sometimes you just need to say no written on a piece of paper

The Importance or Saying “NO” in a FamBiz

The Importance or Saying “NO” in a FamBiz

Family businesses sometimes get a bad rap because of the way they often do things less formally than a “more professional” company would.

The less formal nature of any business can be a plus in many ways, but of course it can turn into a negative too.

When they do turn negative, it’s usually because someone has agreed to something (i.e. said “Yes”) that they really should have said “No” to.

Today we’re going to look at some of those cases.


Summer Jobs

Quite often the children of the “boss” get their first real exposure to the business as teenagers with a summer job.

When a teen asks “Can I have a summer job?” the best answer is usually “Yes”.

The part where it can be hard to say No is if there are follow-up questions like, “Can I take Fridays off?” or “Can I take a couple of weeks off” or “Can I start a bit later than everyone else?”

If the job is to work with other regular employees who all follow certain rules, every time you make an exception for them, you’re setting a bad precedent, that not only affects your child, but also everyone else who sees the special treatment.


Full-Time Jobs

When you’re dealing with adult children, the idea of consistency and no special favours also often comes into play.

“Can I get a job at the company?” will often be answered with a Yes.

But, “Can I have the same pay as my sister for less work, because I have family obligations?” should probably be greeted with a No.

“Can I come in later, work from home most of the time, take Fridays off, etc.” are things that other employees see and if they become standard perks for family employees and no one else, these are huge morale killers.


The Other Side of the Coin

Lest you think that it’s only the next generation who ask for things to which the parents should be saying No, I’ve got a more drastic scenario for you.

This one also occurs far more often than it should, and it involves the parents taking advantage of their kids.

Picture the daughter and/or son, who have been diligently working for the family business for decades, not only following the rules that exist for all of the employees, but going above and beyond.


Some Day this Will All Be Yours

They work evenings and weekends, never take a vacation, and do everything that’s ever asked of them.

They ask the owners, their parents, for a raise or some time off, but they are rebuffed with something along the lines of “Some day this will all be yours”.

That can be an acceptable answer, for a while.

Five years later, when it comes up again, and the answer is still just as vague, that’s where the children need to be able to say NO.


When Exactly IS “Some Day”?

At some point, some clarity, especially around the “when”, is needed. But just because you want clarity, and even need clarity, that doesn’t mean that you automatically get clarity.

Sometimes you need to demand it. And that begins with a firm NO.

As I write this, I’m picturing the old sitcom plot where the mother is tired of being taken for granted and decides to go “on strike”, and finally the husband and kids realize how lucky they are to have Mom around taking care of so many things.


Respect the Interdependence 

As the years and decades go by and family members age and grow into new roles that fit their evolving life stages, the “power balance” shifts.

The people and the roles are very much interdependent all the way through, but the nature of that interdependence changes too.

It’s usually so gradual and incremental that you barely notice it, but it is happening. Sometimes you need to take the time to stop and notice and decide that the way things have been going doesn’t work anymore.

In this circumstance the “NO” is not necessarily the answer to a question, it’s more of a statement.


NO, I’m Not Settling for That Anymore

Many people get to the point where they feel this way. Not all of them have the courage to make the statement though.

I’m not saying that it’s easy, but at some point it needs to be said.

Even If It Hurts

Even If It Hurts

Last week, in The 3 R’s: Finding a “Responsive Reliable Resource”, while writing about people who are “Reliable”, I stumbled upon an idea that I promised to revisit in a future blog.

As I put it then, As I write these words, I’m realizing that there’s a whole other blog that I’ll need to write, to expound upon this question”.

So expound I will.


Hurting Me, Hurting You

The key point at the root of my “eureka” moment came from this sentence:

“I want to be able to rely on someone to tell me the truth,

even if it hurts me, AND, even if it hurts them.”

These are two completely separate points, yet I’ve never seen them addressed together. That’s what made it so compelling for me to look at this again this week.


Tell Me the Truth, I Can Take It

One of the biggest problems that people at the top always face, no matter what kind of organisation they’re in, is having people tell them things that they “don’t want to hear”.

