Building a Bridge vs. Buying One

Analogies have long been one of my favourite ways of trying to convey interesting ideas to audiences.

Most are quick “one-shot-deals” that come up in a conversation and never get used again.

Others have more staying power, and become part of my “go to” arsenal of tales I use to get important points across.

Today’s blog should become part of the latter group, as I will surely find opportunities to use the story behind it with plenty of families, and their advisors, going forward.

 

 

Team Building Exercise

The setting for this story is a campsite in the woods, the week before school starts up again in the fall.

The main characters are 10 High School Seniors, along with a few adult chaperones from their school.

The students had been chosen by their classmates, and approved by school staff, before summer break, to act as prefects for the coming school year.

The trip itself was designed as a team-building exercise above all, and included a major project: building a bridge together.

 

 

Inside Info and Unplanned Events

I was not part of this trip, but I did have someone close to me who provided me with inside information about it, after the fact.

As a parent, I had known about the trip in advance, but the details of the project only came up afterwards, thanks to a number of bee stings that my daughter and a few others had the misfortune to experience.

If you have teenage kids and you’ve ever tried to get information about an incident they were involved in, you know how these discussions go.

“You got stung?  Four times?

How did that happen, what were you doing?

A bridge? In the woods?

Why the heck were you building a bridge in the woods?”

Train crossing a bridge with a steam coming out of it

 

Photographic Evidence on Social Media

A few days later, the school tweeted out a photo of the students and their handiwork.

I’ve gotta say, the picture I had in my head before I saw the tweet was of a more “substantial” bridge.

But it was technically a bridge, so I can only assume that it met whatever expectations had been set.

More importantly, by all accounts the experience they went through together, including the unplanned parts, did have the desired effect.

They’ve been working together and leading all sorts of school activities since then, and while everything doesn’t always go perfectly according to plan, that trip, and the bridge project, did serve a very useful prupose.

 

 

The Magic of Co-Creation

The end result was not so much a bridge in the woods, but a cohesive group of people who knew how to work together.

If they had really needed a bridge, the school could certainly have found other ways of getting one built.

But the overall goal was to have the teens work together on making decisions, communicating, and solving problems together.

The entire exercise was one of co-creation and teamwork.

 

 

Similarities to Governance

If you’re a regular reader, (thanks!) then you may recognize the three elements that I just outlined above:

  • Decision-making
  • Communication
  • Problem-solving

They are of course the main elements that we include when we define governance.

Family governance is something that can and should evolve from within the family group, and it is best done with as many of the key family members as possible.

Please see: The Evolution of Family Governance for more.  (That blog also includes links to previous posts on the topic.)

Girl with a backpack crossing a bridge

 

Can’t We Just Buy the Bridge?

If your family has recently decided that governance is an important part of your intergenerational wealth transitions, I urge you to heed the lesson here.

Yes, you probably could “buy” some elements of a governance plan from some professional advisors and consultants.

There are those out there who are willing to sell you a “family constitution” or a “family charter”.

Be forewarned that you may be buying a “bridge to nowhere”.

 

 

It’s All About the Experience

Like our teens in the woods, it was never about the bridge.

Families often need the experience of building

something together more than they need a bridge.

Once again, I’m arguing that process is more important than content.

The key family members who will have to live with the agreements they make over the next few decades need to be key actors in their design and construction.

Even if they do get stung a few times along the way.

money disintegrating

Stopping the Disintegration of Family Wealth

I’m writing this blog on US Thanksgiving weekend, and it strikes me that one of the things I’m most thankful for is this weekly project of mine, which has forced me to keep my antennae up, so that I can share fresh thoughts every seven days.

I began this habit in 2012 and while many of the early posts have been dropped as my website moved from one place to the next, this process has been nothing but beneficial for me.

I can selfishly say that even if nobody ever read a single one of these posts, I know that simply writing them has been a useful exercise for me, because it has been essential to the way I integrate everything that I’m learning, reading, and thinking about.

It’s also nice to be my own editor and publisher, giving me free reign over all subjects and how I present them.

 

 

Just One Word as Inspiration

As I’ve done at times in the past, today I’m writing a post that was inspired by one word.

Well, actually, it’s a pair of related words, and it’s the juxtaposition of the two words that created the A-Ha moment that became the spark for this blog.

