bad News First

The bad news is that so many professionals who work for such wealthy clients are really only specialists in solving the first part of the problem.

Finding ways to create bulletproof structures to preserve wealth is nothing new for many specialists who pride themselves on how they can minimize taxes, and restrict how the wealth will be used by its intended beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, too many clients are too short-sighted to see that this will also produce many unwanted side effects for their family down the road.

 

Now the Good News  

The good news is that there are now more and more people who understand that only worrying about preparing the assets for the heirs leads to sub-optimal results.

And not only that but people are now also realizing that this is not a question of either worrying about preserving the wealth OR preserving the family and their relationships, it’s actually possible to do both.

 

It’s Not Either/Or, It’s Both/And

In fact, by concentrating on the second part, and making sure that the offspring will be prepared to receive the wealth, you will increase the chances that the family will be able to maintain and even grow the wealth in future generations.

I’m reminded of a blog I wrote a few years ago, Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved?

It contains the profound quote,

“Plans that are about us, but don’t include us, are not for us”.

That is a verbatim quote, from a different context, but it fits perfectly here too.

 

FOR the Family, BY the Family

It starts with someone recognizing the importance of this. That could be a member of the family, or it could be a wise advisor.

Long-term planning at it’s best is truly long-term, i.e. inter-generational.

If that wealth is to serve multiple generations of a family, the sooner the members of the following generations get involved, the more likely they will be successful.

 

Efficient or Effective?

You could simply worry about the preservation of the wealth, and create rigid structures that are tax efficient and ensure that some wealth will be available for future generations.

That would certainly be more efficient.

But if you want your plan to be effective, get the

younger generation involved as early as you can.

You won’t regret it, and neither will they.

Woman in Family Crying

Calm Is Contagious

Calm Is Contagious

Most people have witnessed occasions where anxiety in one person quickly spread to others in the room.

There’s an invisible “emotional field” that exists within groups of people, and just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

Anxiety is essentially “contagious” because one person can quickly spread it to others.

 

Does the Opposite Hold Too?

So if one anxious person can render others in their vicinity anxious as well, could the opposite also be true?

Obviously I think so, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this piece.

My premise is that calm is also contagious.

 

Family Drama

I was born into a family with what I consider to be low to moderate level of drama. That was my family of origin.

As for my nuclear family, the one where I’m the father, and my wife is the mother, and our two children are the kids, I like to think that we’re also on the lower end of the drama continuum.

We all have our own family or families, and if we think about them in terms of their typical drama level, we surely know of other families who exhibit a higher propensity for drama.

 

Emotional Reactivity

Another way to look at this is to think about it in terms of emotional reactivity.

There’s often one person, or maybe more, who simply have a way of triggering the emotions of others, and not necessarily in a good way.

It could be something very subtle and it may even operate at an unconscious level, but it is definitely there.

You may not be able to see the anxiety, but you can definitely sense it.

 

Superpowers

A while back, an acquaintance asked me straight up, out of the blue, “What’s your superpower?”

I was a bit taken aback, but since then I’ve really come to love the term and what it means.

It’s a nice way to define some ability that one has that seems to be very rare in others.

It’s often something that comes to you so naturally, that at first, you assume everyone has it too.

But eventually, you realize that it’s some innate ability that you have, that few others do.

 

The Sixth Sense

 My superpower is the ability to sense the anxiety between people.

I’m not just talking about walking into a room and sensing the general tension that’s there or feeling like there’s an ultra-sensitive air in the room.

I’m talking about the direct tension that exists between a specific pair of people.

Unfortunately, this sense is not infallible, and it does not kick in immediately every time.

 

Drama Management

So let’s try to bring this back to the calm contagion where we began.

Families, especially when they manage a business together, or simply share ownership of some assets as a group, need to come together occasionally to make decisions.

Because of their complex relationships, being family members and having shared financial and ownership responsibilities, things can sometimes become tense.

Oh, and can we all agree that when our brains are preoccupied with interpersonal anxiety, we don’t always do our best thinking?

 

Calming the System

In order for a group of people, in this case, a family system, to be able to function at their best, it helps if they are not distracted by emotional reactivity, a.k.a. drama.

