Gifts of Presence from FamBiz Advisors

This week we’re going to look at a variety of subjects that are all connected to the same root word: presence.  Okay, it may be “cheating” a bit, but I’m also going to use related words, like “presenting” and simply “present”.

The other thing they have in common is that they all have to do with benefits families can get from working with a family business advisor.


The Presenting Problem

When a family calls in an outsider to work with them, it’s almost always because of some particular issue that they’re looking for help with.  Many people will refer to that issue as the “presenting problem”.

One of the gifts that a good advisor may be able to offer the family, after getting to know them and their situation better, is that he or she will also be able to offer new perspective on other issues.

It’s certainly not unheard of for families to think that they only really need help with something minor, and later realize that there are bigger issues beneath the surface that are more important, and need to be dealt with.


Dealing with What Is Present

An area that can be connected to this can be in helping the family deal with what is present.  When families are so used to being together and dealing with each other in the same old ways, an outside advisor can bring a lot of value to them by simply observing and indicating to the family members what they see, as an independent outsider.

Like the fish who doesn’t see the water or even know that they are swimmers, families can be oblivious to much of what is going on and how they are together, and that goes for the good as well as the bad.


Keeping you in the Present

A good advisor will also try to ensure that the family keep their focus on the present, with an eye to the future.

Families can dwell on the past way too much, to their detriment.  Rehashing old family stories and replaying past wrongs that one sibling did to another can be a huge time and energy drain.

A good advisor will work to limit the focus on bygones and keep the family in the here and now.


Who Should Be Present

Families in business are composed of a few interdependent systems of people: namely family, business, and ownership. See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

Because many of the same people are part of the various groups, some of these families have a lot of trouble making the distinction between the groups, which can create confusion during discussions.

A good outside advisor will help keep things clear, and making sure that the family members are there for family discussions, the business people are there for the business meetings, and the owners are present for when ownership is being discussed.


Presenting Alternatives

Returning to the fish analogy from earlier, often family members who’ve been working together for a long time begin to suffer from “groupthink”.  They’ve been over the same subjects many times and they all begin to see things in exactly the same way.

An advisor who comes in from the outside can offer new perspectives to the family that they probably haven’t thought of, even though they’re often right under their proverbial noses.

The perspectives will almost always come with new alternatives for the family to consider.


Their Mere Presence

Sometimes the mere presence of that outsider, “someone with a different last name” as I often describe them, can do wonders for a family meeting.

When you were kids and there was a guest over for dinner, didn’t everyone behave just a little better?  It can be remarkably similar for business families when an outsider comes in to facilitate their meeting for them.

If this person is also trained in mediation, they will be able to work with all family members in getting the concerns and interests of everyone onto the table so that they can be dealt with.


Bearing Gifts?

When I arrive to work with a family I don’t come bearing gifts, at least not anything that is wrapped and with a bow on it.

I come armed with my skills and wisdom, and a deck of cards to randomize the speaking order.  Does your family deserve the gift that such an outsider can bring?




5 Ways to Invest in your Enterprising FAMILY

5 Ways to Invest in your Enterprising FAMILY

Each week in this space I write about business families and families of wealth, and I usually prefer to emphasize the family and its members, over the business and its assets.

This is in sharp contrast to much of the focus, not only by the professional advisors to such families, but often too many of the family members themselves.

Today I’m going back to a format used pretty frequently in the past, the old “Five things you should know…”, by looking at 5 Ways to Invest in your Enterprising Family.


  1. Formal Education

Post-secondary education is certainly one simple way for families to invest in their rising generation members.  As my grandfather liked to say, anything that you can put between your two ears, nobody can ever take away from you.

Some families have an urge to get their kids into key roles in the business ASAP, with the attitude that they don’t “need” to go to school any longer, because they’ll learn everything they need to know at work.

My bias is to look at everything with the longest time lens possible, so while encouraging young family members to go to college may delay their entry into the business, they will bring much more to the table, including more self-confidence, with a university degree a few years later.


  1. Family Retreat

When looking for ways to invest in the family as a whole, organizing a family retreat can be an interesting option.  Getting the whole family together at a different location (not at the office, and not at home or the cottage) can be done in many ways.

The important things to remember are to make sure that the activities and subjects covered will vary, and will certainly not be “all business”, and to make sure that many voices will be heard over the course of the retreat.

If the plan is just to have the parents download information and their wishes onto the next generation, you may as well not do it.

Please see Geography 101: “Where” Matters for more on this.


  1. A Series of Family Meetings

Even better than a single retreat would be to begin to hold family meetings on a regular basis.  This could be done annually, more frequently or even less often, depending on the size of the family and other matters around complexity.

These meetings can take place at a home or office, but ideally would be done in “neutral” locations most of the time.

The central reason for holding these meetings is to “force” the family to come together to talk about important matters that would otherwise not get discussed.