The CEO of a company will not always hear the truth from their underlings, not because those people are liars, but because most people have an aversion to telling their boss things that are not pleasant to relate.

The interesting part about this is that more often than not, they actually DO want to hear those things.

In fact, good leaders don’t want to be surrounded by “Yes-Men”.


How Long Will It Hurt? 

The reality is that hearing the truth, if it’s something that you really do need to know and you really cannot see yourself, only hurts for a very short time.

Strong leaders realize that they’re not in a popularity contest, and that sometimes you need to hear things that hurt.

In order to make progress, a reality check is often needed, and folks at the top actually need to have MORE people who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.

It’s great if you have people upon whom you can rely to play that role.


Despite My Self-Interest

That was one side of the “hurting” question, now let’s get to the even trickier part.

The “even if it hurts them” aspect can best be summed up in one word, “self-interest”. Not sure if a compound word really counts as one word, but I’ll use my “editorial license” to make it so here.

If you aren’t familiar with the “Trust Equation” or the “Trust Quotient”, I suggest you visit this site:  so that you don’t just think I’m making this stuff up.

The denominator of the Trust Equation is “Self-Orientation” as they put it. “Self-interest” and “self-orientation” may not be identical twins, but they are most definitely close siblings.


Not Placing Blame

Business families are served by a variety of professionals from different industries, including legal, accounting, insurance, investment management and banking to name a few of the major ones.

Every person naturally brings their own perspective to the family’s situation, and that perspective is naturally rooted in their professional training, background and orientation.

It’s next to impossible for a banker to look at your family business from any other perspective than that of a banker, and likewise difficult for your attorney to look at things from a viewpoint other than that of your legal counsel.

I believe these things to be true in general in just about every profession, even though there are exceptions in all of them.


So What?

Well, if you’re looking for “reliable resources” you can count on, you really have to understand that getting 100% unbiased advice, especially if it might go against their own interest, will almost never happen.

And I’m not saying that any of your advisors are unethical or crooked in any way. They very likely believe that everything that they suggest to you is actually best for you.


What Are You Paying Them For?

Unfortunately for leaders of business families, most of the professionals upon whom they rely are paid for certain products and services that these people sell them.

Those who truly have their client’s interest as their top concern and only interest, are few and far between.

There aren’t many people who play that role but if you can find one, keep them!

Finding a reliable person you pay only for their counsel can be done.

Santa Playing with the ipad

Christmas Resolutions for a Family Business

Christmas Resolutions for a Family Business

I hope everyone reading this has a great Christmas, or whichever other holiday they celebrate at this time of year.

I also hope nobody thinks that I actually wrote this on Christmas Day.

I’m a creature of habit and pride myself on being consistent, and my blogs have been going out to subscribers on Mondays for years now, and I’m not changing that just because it’s Christmas.

Recently I started writing them a week ahead of time to take the pressure off my website/social media team.

And if you’re wondering if there’ll be another blog in your inbox on New Year’s Day, stop wondering, because that’s a Monday too.

Timing Is Everything

Because I knew that this would be arriving in people’s inboxes on Christmas, and realized that many people wouldn’t be reading it until later, the “Resolutions” part that’s normally associated with New Year’s feels less clunky.

And it should help me make my point. So what is that point? Glad you asked.

During a recent exchange with a potential client, a lightbulb went on in my head as I realized they had some possible similarities with one of my current client families.

And in fact, I know of a few other families who could benefit from the kind of work I’m doing with them.


Rising Generation Group

The family client in question is one where I work with only the third generation sibling group. I’ve met with the parents only once, and this is an engagement that began almost two years ago.

The parents of the four Millennials from that family decided to hire a coach to work with their children, and that is what I’ve been doing with them, almost exclusively without their parents’ involvement.

I admit that this is a bit of a “non-standard” type of engagement, because most parents would not think of doing this in such a “hands off” fashion, but they put their trust in me to work with their offspring and haven’t looked back.

The other family I mentioned, the potential client, is one where the third generation family members are a larger group, and it includes four groups of cousins. But I’m going to suggest they try something similar.