One person can quickly disturb the calm in a system.

Can one person calm a system back down?

 

Realistic Expectations

I believe that it is possible, but it also requires patience and a realistic expectation level.

Anxiety can be ramped up quite rapidly, but instilling calm usually takes more time.

A key ingredient is that one person who goes first, and models the calm for the others to follow.

 

Immunity

The contagion analogy is making me think about the one person who is immune to the sickness, who can then interact with each of the sick people without worrying about catching their disease.

The mere presence of the healthy one can give hope to the sick to believe that they too can be well again.

For families, it can be difficult to find such a person from within their ranks, because each person is “caught” in the system to some degree.

That’s where an independent, unbiased, objective, neutral outsider can certainly play a role.

Serenity now!

 

See: Calm-Fident Advice for your family

A picture of the journey

There is No Destination

There is No Destination

The inspiration for this week’s post comes from a great quote that I saw on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. It’s from Marie Forleo, a life coach and motivational speaker.

I started following her on Twitter a few months ago, after catching an interview that she’d done with Brené Brown, about Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness.

(Watch it on Youtube)

Here’s my verbatim recollection of her Tweet:

There is no destination.  

It’s ALL journey. All. Of. It.

Wow, I’ve been a big fan of the whole “life is a journey” mentality for a while, but I’d never heard anyone say it so clearly and emphatically.

 

Family Business Versions 

It’s pretty easy to get seduced by “destinations” in life, and family businesses are no strangers to this phenomenon.

“If we can just get to $X,000,000 in sales, then we will have made it. “ (Where X can be 1, 10, 100…)

Another good one is “I can’t wait to take over from Dad as President.”

Okay, a nice goal to have, but not really a great destination in and of itself, as that’s when the real work begins.

(I can think of a prominent example of someone wanting to become President, but then being less than thrilled with actually having to do the job, but alas, I try to avoid discussing politics in this space.)

 

Interim Stopping Points

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against setting goals, such as annual sales figures, or promotions to key positions.

Studies show that people who don’t write down their goals are much less likely to achieve them, and that makes perfect sense.

In fact, setting goals for your department, team, or the whole company, is also something that everyone should be doing, but you want to make sure that those are simply seen as interim stopping points along the way.

Hit the goal, savour it, celebrate it, and then move on to the next goal. Remember: It is not a destination.

 

Enjoy the Ride

For me, the biggest takeaway here is that we are always on our way somewhere, so we may as well enjoy it.

In fact, if we are NOT enjoying it, we should really consider finding another journey to take.

Find a journey that you will enjoy.

There are plenty of people who are doing things that they don’t enjoy, and guess what, some of them even work in their own family’s business.

Many of those are likely deluding themselves into thinking that things will magically improve, you know, once they reach the “destination”.

If you believe that, I invite you to re-read the title of this blog post.

 

Personal Perspective

We all have our own perspective on this subject and I’d like to share mine. No, this won’t be a “just do what I did” story because that isn’t generally how I roll.

Actually, it’s more of a “don’t do what I did” lesson, that I hope some people will benefit from.

And by the end of this, I may even partially contradict my major premise here, but here goes.

 

Early Liquidity Event

In 1991, with a freshly minted MBA degree in my pocket, I returned to our family business, expecting to be groomed to eventually take over.

This had been Dad’s plan since my birth. Notice I did not say it was MY plan.

Instead, within 6 months of my return, we (he) sold the operations of the company, and we went from 250 employees to 4, and eventually 3.

I then spent the following 2 decades running our small family office, doing what needed to be done.

 

No Destination, Not Even a Journey

I wasn’t until 2013 that I finally had my calling, to do the family business work that now drives me in everything I do.

For over 20 years, I did what I thought I was supposed to do, acting as the “dutiful son”.

I know other rising generation family members who are following similar paths, and while it is a path, if it isn’t a journey that you enjoy, it doesn’t make for much of an enjoyable career.

 

“My” Journey

Everyone deserves an opportunity to find and do something that drives them to be able to enjoy the journey of life.

So glad I found mine, better late than never!

What’s yours? What’s in your way?