Those words are:

Disintegrate and Integrate

A few weeks ago I was on a long drive, listening to an audiobook to make sure that I stayed awake, and there it was.

I’m not even sure which book it was anymore, and I don’t know if it was the way the author wrote it or simply the way the reader pronounced the words, but I was struck.

 

 

Cartoonish Disintegration

Something about the word “disintegrate” that had never ever registered in my head was the fact that it is the opposite of the word “integrate”.

Hunh…

I had always had a mental image of disintegration that probably came from watching cartoons.  Picture someone with a ray gun, pointing it at an enemy and pulling the trigger, and they’re reduced to a pile of dust.

If you wanted to put them back together, presumably you’d need to integrate them, or maybe re-intergrate them (?)

 

Family Wealth Disintegration

I typically write about family business and family wealth, and the issues that come with transitions from one generation of a family to the next.

One of the biggest concerns of the Now Generation is always that the Next Generation will not be able to grow or maintain the wealth sufficiently, and that the wealth will eventually disintegrate.

They may not use those words, but that’s a common thread that runs through just about every family whose concern is wealth continuity.

Their top concern may lie in the lack of ability of rising generation family members, it may be that the family is growing faster than the wealth, it could be a stagnating business, entitlement or family discord.

 

 

The Opposite of Disintegration

Back in 2014 I wrote Solid Wealth vs. Liquid Wealth, where I talked about wealth that was “locked in” to an operating business and contrasted that to a post-liquidity event and the challenges around managing liquid wealth.

While I still like that analogy, I think that disintegration vs integration can give us a bit more to sink our teeth into.

So:

If we’re worried about disintegration, why don’t we 

consider ways that we can use integration to counter it?

 

A boat in the water

FOR the Family, BY the Family

A favourite saying of mine is “FOR the Family, BY the Family”.  Let me explain the context of that.

If a family is going to have any chance of having their wealth continue for generations, then they can substantially increase their odds of success by involving as many family members as possible in the plans for how that is going to happen.

In short, the family members need to be integrated into the planning.  That means having conversations with them, which includes more listening than talking.

 

 

Co-Creation Makes Better Plans

I’m not saying that this path is easier than simply dictating all the terms and conditions to them.  I’m saying it has better odds of succeeding.

You cannot expect that this process will all happen quickly or without any bumps along the way either, that’s also true.

But how important is this to your family, after all?

If you fail to integrate those for whom you are planning into the exercise of that planning, you can expect the wealth to disintegrate.

 

Don’t “Transfer” Family Wealth; “Transition” It

For years now we’ve been hearing about the huge multi-trillion dollar “wealth transfer” that’s occurring thanks to the demographics of the Western world.

As baby boomers age, there’s no escaping the new realities that this huge demographic shift is causing.  But hopefully, we can escape some of the negatives that might accompany it.

I believe that when we think about how a family’s wealth should move from one generation to the next, we shouldn’t be thinking about a transfer, we should be thinking about a transition instead.

 

 

Is It Just Semantics?

I’ll leave it to interested readers to Google these words in an attempt to parse all of their differences, and will instead concentrate on some simple and observable comparisons and contrasts.

The most fundamental aspect to consider is the time that something takes, from start to finish.

When I was a kid, one of my friends moved away because his Dad was transferred.  One day he was working in Montreal, then suddenly, he was transferred to Toronto.

He finished work on Friday in one place and started up his new job 500 kilometres away on Monday.

 

Wire The Funds

If you’ve ever wired funds somewhere you know that one day the money is in your account, and then the next it is not.

Somewhere during the day (usually at around 2 PM for some reason) the funds instantaneously go from one account to another.

They have been transferred. Boom.  Here one minute, gone the next. A single event has happened and is now complete.

When a family’s wealth, including the financial wealth and everything that comes with it, is transferred as a one-shot event, it can be a real shock to the system.

The word “shock” is rarely used as a positive in the area of family business or family wealth.

 

Arrow on wall

 

Slower, Smoother Transition

So what do I mean when I say “everything that comes with it”?

I actually wrote about a few of these details back in 2015, in Transition Planning: No Day at the Beach.

In that blog, I wrote about the transitions of management, leadership, and ownership.

Strictly speaking, a transfer typically deals with the ownership of the wealth.  When someone suddenly owns something, they are then usually expected to also manage it as well.