Budget for Development

So the holiday tie-in I’ve contrived is that giving a generational group of people the gift of hiring them a coach to work with them could be a great Christmas gift.

But the gift can be even better if it is combined with a resolution (New Year’s tie-in!) to essentially stay out of trying to direct what the group works on with the coach.

If you are hiring someone to tell your kids what to think and do because they aren’t listening to you, save your money and time and forget it.

If you want to establish a budget for their development, especially to work on things together, that’s a pretty cool angle to take.


A Leap of Faith with the Right Attitude

My client family kind of took a leap of faith with me, but it was combined with the right attitude of trusting their kids enough to let them figure things out with me together.

My premise with them has always been that parents who have built up a business or great wealth all have the same fear:

that after they‘re gone, the kids will fight over things

and the wealth will destroy the family.

Having me as an independent, unrelated outsider to work with them has been a great exercise in teamwork for them, as I am essentially mostly a guide and mentor, as they do the real work of planning activities for the extended family group.


Early Stages

The early stage work we’ve been doing is also paving the way to the future important discussions that they will soon be having with their parents, once their parents recognize that they are ready.

After they’ve gotten to know each other better, and have learned how to work together as a team, those future “tougher” steps will be soooo much easier for everyone.


Xmas gift, NY resolution…

If you’re a family with the worry I noted above, why not resolve to look into this idea in 2018? I’ll gladly share some of the secrets of what I’ve been doing and see if it could work for you too.

Boss vs Leader written on a chalk board

The “Leader” Versus the “Boss”

The “Leader” Versus the “Boss”

If you go to any bookstore (almost seems quaint to imagine that these days) you will see lots of books on the subject of leadership.

You will find very few books on being “The Boss”, and any time the word “boss” is used, it’s usually in a negative sense.

I like to think that there’s been an evolution in the way organisations are managed over the past few decades, from one generation to the next.

The old fashioned “tell them what to do, and if they don’t do it, tell them again, only louder” seems like it was almost normal in the 70’s but today, well, not so much.


Family Business Version

The idea for this post came from a discussion with some members of a family business, who were talking about a relative of theirs whose management style they were less than enthralled with.

“He doesn’t want to be a leader, he just wants to be the boss”.

I really appreciated the phrasing used, as I had never heard those terms juxtaposed that way, and it was pretty clear what he was driving at.


A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

So I quickly put this idea into my “future blogs” file and let it simmer for a few weeks. This week I pulled it out and dusted it off, and then looked for a photo to accompany it on Shutterstock.

Lo and behold, I stumbled across more wisdom. There was a picture of something nondescript, along with these words:

A Boss says : “Go”

A Leader says: “Let’s Go”

This reminded me of a quote of mine that my social media team likes to send out on Twitter and LinkedIn, “Telling people what to do is actually one of the worst ways to get them to do something”.


Leading from the Front, or the Back?

The old style of leadership was almost always “from the front”, but then we started hearing and reading about “leading from behind”.

I like the symbolism of these words, because you can almost imagine a group of people and a leader positioned in a certain place, even though the physical positioning may never happen that way in real life.

Then there’s leading from the middle, which almost feels like it might be the best place, because that’s where you’re actually the closest to the greatest number of “followers”.

But I’m not even sure if leading from the middle is “a thing” or if I just made it up (?)


What’s the Issue, Anyway?

When we talk about this boss vs leader issue, what does it really boil down to?

If we just look at the family business scenario that inspired this post, it seems like it comes down to these two points:

  • Autocratic decision making
  • Brusk communication style

There are surely other things that cause dissatisfaction among the followers, but “fixing” just these two would go a long way to improving morale.


Generation to Generation

Earlier I mentioned the 70’s, and I’d guess that there were more autocratic bosses then than now. But there were surely some collaborative leaders then too.

Nowadays, there are more true “leaders”, but that doesn’t mean that there are no longer any “bosses” still around, just less of them.

Family Business Dilemmas

The family business version of this issue is of course more complex. Exits are not as simple and other family “baggage” can make it even trickier.

