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.

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.

Suggestion box

From Suggesting to Managing in the FamBiz

Being fluent in more than one language has many benefits, most of which are quite obvious.

Having lived in Montreal my whole life, I experience this daily. Not a day goes by where I don’t use both French and English.

Facilitation = Making Things Easier

Every language has words that come from other languages, and when you’re fluent in both, some things can seem obvious to you that others might miss.

Years ago in the Family Enterprise Advisor program that I was taking in Toronto, we were in the module on “facilitation”, and some of my unilingual colleagues were a bit unclear on the meaning of the word.

I shared my take, which is that the word “facile” in French typically translates to “easy”, so facilitation is simply “making things easier”.

Some Are Less Obvious

Examples like that one are pretty easy to spot, but others are less striking, such as the one that inspired this post.

The genesis was a documentary I watched this past summer, in French, about Felipe Alou, who hails from the Dominican Republic.

Alou had a great career in baseball, first as a player and eventually as the manager of the Montreal Expos.

Promotion to Manager

Alou started the 1992 as the “bench coach” for the Expos, essentially the “assistant” to the rookie manager, Tom Runnells.

Runnells was the boss, and Alou was there to support him.

But this manager was in over his head, and often sought input from Alou, who was older and had much more experience.

When Runnells was fired less than two months into his first season, Alou was given the top job as many fans had hoped.

Giving Suggestions

Here is where the language thing comes in. The documentary was in French, but most of the interviews were in English, so there were French subtitles.

Alou was explaining, in English, how things were at the start of the season, when he was second in command.

He mentioned that he was suggesting things to Runnells, but then suddenly he was managing the team himself.

The French verb “to suggest” is “suggérer”.

And the French verb “to manage” is “gérer”.

Wait, what?

So, is “giving suggestions” tantamount to “sub-managing”???

male and female business people talking

Sub-Titles as a Visual

If it were not for the sub-titles I was reading (for no real reason, actually, since I understood spoken English!) it would not have hit me.

But there it was for all to read, about the big step Alou had to take to go from “suggérer” to “gérer”, from suggesting to managing.

Stepping Up, One Step at a Time

Now is the time for me to bring this blog into the family business realm. I trust that some readers are already with me here.

Let me relate my recollection of some of my own story as I worked with my Dad, decades ago.

Initially, my suggestions on some subjects were welcomed. As my ideas proved to be good, they were agreed to without much debate.

From Talking to Doing

At a certain point, some of the implementations were also left to me, as I demonstrated that I could be trusted.

Sure, at the early stages, I would clear things with him first before acting, and then eventually I would act and relay the information afterwards.

Eventually, I would do what needed to be done, and sometimes not remember to even inform him.

In many ways, I took the “suggesting” to “managing” steps as Felipe Alou did, but over a longer period of time.

I was afforded this longer timeframe because my Dad and I had planned for a longer overlap.

male and female business people talking
Radical Changes: In Case of Emergency Only

The firing of a baseball team manager is not at all like a family business succession, at least in terms of the way it should be done.

Except in cases of sudden death or accident, a family business will hopefully have the timeframe required to go the slow route.

“They Aren’t Ready”

We hear a lot about the leading generation being unwilling to let go of the reins (see Sticky Baton Syndrome –ask Prince Charles)

Sometimes those who have been running things just don’t know how to get started?

Handing things off to the younger ones needn’t be done in one step.

Accepting suggestions, and even asking for them, could be a great first step. It’s never too early to begin, either!

The longer the overlap, the easier it is to make it a smooth transition.

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”

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)

guy wearing suite holding hand up

Lonely at the Top of the FamBiz

Lonely at the Top of the FamBiz

This week we’re going to look at something that many family business leaders face, and that often makes them feel powerless.

While they appear so powerful to others, deep down inside, well, maybe, not so much.

 

Life Imitates Art

I was a big fan of the TV Show The Sopranos when it first aired on HBO, and it became appointment TV viewing in our house.

Tony Soprano was a mafia boss, and he had a family, but he wasn’t the prototypical family business leader.

We have a promotional poster for the series in our basement, that shows Tony in the center, with his wife, mother and kids on one side, and his “work family” on the other.

It reads:

“Meet Tony Soprano:

If one family doesn’t kill him,

The other family will”  

I still get a kick out of it every time I see it.

Not Just for Business Leaders

The Soprano quote below that inspired this blog post came from a story I read a couple of months back about David Chase, which ran in GQ Magazine.

The story was about Soprano’s head writer David Chase, and it examined some similarities between Chase and the Tony Soprano character.

The end of the story included this quote:

(Some of the letters have been replaced by ***, but I think you can still get the gist of it):

 

“All due respect, you got no f***ing idea

what it’s like to be number one.

 

Every decision you make affects every

facet of every other f***ing thing.

 

It’s too much to deal with, almost.

And in the end you’re completely alone with it all.”

 

Does It Have To Be So Lonely?

 Let’s look at some options that the person at the top has as possible outlets or resources.

 

     Spouse

Tony, of course, had Carmela and they spoke quite often about many important issues. But deep down, Tony knew that there were many things that he couldn’t and shouldn’t burden his wife with.

An understanding spouse who is a good listener can be very helpful but is rarely sufficient to relieve the loneliness burden.

 

     Top Management

Some of the most memorable scenes from the show were ones that included Tony and his top management. Paulie and Sylvio were the mainstays, and Christopher was a rising star in the group.

But much like the spouse, these people are so tied in with the decisions, that it becomes difficult to broach subjects that affect the group.

 

     Peer Group

The closest thing Tony had to a peer group was the other top mafia bosses from other territories.

We occasionally got glimpses of this, and they sometimes offered an opportunity to exchange with others who faced similar challenges and decisions.

The nature of their business on the show, however, added a dangerous element that discouraged too much sharing.

Real family business leaders usually have lots of opportunities to join peer groups, through organizations like FEX, TEC, Vistage, etc.

 

     Rising Generation of the Family

Tony’s kids were too young, and AJ, his only son, did not seem to have the “right stuff” for the line of work his father was in.

For real leaders of family businesses, there are plenty of opportunities to share what one is going through with their offspring, especially those who work in the business with them.

This is an area that I think is underexplored by most people.

Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear to be playing favourites by sharing with one child more than others, or maybe it’s an effort to avoid putting a burden on them.

My belief is that some sharing, in appropriate amounts, at the right age and stage, and in the proper way, can be a win/win, because it also helps prepare the future leader(s).

 

     Trusted Outside Advisor

Tony’s frequent visits with Dr.Melfi, his shrink, were a recurring theme throughout the show’s run.

Mental health practitioners are a potential outlet, but so are other trusted professionals, like your accountant and lawyer.

There are also plenty of executive coaches and family business advisors that could certainly play a role too.

 

     Board of Advisors

The ultimate solution, just shy of having a full-fledged “Board of Directors” would be to set up a less formal “Board of Advisors”.

This takes time and effort to set up, but those who have done it swear by it.

Tony Soprano probably should have had one too!