 

Ownership Is the Big One

One of the problems that can arise with intergenerational wealth is that the ownership sometimes goes from one individual to a group, who are often siblings.

This is where the questions surrounding management and leadership come in.

When more than one person now owns the wealth, how they will manage it, and who will take the lead are also questions that get put on the table.

If the word “governance” is suddenly coming to mind, congratulations, because that’s certainly where my mind is heading too.

 

Respect My Authority

Another related concept that doesn’t necessarily get discussed enough is that of authority.

With ownership of any asset comes certain authority, but it can depend on so many details.

And when you talk about authority, there is of course explicit authority and implicit authority, which do not always go hand in hand.  (Note to self: there’s a whole blog right there!)

Numbers and pie charts

Interdependent Wealth

The distinction between transfer and transition came up for me recently as I continue to make progress on my next book.

My working title is “Interdependent Wealth”, with a secondary title as follows:

How Family Systems Theory Illuminates Successful Intergenerational Wealth Transitions

That’s nine words in a secondary title, which feels like a lot, but I can assure you that a great deal of thought went into each and every choice that I made, right down to the final one, Transitions.

 

A Gradual Handover

It was during the choices I was making about these words that the whole transfer thing really hit me.

On a macro level, society is certainly witnessing a huge transfer of wealth.

But what’s more important to any family is what occurs on a micro level, and families should be concentrating on their wealth transition.

 

Event Versus Process

Bottom line, a transfer is more of an event, or one of many components or things that need to happen.  It is a tactic.

A transition is a process, it is the overall strategy required to make the right things happen, in the right way.

Focus on the whole transition, not just the transfer.

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.

 

 

People standing as a group watching sunset

Improving Together in a FamBiz

Writing these blogs each week for six years, my weekly habits continue to evolve.

I still get questions from colleagues about the source of ideas to write about, and my answer remains consistent: I write one blog a week, but I usually get at least two new ideas.

Sometimes the ideas come from somewhere unexpected, and sometimes they morph from one thing to another along the way.

Such is the case this week.

Better Investors

I’m guilty of spending more time than most people on social media.

I like to know what’s going on in the world and Twitter and LinkedIn allow me to follow the people and sources that I like and trust, on a variety of subjects that interest me.

A few weeks ago I saw a post on Twitter from Carl Richards (@BehaviorGap)

“It turns out our job is
not to find
great investments,
but to help
create great investors”

A Blog Idea Is Conceived

My first “A-Ha” came right then and there.

An “Investment” is a product or a piece of content, and it is the thing that many professionals in the investing space specialize in selling.

But as Richards points out, that focus is misplaced.

An “Investor” is a person, and such persons are better served by those who will help them with the entire process of the whole scope of being investors.

 

Teach Them How to Fish

It comes down to the old Bible story about not simply giving a person a fish, but instead teaching them how to fish for themselves.

Do you want to feed them for a day, or for a lifetime?

That’s supposed to be a rhetorical question, but unfortunately many of the business models still followed by many professionals, seem to prefer feeding on a day-to-day business, and being paid for it over and over as well.

Process Over Content

So the thing that grabbed me, as far as this idea being good fodder for a blog post, was the whole Process Over Content question.

It’s certainly not a new idea for me to discuss, but it was from a different angle.

The content pieces that I often deal with are things like legal or accounting structures or trust vehicles, or contracts such as shareholder or partnership agreements.

Strategy of Tactics?

The process part of putting all of these tactical pieces together into a strategy will often be given short shrift.

Too often the concept of making sure that all these pieces will fit together properly is either completely ignored or simply assumed to be sufficient.

In reality, though, this is where many plans fall apart.

 

Blogging Brings Clarity

So here is where this post took a bit of a turn.

I was set to write about the “process” part, but then realized that there was a “people” component that I simply couldn’t ignore.

My blog title was still a big question mark too, and then it came time to search for an image to accompany the post, with a surprise of its own.

A-Ha # 2 – Improving Together

I’ve been using Shutterstock for a while and am usually quite satisfied with the results I get when I search for the right image to go with each post.

This time my search actually kicked things up a notch, as it created another A-Ha moment for me.

I was looking for something using “process” and “people” and there it was…Improving Together.

Holy crap, that’s even better than anything I had come up with so far.

Families Learning Together

When Richards was talking about investors, I imagine that he was referring to singular people, or perhaps to a couple.