The flip side is that there are lots of leadership roles in a business family, and one of the biggest mistakes some families make is having the same person fill too many of these roles.


Three Circles, Three Systems, Three Leaders?

The Three Circle Model shows us that there are three systems at play in a family business: Family, Business, and Ownership.

Each system can and probably should have a “leader”, and it really doesn’t have to be the same person.

In fact, I recommend that families try to avoid having the same individual occupy more than one role.

Collective Responsibility

With different people assuming different leadership roles, the possibility of developing a sense of “collective responsibility” is heightened, and that’s a good thing.

In fact, getting all of the key people to understand that they truly are interdependent can go a long way to improving relationships.

Can this be learned? I sure believe so, but the right attitude is key!

Bird on a Cords aligned together

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Alignment

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Alignment

This week it’s time for another installment of the “5 Things you need to know”, and the subject is one that I consider to be tremendously important: Family Alignment.

I’ve written about Family Alignment a number of times in the past, but I decided to attack it again just because it needs to be better understood.

Much of the content of this post comes from a “Quick Start Guide” (“white paper”) I wrote on the subject in 2016. If you want a broader and deeper look at Family Alignment, please feel free to read and share it.

Without further ado, here are:

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Alignment


  1. There are 2 Parts: “Intra” and “Inter”

The first thing to look at is making sure that the family members are aligned amongst themselves. I call that the “Intra” part.

I’m talking about general agreement on the family’s values and goals, along with the important questions regarding whether or not they really want to continue to work together.

Once you’ve answered that one, then there’s the all-important element of aligning the family with its external partners.

Here is where we want to make sure that the family is working with and investing in businesses that are aligned with the values and goals that everyone agreed on in the first part.


  1. Do the “Intra” BEFORE the “Inter”

It’s important to work on the “intra” part and make sure the key family members are all on board with each other first.

If you haven’t worked out what you all agree on, there will be issues that could derail things going forward.

The term “collective responsibility” is one I heard recently that conveys this well.

The family members need to develop a consensus that they are responsible to each other, and only then decide on what outside businesses, causes, investments and partnerships they’ll work on.


  1. Starting Down the Road to Governance

Governance is kind of a loaded word that I’ve written a lot about, and it still has some negative connotations when people hear it.

To me, family alignment and family governance go hand in hand. Working on getting a family aligned necessitates getting into the questions around family governance.

Working on family governance is a good thing, and it’s actually THE key to any family being able to successfully transition its wealth to the next generation.

It’s impossible to have an aligned family without some governance, and, by the same token, it’s impossible to institute governance in a family if there’s no alignment.


  1. It Takes a Lot of Time and Effort

Nobody ever said this stuff was going to be easy. It isn’t, and it takes lots of time and lots of effort.

You know those stats you always see about the high failure rates around intergenerational wealth transfer? This is why.

Most families aren’t willing to do the work required to make sure that family members figure out how they’re going to make decisions together, how they’re going to communicate clearly and regularly, and how they’re going to solve problems together.

I’m actually talking about a considerable amount of time, not just in terms of hours, but in terms of months and years too.

For a family to figure out all this stuff is actually a pretty big project. Those who undertake it seriously soon learn that it really is hard work, BUT, they usually see great progress quickly once they begin.


  1. Process is Much More Important than Content

Unfortunately family alignment isn’t something you can just buy off the shelf. It isn’t some piece of “content” that you can pay your lawyer and accountant for.

The process of figuring out the answers to all of the important questions, together, as a group of relatively equal family members, is the most important thing.

If the Smith family has a beautiful family mission statement and a 50-page family constitution, but they haven’t had a meeting in years because one half of the family isn’t speaking to other half, that’s nice content with zero process, and a disaster waiting to happen.

If the Jones family meets regularly, has great exchanges during which they work together to define and achieve goals as a group, even if they don’t have anything in writing, then they’ve got the process down nicely.

Which family will succeed in passing the wealth down?

The family that is aligned and has taken the steps to determine its governance will have better odds.