Presumably not everyone works in the family’s operations and these meetings are a great opportunity to share what’s going on, even with those who you may not think really care. (Hint: they actually DO).


  1. Family Business Conference

Families ready to take the “next step” can look for family business conferences where they can learn from other families facing similar circumstances.

I can almost guarantee that many family members who attend one of these types of conferences for the first time will have the following reaction: “Wow, I never realized that so many other people are experiencing the same issues as we are.  It’s nice to know we aren’t alone”.


  1. Hire a Family Facilitator

Now you may see me coming when I suggest that a family may want to hire an outsider to guide them down the road to figuring out all the issues relating to their alignment and governance development, but I already know that very few families will ever go this far.

As mentioned in My Notes from a Great Keynote a small percentage of business families do actually hire an outside consultant, and it is analogous to hiring someone to give you private lessons.

This blog is about investing in your family, and hiring this person will cost you some money of course, but the real investment will need to be each family member’s time in the meetings and other activities that you all undertake together.

The facilitator you hire can become the architect or project manager of the family’s journey to creating and implementing their family governance plans.


Logical Progression?

As it turns out, the five ways I’ve outlined above actually flow in a more or less logical progression. You don’t need to follow them in order though, just get started anywhere!

Business Families: Looking for Glue and Grease

Business Families: Looking for Glue and Grease

This week we’ll look at some characteristics of successful business families, with some analogies to hopefully make my case more compelling.

Longtime readers with great memories may recall that I’ve noted this “glue and grease” idea before.

In late 2017, in My Notes from a Great Keynote, I touched on this idea for the first time.

The keynote speech in question had mentioned that one of the benefits of clarifying a family’s values is that they provide some “glue” that is important in keeping a family united.

I added that in addition to keeping things together, it’s also important that things continue to run smoothly, so that “grease” is also a key element, in addition to glue.


My Kingdom for Some Greasy Glue?

At the end of that post, I asked if any readers could provide me with examples of substances that had qualities of both glue and grease, in the hopes that there would be some product that I could point to when talking about this subject.

Alas nobody come forward with any ideas, which was a bit disappointing, but certainly not surprising.

The idea has continued to simmer in the back of my head ever since.  I was determined to revisit this and so here we are.  I wish that I could claim that I had a “eureka” moment, but alas, I haven’t.

But I may be getting closer.  We’ll wrap up this post with that, but in the meantime, let’s talk about those important qualities for enterprising families.


“Family-Ness”: Finding Goldilocks

For any family hoping to succeed at keeping their wealth together over generations, they really need to have enough “family-ness” to keep everything and everyone together to a certain degree.

In the first generation or two of the building of the family wealth, this is usually much easier, since most of the family members will have grown up in the same household, or at least in close proximity to one another.

When you get to the third and fourth generations, it’s quite common for people and family branches to have spread out to different geographical locations, and even other countries.

When family members don’t see each other as regularly, it can get more difficult for everyone to feel like they’re still a part of the same family.

That’s why it’s necessary to ensure at least some recognition of this, along with the intention to make enough of a sustained effort to be sure that some family events are always on the calendar.

But can there be too much family-ness?


Krazy Glue is NOT Ideal

While many family members love spending time together, there’s always the possibility of having too much of a good thing.  There are limits.  I enjoy spending time with my family members, and I hope that they enjoy spending time with me. But I’m not sure that I’d invite them to stay with me for an extended period of time either.

Even siblings who get along famously can run into issues after they each get married and you throw the in-laws into the mix.

Trying to force the issue of family time can be worse than not having enough.


Grease: Communication and Flow

When people feel too stuck together, because the glue has hardened and now they can’t escape, new problems can arise.

As important as it is for everyone to feel comfortable to enter the family space, they need to also feel just as comfortable to exit.

While my grease analogy is certainly about lots of clear communication, including making sure all family members understand what the glue is that is keeping them together, it’s also about the flow of people into and out of the system, each according to their own comfort level.

Salad Dressing: My Little Eureka?

Salad Dressing: My Little Eureka?

The best analogy that I’ve managed to come up with for my glue and grease is salad dressing. I’m a huge Costco fan, and they always have a variety of salad kits, of which I’ve tried a handful.

When you open them up, some of the leafy greens typically find their way onto the counter.  Until you add the dressing and mix it in.

Then things hold together better. And when you add in the other ingredients, they all hang together nicely, while still sliding around freely.

Salad without any dressing is clearly missing something.

Likewise families need glue AND grease.

A hand making the sign of peace infront of a sunset

FamBiz Conflict:  In PIECES for the Sake of PEACE?

Many advisors who work with business families have their own inherent biases.  This isn’t a big problem, especially when we recognize them and admit them openly when the situation warrants.