My work is always about families, whether I’m actually working with all family members directly, or working with one person, helping them organize and coordinate their family.

The key to finding success for most families, is for them to find reasons, ways, and opportunities to work together and learn together, so that they can eventually get really good at deciding things together.

Co-Creating the Family Strategy

The families who are most successful at transitioning their wealth to the next generation are those who have mastered the practice of involving as many family members as possible in the process.

The co-creation of the strategy is what ensures the buy in, so that the plans actually work.

The time and effort required are always worth it.

Celebrating the Global FamBiz Community

Celebrating the Global FamBiz Community

I’m writing this post from a park bench in London, the morning after the conclusion of the annual FFI Conference, (my fifth).

The Family Firm Institute has been around for a little over 30 years, and I feel privileged to be a part of its truly global community.

The word “community” created the most resonance while reflecting on an angle for this post-conference blog post.

 

Global in Scale

Here I was, a Canadian in London, checking in to the conference on Wednesday, where I meet Richard, from Australia. As we chat, Xavier from Spain arrives, so I introduce them.

How would I ever have made such a variety of connections if not for these annual trips during which I have built and nurtured this group of friendly colleagues?

From Washington in 2014, to London 2015, Miami 2016 and Chicago last year, I was back in London again.

Regular readers know that I also make an annual pilgrimage to Denver each summer for the PPI Rendez Vous, and also attend the FEX symposia closer to home.

But the global reach of FFI is unique.

 

Let Me Count the Countries

Over a dozen Canadians were there, most of whom I already knew. And because FFI was founded in the US and remains headquartered there, the American presence is quite significant. But its scope goes far beyond North America.

Just last night I was out throwing darts with a Venezuelan who now lives in Brazil, another Australian living in the UK, a couple of Norwegians and five American colleagues.

Others I met along the way hailed from South Africa, Denmark and Switzerland, plus too many European countries to count.
Word has it that 40 countries were represented in all.

Special mention goes out to Edvard, who told me that he and his colleagues have been using my Family Continuity BluePrint all over the Netherlands, after he saw me present it last year in Chicago.

 

 

So Much to Share

Along the way over the three days, so much great information was shared, and so many ideas were presented in the many breakout sessions.

It was a pleasure to join great friends and colleagues Natalie, Elle, and Mairi as we got to lead one session from the front of the room, as we celebrated the Practitioner’s Spectrum.

Our discussion was about the variety of styles we use as practitioners when working with clients, from Counselling and Coaching, to Facilitation and Mediation, to Mentoring and Consulting.

 

The Big Deal about Community

As I stated at the outset, I was thinking a lot about the aspect of community this week.

A few months ago, upon returning from Denver’s PPI conference in fact, I also wrote about that subject, in part, in Wanted: Purpose, Passion and Community.

And as I wrote there, a big part of community is that the people need to want to spend time together.

Towards the end of any of these meetings, discussion invariably moves to “so, how was this conference for you?”

My reply usually includes a favourable rating, adds a few minor complaints, and concludes with the fact that I wouldn’t want to miss it.

 

Building Something TogetherGroup of people walking with yellow background

Between FFI, PPI, and FEX, it feels like we’re on the front edge of a wave of progress and change.

The worlds of family business and family wealth are facing important challenges, as families do the work of transitioning their assets to succeeding generations.

I love coming together with others who work in these areas, to share ways that we can all do a better job. We all want to be reliable resources for these families who are trying to do things better.

It truly does feel like we are building something together, not just for our lifetimes, but for those who will succeed us.

 

 

Many Parallels

There are many parallels between us, and the business families we serve.

We come together regularly because we enjoy doing so, and we have a common cause we are working for, which will likely outlive us all.

Many of our family clients feel as if they are the only ones experiencing their family issues, which of course is false.

As practitioners, we can also feel a bit lonely at times.

Getting together with like-minded colleagues to share ideas and re-energize only makes sense for us as well.

Why not join us?

See you in Miami, October 23-25, 2019.

Dog Holding leash in-front of the door

Ready to Lead > Ready to Leave

Certain topics come up over and over again in the world of family business.

Today we’ll be looking at two of them, although when you get right down to it, maybe it’s really just one, because they’re often wound pretty tightly together.