The Dimmer Switch

The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off

The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off

This week I’m going to touch on a very big topic that I haven’t written nearly enough about. It’s also a subject that lots of families face, whether they have a business or not.

The idea came to me a couple of weeks ago while listening to the weekly teleconference of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

As I had stated in Huge Liquidity Events – Great News, Right?, there was going to be at least one other blog that came from that call.

The great nugget for this blog actually came from the Q & A at the end of the call. (Many Thanks to Matt Wesley of Merrill Lynch)


Having the “Money” Talk 

One of the call participants asked a question about helping their client families have the big talk about wealth.

You know how this goes. Wealthy parents talk to their advisors, the advisors strongly suggest that the parents begin to share information about their wealth with the kids, and the parents usually balk.

They understand that they should have the talk, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to do it.


The Dimmer Switch Analogy

The man who asked the question was looking for ways to help his clients begin the important stage of sharing information about the family’s wealth with their children.

The answer that came back was brilliant, and it is one that I plan on using. Parents often think about this “talk” as an all-or-nothing proposition. They shouldn’t!

It’s not a binary situation, where you go from complete “secrecy” to “full disclosure”.

It’s NOT a regular light switch, where the family was in the dark, and you flip the switch up and now everyone sees everything.


Time for your Pupils to Adjust

If you’ve ever gone to the movies during the day and you walk out into the daylight, you know that it takes time for your eyes to adjust.

In the same way, you really don’t want to “blind” your children with everything in one shot.

There is no need to quench their thirst for information with a firehose.

I like the dimmer switch analogy for a couple of reasons.


Shine a Little Light

I think the idea of “shining a little light” is the perfect antidote to the idea of “keeping them in the dark”.

And everyone knows what a dimmer switch is, and what it does. It allows you to control the amount of light.

So where should you begin?


Why Are We Here?

So let’s say you’ve decided that you can’t wait any longer and you need to talk about your wealth with the next generation of your family. Great. It’s not rocket science.

A frank and open way to get started is to tell them that you love them and that you care about them, now, and for the rest of their lives.

You could also share that you understand that if things go as they usually do, they will very likely outlive their parents, and that’s a good thing.

So, given that, there’s a lot of “stuff” that you have accumulated over the years and you need to begin to figure out what’s going to happen with it all after your gone.


One Step At a Time

The stage is now set. You have made them aware that you will be having some important discussions going forward.

And you control the dimmer switch, on both “how much” and “how fast” you’ll shed the light.

You don’t have to do it all today. Or even this week. Or this month. But preferably once you start, you do continue again sometime this year.

They may ask questions. That’s a good thing. You need to respond to all of their questions, but that doesn’t mean that you have to tell them everything they want to know.

Take your time. Turn that dimmer switch very slowly. But do turn it. And don’t turn it back the other way, although I’m not even sure if you can turn this metaphorical dimmer switch back towards darkness.


Dialogue > Monologue

You may have pictured yourself giving your family a speech about this subject. I strongly urge you NOT to look at it this way, or to act this way.

The “go slow” approach works well because you can adjust as you go. A dialogue, where you take the time to listen to their questions and concerns, is what you should be going for here.


Huge Liquidity Events

Huge Liquidity Events – Great News, Right?

Huge Liquidity Events – Great News, Right?

This week’s blog topic comes from two unrelated news stories, that just happened to occur at the same time.

The first was seen by the whole world, as Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area.

The second was more obscure, as a local Montreal family business was sold, for a “considerable sum”.


Liquidity for All!

Something that struck me about this hurricane was that storm damage from the wind was only minor, and the much bigger issue was the rain, causing flooding.

When the wind died down, the initial fear subsided, only to be reignited as the downpour of rain continued for several days.

In somewhat similar fashion, the family who had their big “liquidity event”, selling their business for a reported 10-figure amount, will likely have a two-phased reaction.

At first, once the documents were signed, there was likely relief and perhaps a bit of a dazed feeling, but all was probably pretty positive.

That’s normal, after months or years of work finally culminate in the actual sale.


And Now What?

The second generation of the family had been running the business for the past few decades, and there was some G3 involvement in management.