Personally, I love it when both a business AND the family behind it can remain together for the long haul, including through an intergenerational transition.  Of course, such transitions are a point where many family businesses face their longest odds, because it isn’t always easy (or even possible) to get everything “just right”, as one generation leaves the scene and another one follows in their place.

When the family and their advisors, recognize that it probably isn’t going to work, that’s when some key decisions need to be made.

Family or Business as Priority?

The main question that often arises, even if it’s seldom expressed this way, is whether they’re going to prioritize the business, or the family.

The outside professionals who are working with the business are much more likely to prioritize the survival of the business, even if it’s at the expense of the family.

The business is the “main entity” of concern, they’re business specialists first, their client is the business, that’s the circle that they understand the best, that’s who they invoice, that’s what they know.

In contrast, I work in the family circle, so my bias is always to find ways for the family to be the major priority, not the business.  In my view, the business is an asset, that happens to be owned by the family.  Assets can be bought and sold.  Family harmony?  That’s a very precious intangible asset, and you can’t buy it, especially when you really need it.


Who Needs a Monolith?

Thankfully, the era of one monolithic company is not as common as it was decades ago.  As noted a couple of weeks ago in “On Enterprising Families and Family Wealth”, it’s much more common these days for successful families to be involved in more than one enterprise.

In addition to diversifying the family’s financial risk into different industry sectors, another great benefit can be that there are more places for family members to excel in their own part of the overall family wealth spectrum.

Different Paths, Similar Destinations

Over the years we’ve all heard stories about the family with two kids and one store, who opened another store so that each of the siblings could have “their own”, or the brother who moved away to open a new location in a different territory.

Occasionally there would be a company that needed to be “split into pieces” to accomplish the same result, and it was this type of situation that I had in mind when conceiving this post, with the “pieces” and “peace” play on words.

These days it may be more likely to be one of the rising generation members becoming an “intrapreneur” and creating a start-up in a new industry but within the walls of the “mother house” company. Or it could be a family member pitching the “family bank” with an idea that needs funding, which could become the next key growth piece in the enterprising family’s wealth strategy.

It could be some family members looking at diversifying the family holdings into private equity or impact investing, or simply having those rising generation members who are so inclined, taking an active role in the family’s philanthropic initiatives, rather than remaining with other siblings or cousins in one of the businesses.

scrabble letters put together to form the world peace

Many Ways to Achieve Peace

Of course the bigger the enterprise the more places there are for people to assume roles that suit them, where they’re less likely to clash with other family members.

In cases where rival siblings feel “stuck” together in one place that’s beginning to feel “too small”, figuring out how to cut the entity into the right pieces can be a struggle.

But my bias will always be to work to find a way to get that done and keep the family harmony intact, even if the business has to “suffer” some consequences.


Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners

It’s hard to put a value on family harmony, but I always like to think about important family gatherings and the fact that these are places and occasions where you need everyone to be comfortable coming together.

If working too closely together makes this impossible, please consider trying some of the ideas here.


Street in New York With Buildings in the background

Efficient Vs. Effective Continuity Planning

This week we’re talking about Continuity Planning, which regular readers will recognize as the newer and preferred term for what many formerly called “succession planning”.

Too many still use the old term, but I’m doing my part to change the vocabulary, to change the conversations.


Efficiency: Let’s Get This Done

My bias is pretty clear, I find that far too many people look at continuity planning as something they’d rather not spend too much time on.

Especially for families who are running an operating company, which will normally have more than its share of fires to extinguish on a regular basis, taking time away from these urgent matters is typically a low priority.

It’s no surprise then, that when these families finally do agree to spend some time on the less urgent matter of continuity planning, their focus is usually on getting it over with as quickly as possible.

But just because something isn’t urgent,

that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.


Effectiveness: Let’s Get This Right

In contrast to focusing on getting something over with, some families rightfully prefer to concentrate on making sure that their efforts produce a positive result.

A quick Google search of the word “effective” reveals this: “successful in producing a desired or intended result”

This sounds like a much more worthwhile goal to pursue when a family undertakes this important work.

So why do so many families NOT get this right? Let’s go through some of the main obstacles.

A sign saying Effective & Efficient

Time & Cost

We’ve already mentioned that doing this right takes time, and we all know that “time is money”.

Furthermore, in order to make sure that your continuity planning will “produce the desired result” you’ll need to involve more people and “their” time too.

Many of those people will be family members, while others will be professional experts, again making time and cost factors that could stand in the way.


Professional Bias

I don’t love harping on colleagues who work in this space because ideally, I’ll work along with them to get the family to co-create the best plans for their circumstances and needs.

But so many of the experts that families rely on have their own biases that they have rightly developed over their careers.

You probably wouldn’t want to work with a lawyer who didn’t already have some pretty good ideas about how you could best go about creating your plan.