As you may’ve already gathered from the title, I’m talking about a changing of the guard at the top.

Some Batons Are Sticky

As I wrote in my Quick Start Guide on this subject, Sticky Baton Syndrome(Ask Prince Charles) there are plenty of cases where the person at the top of a family business is just not ready to leave.

There are all sorts of excuses that are typically mentioned as to why they must remain in place.

Some of them are even true, and some of them are actually good reasons. Many, however, are just excuses, given by people who are simply scared to face certain realities.

bird leading other birds

The Father of the Three Circle Model

In September I was in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the annual Family Enterprise eXchange (FEX) symposium, featuring John A. Davis as one of the keynote speakers.

If you don’t know who Davis is, he’s one of the co-creators of the Three Circle Model, of which I am a big fan.

See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

He regaled the crowd with a presentation about the “Future of Leadership” and then led a discussion with Philippe DeSerres that was also very well received.

But my take-home message from his talk was something he only mentioned briefly in passing, right near the end, which was the inspiration for this post.

The Money Quote

He was talking about getting the timing right when it comes to transitioning the leadership of a family business.

He noted that more and more these days, and from his decades of experience as a leader in consulting to this field, there is one factor that trumps the other.

According to Davis, it makes more sense to make the leadership transition of a family business when the rising generation is

Ready To Lead,

than to wait until the current generation is

Ready To Leave.

Notably, he took the time to spell it out, i.e. “lead, l-e-a-d” and “leave, l-e-a-v-e”, just to be sure we all understood him.

I understood. I hope you do too. But just in case, I will continue…

A man leading other people

Too Soon or Too Late

At the outset of this blog, I noted that these two topics are often connected.

The biggest way this happens is that the current leaders will sometimes subconsciously hold back on giving the rising generation the opportunities to show what they can do.

And one of the major reasons that they do this is because of their own desire to remain important.

What Else Is There?

So many business leaders attach so much of their identity to their role as the leader of their business.

I like to think that this might just be too narrow a viewpoint.
Let me explain. The key to this lies in the Three Circle Model.

Note that the Business circle is only one of the three systems that intersect, and that the “big picture” also includes Family, and Ownership.

Step Back to See the Whole Picture

If the leader of the “business” steps back and looks at the whole picture, including the Family and Ownership systems as well as the Business system with which they are already intimately familiar, they will see many other, greater, opportunities.

If the business is a huge success, yet the family falls apart and the owners end up in a dispute that has various family members “lawyering up” against each other, then just how important will the business success have been in retrospect?

Three Circle = Three Systems = Three Leaders?

If you’re trying to create a true multi-generational family business, you cannot neglect any of the circles.

Each circle ultimately needs its own governance structure, and likely its own leader, or leaders. Someone needs to foresee all of this and line up and prepare those future leaders.

There comes a point in the life cycle of any business leader when their focus should shift from running a successful business to overseeing a complete enterprising family (i.e. all 3 circles)

So you built a great business, congratulations.

If you want it to continue to survive as a family enterprise for generations, you’ve still got more important work to do.

Stop working IN your family business,
Start working ON your business family.

marshmallows-and-filet-mignon

Marshmallows and Filet Mignon

This week we’re looking into one of my favourite subjects, and we’re going to do it from a couple of different angles.

We’ll start with some psychological research done at Stanford University about five decades ago, and we’ll end with a real life example from my own experience.

The subject is delayed gratification, and I have long maintained that it is the secret to success for most people.

 

I Want It Now

The average attention span of people has been shrinking for decades, and this has only added to many people’s expectation that everything be there for them the second they want it.

I will not get into any debates about young people these days being worse than we were at their age.

I believe that every generation has people from across the spectrum and I have no desire to kick any of these proverbial hornets’ nests.

 

Who Wants a Marshmallow?3 marshmallows on a pink table

Walter Mischel was a psychologist at Stanford who came up with the “Marshmallow Test” back in the 1960’s.

Mischel passed away a few weeks ago, which has resulted in renewed interest in his work, so if you Google his name and the word “marshmallow”, you will surely come across lots of interesting things to pursue (once you’ve finished this blog, of course).

His subjects were children around 5 years old.  The “test” was constructed this way:

Children were brought into a room and given one marshmallow and told that they could eat it now.

Or, if they could wait 15 minutes while the experimenter left the room, and NOT eat it, then they would receive a second marshmallow as a reward.