I don’t know any details about the size of the family or its complexity, but I do know that a sudden, large pile of liquid wealth certainly has the potential to magnify any issues

As I alluded to in Solid Wealth vs. Liquid Wealth, an operating business has a certain “untouchable permanence”, so family owners are more likely to be content with occasional distributions.

But when family wealth appears simply as a dollar sign followed by a long number, it seems so much easier to just carve up into pieces.


Two Possible Scenario

These situations often unfold in one of two major ways.

Sometimes the family leaders are so focused on trying to consummate the deal, that there’s very little planning or preparation around what’ll happen next.

That can actually be a good thing. There really doesn’t need to be a huge rush to figure out what comes next, and thoughtful decisions are almost always better than rushed ones

Other families, depending on whose advice they’re heeding, will already have a whole slew of structures set up in advance of the liquidity event, and when the deal is signed, the resulting wealth simply gets re-allocated into these different structures and accounts in rather short order.

As much as I like to preach about the importance of planning, this may not be the best way, depending how much the family was involved.


Purpose, Values, Vision

I sure hope that before any irrevocable decisions were made, the family took the time to have a discussion around the purpose of the family’s wealth.

You know, some discussion around the family’s values around the wealth they’ve created, and an initial look forward to what the family’s vision of the future is? Yeah, that can be pretty important.


Destructive Powers

I often talk up the Purposeful Planning Institute and their weekly teleconferences, and this week provided a great quote that happens to fit perfectly.

The call featured one of my favourites. Matt Wesley of Merrill Lynch, and a couple of his colleagues, and it will be the subject of a future blog.

But the quote came from Wesley, who related a story about a patriarch who’d accumulated a large amount of wealth, and his preoccupation for the future.

“I don’t want my kids to destroy the wealth I worked so hard for”, he said. “But I really don’t want the wealth to destroy my kids”.


Greener Grass Syndrome

People living in areas struck by drought may have been jealous of the forecast for Texas and the rain they were expected to receive. “Wow, lucky them, we could sure use some rain around here”.

Likewise, those working in a family business, without access to the liquid wealth they wish they had, may also be jealous of the family that managed its business sale.


Time Will Tell

It remains to be seen if the family handles the windfall of liquid wealth in a productive way, or whether this event will sow the seeds of destruction that is so common for underprepared families.

Be careful what you wish for, you may get more of it than you can handle. And good luck!

Different shapes and forms of tents

Combining Strategy and Structure for Families

Combining Strategy and Structure for Families

I got an email a few weeks ago, inviting me to an upcoming Family Office conference, and the wording of the subject line caught my eye.

Now that my thinking on the issue has gelled in my head, I’ll try to turn it into a useful blog post. Here goes.


Strategy AND Structure

Let’s begin with the email subject line, so that you’ll get the context:

“Essential structures & strategies from leading families”

The event itself was billed as a “Family Office and Investment Conference”, but the tease in the subject line had succeeded in intriguing me to believe that they might be talking about topics that are much more up my alley (i.e. family issues)

When it comes time to plan the transition of a family’s wealth from one generation to the next, a lot of effort is usually put into finding the best way to structure things.

There are many different ways to accomplish the goal of transitioning the ownership of assets from the current owners to the future ones, and the choice of which way to go will often be driven by the family’s advisors, who each have their particular favourite techniques and structures.

The family client relies on advice from these trusted experts, who are believed to know what they are doing, and strictly speaking, they usually do.

So what’s my issue with this? I’m glad you asked.


The “What” Shouldn’t Come First

A family faced with this scenario is really only going to do this once per generation, and few families are experts in knowing exactly what they want, or even knowing what’s possible.

The tactical experts who advise them are just that, “tactical”, they specialize in the “what”, and when a client shows up looking for help, the expert will almost always go back to the “tried and true”.

But what if they’re pulling an old structure off the shelf that they used before for another client whose situation was completely different?

Too few advisors will take the time necessary to explore the “why” questions with their client families, and to think in terms of the overall family strategy, in order to make sure that “what” they are proposing actually makes the most sense.