But that doesn’t mean that you should just turn the whole thing over to them either.  Or blindly follow all of their suggestions.


Touchy Subjects

The very idea of continuity planning necessarily brings up subjects that most people try to avoid.  We’re talking about death, money, and who will be put in charge of what.  Pretty heavy stuff, to be sure.

Of course, you could just be very efficient, draw up the plans you think are best and let the chips fall where they may.

But that seems so “20th Century” to me.  There are ways that will give you a far better chance of success.

These involve getting the people who will be affected by your decisions together and making them part of the process to make sure that your “intended result” actually has a good chance of working out as planned.


How Do We Do That?

It really needs to begin by figuring out, as a family, what that “intended result” could look like.

This can’t be done in a vacuum, and it can’t be done in one meeting.  There really needs to be a series of meetings, involving both generations of the family.

See: Successful Planning: Who Should Be Involved


What If Our Plans Are Already Made?

Now you may be thinking, “it’s too late for us, our plans are already made”.  Well, not so fast!

Do all the family members who will be affected by those plans know what’s coming?  If so, congrats, go to the head of the class.

For the other 90% of you, that would be a great next step.

See: Pre-Mediated Planning? Sounds Good To Me


The “Intended Result”

The final destination, or the intended result, should not be something that is dictated by the leading generation.

It needs to be based on the family’s values and their vision for the future.

That will take time to work out, but it will be well worth the effort.

If doing this important work means that you need to bring in an objective outsider to help facilitate the discussions, do it.


Buildings and corporate offices

On Enterprising Families and Family Wealth

Today we’re going to look at a couple of subjects that have been brewing in my head for a while.

I’m going to combine some elements of vocabulary and evolution, which may sound a little more arcane than what I have in mind.  So let’s get going.



Family Business: Been Around Forever

We all recognize that family business has been around since the beginning of mankind.

Centuries ago, out of necessity, the family used to be even more of a “unit”.

As economies developed, they also became an “economic unit”, as it was natural for families and tribes to work together for their own advancement.



Business Families: More Recent

More recently, as society has evolved and as economies have advanced and matured, we’ve seen more and more “business families” emerge.

There often comes a time when the people leading a family business actually make a shift to thinking of themselves as more of a “business family” than simply a family business.

There are a couple of elements at play here:

  • Prioritizing the family over the business
  • Working ON the family, instead of IN the business

This shift usually comes only after certain success has been attained in the business that allows its leaders the luxury of time to make this shift.  (Many never make it this far.)

Lots of family businesses remain a family business forever, and of course still serve a great purpose for their members and for society.

See my 2014 book: SHIFT your Family Business: Stop working IN your Family Business, Start working ON your Business Family



Enter the Family Enterprise

Once a family achieves a certain amount of success with their business, all sorts of possibilities open up.

From growing the original business into more geographic locations, to vertical or horizontal integration, to developing completely new lines of business, the combinations and permutations are literally infinite.

The common thread is often a family, for whom all this wealth is being created.

When a family is involved in more than just its original business, the term “family enterprise” is often the one that describes them best.

This can also be the result of a liquidity event, where a major business is sold, and the proceeds are reinvested into other ventures.

It can be very important for a family to get to a point where they can view any of their businesses as simply another asset that the family owns.


Cartoon showing people standing on coins

Enterprising Families

We’re getting into vocabulary and semantics a bit, but there’s a good reason.

Finding the right label for something is often a key to getting members of a group to develop a common understanding of who they are, what they are doing, and where they are going.

I mentioned off the top that we’d be looking at evolution as well.  Let me expand on that now.

Just as a family can go from concentrating on one business during it’s family business stage, and then “evolve” into more of a business family, there can be a similar evolution to the enterprising stage.

These “stages” of evolution often take decades, and can coincide with generational transitions as well.

A recent edition of the FFI Practitioner highlighted a couple of case examples you may be interested in.



Family Firm Institute – Business or Wealth Focus?

In the same way that any family may evolve from one stage to the next, the organizations of professionals who serve enterprising families have also evolved.

The Family Firm Institute began over 30 years ago, and in the beginning their target was essentially family businesses.

In the intervening decades, they have also concerned themselves much more with family enterprises as a whole, including the world simply defined as “family wealth”.



Designations and Certifications

FFI now offers certifications in Family Business Advising and in Family Wealth Advising.

In Canada, FEX, through its FEA program, offers the designation “Family Enterprise Advisor”.  Thanks to their “later mover advantage”, they were able to use the more holistic term “family enterprise”, which became more current in this century.

The common thread through all of these is the existence of a family with enough wealth and complexity to worry about.


Different Labels, Similar Issues

Families evolve from one decade and generation to the next, and the industry that serves continues to get more sophisticated.

Working together, we are trying to get better results for families everywhere.

And those who can figure out the family dynamics usually make out best.




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.