 

Not As Easy As It Sounds

Apparently only about 200 of the 600 subjects managed to hold off on consuming the treat for the 15 minutes (which surely seemed like an eternity for those who succeeded).

There are lots of interesting videos you can find showing how the kids struggled with the temptation while alone in the room, mostly from more recent versions of the experiment, conducted to replicate the initial results.

 

The Take-Home Message

If you’ve understood that delayed gratification is not easy, that’s great, but you’d still be missing out on the larger message of the research.

You see, they followed up on the kids over the years and tracked their success in life, and they discovered something that I hope you’ll really get out of this story.

The kids who were able to restrain themselved for those agonizing 15 minutes also happened to live much more successful lives, on just about every dimension they measured.

If you can delay your need for immediate gratification, that will help you for your whole life.

 

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

So where do you think that those young subjects got that ability to be patient and resist temptation?

I won’t get into the specifics because I’m not a social scientist and so much of this ground has been covered by those much more capable than I am in this area, but I have a very short answer of my own.

 

Their Parents.

Now I can’t say if it’s in their DNA or if they learned from observing the behaviours that their parents modeled for them,  (or both) but they got it from their parents, one way or another.

 

The Steak Versus the SizzleFilet mignon - Steak

Here’s my real world example.

Years ago, my Dad had retired to a small farm where he raised breeding cattle.  He hired some of the locals to do much of the work.

He paid his employees nicely and also got into the habit of giving them an annual bonus, paid in meat.

Every year, a couple of animals would “fall into the freezer” as he liked to put it.

 

Did You Try the Meat Yet?

My Dad and I were very much on the same page with many things, but our viewpoints were also quite different.

But when he was making a point, I could usually see him coming a mile away.

One day he relayed this story, about an exchange with one of his workers, the day after they had picked up their side of beef from the butcher.

 

The Look of Dismay

Dad asked if they had a chance to try the meat.

“Oh, yeah, it was great.  We had the filet mignon”.

I can still see the look of dismay, and Dad shaking his head in disbelief.

Family Office: “WHAT” vs. “HOW”

Family Office: “WHAT” vs. “HOW”

A few weeks ago, in From Family Business to Family Office, I mentioned that I’d start writing more about the family office world. Being a man of my word, here we are again.

I had a bit of an issue choosing my blog title, though.

I began by thinking about the idea of “Strategy” versus “Tactics” in the family office space.

But my bias is to try to stay away from “jargon” terms and use the simplest possible words, at least most of the time.

 


A Thousand Words

Of course when it came time to select a photo to go with this post, terms like “strategy” and “tactics” garnered more interesting search results from Shutterstock than “what” and “how”.

At the end of the proverbial day, though, whether we use the simple questions or the business jargon terms, we’re talking about the same issues.

Ten Years Flew By

The most important idea here is this:

You need to recognize the difference
between the strategy (the “what”)
and the tactics used to accomplish
that strategy’s goals (the “how”).

If you get nothing else out of reading this, my Dad would’ve been pleased. What does he have to do with this, you ask?

It has now been 10 years since he lost his final battle with cancer, and I cannot count the number of times his wise words have been summoned to the front burner of my brain.

“Let’s figure out what we’re trying to do first, and then we can figure out the best way to do it.”

 

Family business office

 

The Family Office (The “Who”)

A family office is typically composed of people, from one to a handful, or sometimes even dozens. (Key variables include the size of the family, the amount of wealth they control, and the level of complexity involved)

The employees of the family office should be working for the benefit of the family, and so they should be concentrating on the tactics, the “how”, and be less involved in the strategy.

Ideally, the strategy will have been worked out by the family, before the family office people get too far down the road of implementing the best tactics.

 

It’s Complicated

I used the term “ideally” because I know that this is often not the way it works in the real world.

But that typically isn’t the fault of those who work for the family office.

Much like the ideas I wrote about in FamBiz: Management vs. Governance, different groups of people have different roles that they should be playing.

When the people who are supposed to play those roles don’t play them, then others will invariably step in and assume those roles.

 

Benefits Come with Responsibilities

Families that have a family office (FO), or who are clients of a multi-family office (MFO), have set up this relationship so that the FO or MFO can serve the needs of the family.

The decision to go this route may have occurred last year or last century, and it may have been decided by this generation of family leaders or by their parents or grandparents.