“Why” Should Precede “What”

It’s really useful for the family to have the important planning discussions amongst themselves to plan strategy before engaging the outside structure experts.

As I wrote back in March, in “We Treat Them All Equally – (That’s Good, Right?)”, these discussions are not necessarily done quickly or easily, but they sure are important and worthwhile.

You may be curious as to my selection of the image I chose to accompany this post, perhaps wondering “what’s with all the different tents”? Each of them is a structure, and they are all different, some of them markedly so.


Are We All In This Together?

In “Going Far, Go Together” I wrote about families that are planning to stay together for the long term.

What I didn’t stress at the time was the actual question that the family needs to clarify beforehand, i.e. does the next generation of the family WANT to stay tied together, and continue to work together as a shared ownership group.

Too often there is a presumption that the answer to this question is YES, and when that happens you can end up with siblings who are forced into partnership with each other.

If such a scenario is going to turn into a disaster because of the family dynamics, wouldn’t it be better to figure that out in advance, and not go down that road?


Strategy Before Structure

At the risk of harping on this too much, I’ll say it again. Before you decide on the best structures to hold the family assets for the next generation, the family needs to sort out the questions of who is on board.

It can be very tempting to choose a complex solution proposed by a tax expert who shows you to the penny how much tax you can save by going with their suggested methods, but if that solution means the next generation will be stuck in the wrong kind of tent for their trip, what was the point?

A huge tent built for the desert may not be what most of the family needs. Work out the strategy first.


Family Advice in Biz

Dealing with Spouses in a Business Family

Dealing with Spouses in a Business Family

This week’s post was inspired by an email I received from a colleague. She sent along a video blog she’d watched that spurred her questions.

Coincidentally, I’d just watched the video that morning. It was from Wayne Rivers of the Family Business Institute.


Your spouse is CRITICAL to your planning

The video talks about why it’s so important to involve the spouses of family business principals in all of the planning that gets done.

Rivers is speaking about the very early stages of planning, for the work business families face when transitioning a business from one generation to the next.

Not involving the spouses at this stage would clearly be a mistake.


All of the In-Laws ? 

The questions from my colleague, however, went much further than simple planning, to full blown governance questions, which take the issue to a whole new level.

When you’re talking about two or three generations, including many adult children with spouses and children, the question of involving spouses can get pretty tricky in a hurry.


Three-Circle Basics – Again

Here are some of the essentials that come to mind when dealing with these situations:

  • There are three circles, and each is its own “system”: Family, Business, and Ownership
  • Each system is made up of different groups of people, who then need to come up with ways to govern themselves, i.e. communicate and make decisions together
  • Some questions that business families face can become pretty ambiguous, so it’s paramount to think through which questions need to be addressed by which group. This is NOT a one-shot deal, it will come up over, and over, and over again.
  • Rules about who belongs in which group need to be clear, and they should be made by the members of each group
  • It’s easier to start with a small group when making the rules, and then to carefully enlarge the group afterwards
  • All rules that a group makes for itself should be logical and clearly defined

Multiple Governance Layers

There can also be more than one group in each circle.

In the business circle, at the most basic level, there are likely different groups or committees charged with certain day-to-day tasks.

At the other extreme, the business may have a board of directors or executive committee, charged with big-picture decisions.

(Yes, I realize that many founders act as their own self-contained, “one-man-show” board and executive committee.)

It’s possible to have a variety of people or groups who make decisions at different levels.


Family Assembly versus Family Council

For the family circle, when there are more than a dozen or so people involved, you may have a “family assembly” that brings together everyone with a stake in the family.

In order to translate their wishes and needs into a coherent forum for decision-making, they may elect to have a “family council” to represent them.

There would typically only be 5-10 family members on the council, whose role is to represent the views of the larger group.


Voice versus Vote

One of the most important concepts to always keep in mind here is the difference between having a voice and having a vote.

Everyone should have a voice, an opportunity to be heard. It helps when they’ve all been informed, so that when they do voice their points, they do so in an informed fashion.