The fact remains that it was done for the benefit of the family members.

And as we all know, with benefits come responsibilities.

Family business Work

Where Are We Going?

I’m going to take a guess and say that most readers are fine with what I’m saying here, but that they may be wondering what my point is.

So here’s where I’m going.

I think that relationships between families and their family offices tend to be out of balance, or off-kilter.

My anecdotal evidence suggests that family office employees often control not just the tactics, but much of the strategy too.

This can be mitigated when the FO includes family employees, but that can also make things worse.

 

Family Alignment: The Missing Link

As I stated above, this is not typically the “fault” of the family office, but usually that of the family.

They need to intentionally work at getting the entire family aligned together, in order to make the decisions that the family office should then be executing.

 

The WHAT, the HOW, and the WHO!

Getting a family aligned so that they can effectively drive the strategy of their family office does not just “happen”, all of a sudden, or all by itself.

It begins with the recognition that it is necessary for the long term good of the family and its legacy.

Recognize anyone?

See also: The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration

 

From Family Business to Family Office

Welcome to a new theme here at Shift your Family Business, (the website). In some ways it’s long overdue, and in others, well, it’ll be more of the same.

 

I’ve begun to realize that I haven’t written nearly as much about the Family Office space as I have about Family Business.

 

Of course there’s a huge overlap of topics that suit both areas, and these have been covered here at length.

 

But for some reason, I get way more questions from families about operating their businesses than from those who’ve made the transition to managing and transitioning their wealth.

What’s the Difference?

If you stop anyone on the street and ask them what a family business is, everyone will give you some kind of answer that would score at least a few points on any grading key.

I daresay that if you asked “what’s a family office”, a lot more people would ask you to repeat the question, or would have only some vague idea of what you were asking about.

I consider myself to be pretty good at explaining complex things in simple terms, and this one is a big challenge.

In the simplest explanation, a family office is a formal structure set up by a family to manage the family’s wealth and everything that goes with it.

Family Business Office People Working
I’m Too Sexy for my Wealth

In the last decade or so, the term “family office” has been discovered and co-opted by many professionals who work in the area of wealth management.

I come across examples regularly that make me shake my head, where I see this very broad term used as a label to describe a very narrow service offering.

The image I have in my head is of a hot dog stand with a sign that says “smorgasbord”, where you can have your hot dog with mustard, or ketchup, or both!

OK, but where’s the rest of it?

Not for the Mass Affluent

Financial institutions typically like to attract the clients with the most wealth, and they also have products and services geared to lower levels of wealth too.

There are terms that get used in their industry to segment different wealth levels, and they kind of make my skin crawl when I hear them.

There are the “mass affluent” with “only” a few million dollars, then you get to HNW (high net worth) and eventually UHNW (ultra HNW!)

Who qualifies for what level of services varies over time and from one institution to the next.

Let’s just say that family offices have historically been for families in the upper reaches of society, and so anyone who markets their services as “family office” is trying to be seen as more “big time”.

That, and the hope that families will use their services because then they can talk about “their” family office at cocktail parties, I guess.

How Do They Get There?

Historically, family offices are set up once a family has achieved a certain level of liquid wealth, and/or a certain level of complexity.

Liquid wealth is money that can be quickly transferred from one asset to another, like cash, stocks and bonds.

Family operating businesses and real estate are usually considered “illiquid”.

The most common way a family arrives in the land of a family office is after a liquidity event, i.e. the sale of a family business.

See: Liquidity Events in a FamBiz: Pros and Cons Part 1 and Part 2

 

Custom Made Mystery

But every family is different, and so every family has different needs.

Most families are not 100% sure of what they need, and they have an over-abundance of providers who are trying to convince them that “I am your solution”.

There’s an expression in family office circles that “If you’ve seen one family office, you’ve seen ONE family office”.  There are no two the same, nor should there be.

Family Office

Demystifying Family Offices

From discussions with families, acquaintances, and peers, I realize that some demystification is overdue.

So look for more frequent posts on this fascinating subject in this space going forward.

 

Looking to get a head start?

– See chapter nine of my book

SHIFT your Family Business, (the BOOK),

Chapter 9: Towards a Family Office Mindset

  • See this article by Jaffe and Grubman

“Development Stages of a Single Family Office”