If some members are voicing things from a position of ignorance of the issues, often simply clarifying things will go a long way to diminish the volume of their voices.

Many “complaints” simply stem from a lack of information.

Everyone usually wants to be informed, and to be heard.


Rules for Inclusion

The rules for inclusion must be clear and also “clean”, i.e. easily explained and interpreted by anyone. For example, if my wife is in, so is my sister’s husband.

There’s no room here for picking and choosing without solid reasons.

All of this is easier said than done, of course, and easier in theory than in practice

The key is to go slowly, it’s not a race. Taking the time to get it right will be well worth it in the end. Building consensus takes time.


How Many Is Too Many?

The photo I chose to accompany this post is a bit of a trick.

There are 15 people at that meeting.

That’s NOT a good number to begin with.

The Forgotten Circle of Family Business

Ownership: The Forgotten Circle of Family Business

Ownership: The Forgotten Circle of Family Business

On the back of my business card, I’ve got a colourful depiction of the Three-Circle-Model that I often use to initiate introductory discussions about the kind of work I do.

Not that it takes long to draw the Venn diagram on a napkin, pad, or placemat, but since I was struck by its simplicity when I was first exposed to it, I now enjoy sharing the insights it can bring.


History Lesson

Harvard’s Renato Tagiuri and John A. Davis came up with the model in the 1980’s when they realized that the old “Two-Circle” version was incomplete.

It was always clear that the Family and the Business overlapped, but it was the addition of the Ownership circle that added an “A-Ha” factor.


In Flux Versus Static

Interestingly, while the Family and the Business are both pretty much in constant daily flux, the Ownership is usually static or fixed for decades at a time.

But when the time does come to make changes to the ownership of a family business (and it will), those changes usually affect pretty much everything and everybody.

So the term “forgotten” in the title of this blog, is meant to make the point that we don’t usually give it much thought.

But maybe we should.


Some Examples

Imagine a family where the senior generation still owns the business while the rising generation members have solidified their place in the day-to-day operations.

At first they will likely patiently bide their time and accept the situation and “obey” the owners’ directives. But as the years become decades, this situation can become much less palatable.

The issues that arise in this type of situation are often framed in terms of “family dynamics”, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but the best solution to the “problem” may actually come from a change to the ownership.


Voting Control

Sometimes families realize that ownership should transfer to the rising generation relatively early on, which often occurs at the behest of an outside expert who suggests some beneficial tax-planning strategies for making these changes.

But often the parents can’t resist the temptation to create complex share structures that allow them to maintain control.

Having ownership without control adds a complicating factor to the Three-Circle-Model.

I’m not exactly sure how to do it, but somehow a modified version of the model might be needed to illustrate those situations where ownership doesn’t include control.

But all I’m trying to do here is to illustrate ways that the ownership circle often affects many of the day-to-day family business issues, even if we don’t give it enough thought.


Life Events as a Catalyst

Important life events can sometimes be a catalyst to changing the ownership structure. It’s much more fun when these involve a birth or marriage than a death or divorce.

Unexpected deaths sometimes catch families by surprise and hopefully these cases serve as a poignant reminder to others to get their affairs in order “just in case”.

When there’s a long illness that precedes a death, it’s sometimes a blessing, because important moves and discussions can then take place.

Of course in some cases, family relationships are such that even when the writing is on the wall and death is imminent, the family just can’t come together and have a productive discussion and agree on how the future ownership should be structured.


Preparing Owners to be Owners

Luckily, for every situation where families are “stuck”, we now hear more and more about families who are working to get out in front of these situations.

Enlightened families are looking into outside coaches and/or education programs that help prepare future owners to become good owners.

While it’s true that no special training is required to own shares in a company, the people who work in the business can tell you that the ownership of the business, and how they interact with and guide the company, has a huge effect on performance.


It Starts at the Top

When things begin to go poorly in a business, the roots of the demise can usually be traced back to the top, and that’s the ownership.

If you’re working with a business family and there are some issues that you’re trying to put your finger on as to their source, don’t forget to ask about the current ownership structure.

There’ll often be some good clues there.


Photo credit: Richard Legler