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Simplifying Complexity and Ethical Wills | Blog on Ethics in Family Business

Simplifying Complexity and Ethical Wills

Writing Last Will and Testament. Closeup shot

A few weeks ago I came across a blog post by the Blunt Bean Counter on Ethical Wills that I liked, and I encourage anyone interested in this subject to check it out. Perhaps I can whet your appetite with my take on the subject here.

The man behind the blog and the website is Mark Goodfield, who is an accountant from Toronto. I would not necessarily call him an old friend of mine, but we did meet professionally last summer at a BDO SuccessCare course, “The Role of the Most Trusted Advisor”.

We spoke about blogging one day at lunch, and it was thanks to some of his comments that I undertook a rebranding and reworking of my online presence, for which the feedback I have been receiving from some of you has been gratifying.

An ethical will is essentially a letter that you write to your loved ones, outlining your wishes, which they can refer to and reread after you have passed away.

As Mark so nicely states, some examples of what people convey in an ethical will include:

  1. Your values
  1. Your hopes for your family
  1. An explanation of decisions made in your will
  1. Providing or asking for forgiveness

This is one of those ideas that seems to make so much sense to me, but that for many reasons is not as easy a sell as it appears on the surface.

It reminds me of Tom Deans’ great book, Willing Wisdom, in which he implores people to share the contents of their will with their beneficiaries. I get it, I love the idea, I encourage people to do so as well, but at the same time, I also know that he gets a whole heck of a lot of pushback whenever he gives a speech about the subject.

Now the title of this post mentions simplifying complexity, and that is where I want to go now, so please join me. This was its own separate blog post idea, but I often need to combine ideas because I seem to get way more than 52 ideas a year, and I vowed to keep these to once a week.

Whenever someone dies, the remaining family members are left to sort things out and move on. We have all heard stories about people who died without a will, or before ever having taken the time to put their proverbial affairs in order.

Let’s call that one “Simple Life, Complex Death”.

There is an alternative, but it takes some work, some foresight, and some courage. It’s all about doing the complex work up front, while you are still alive and of sound mind.

If you are willing to share the information about your decisions with your loved ones, you can make things as complex as you like. You do the hard work yourself, and then when you are gone, everything will be so much simpler for your family.

My father liked complexity more than most. He bought a farm as a retirement project, then bought more land from neighbours over time. When he was diagnosed with cancer, I feared that I would be stuck with the task of disposing of all these different acreages.

One of the greatest gifts he ever gave me was the fact that he sold the farm, in no less than four separate transactions to four different buyers before he died. All I had to do was go to the notary’s office four times to sign the papers and pick up the cheques.

But of course before doing any of that, we had a family meeting, during which we discussed whether or not we wanted to keep the farm in the family.

We knew what he wanted us to do after he died, because the day of his diagnosis, he went home and hand wrote a multipage letter to us, which I later dubbed his “manifesto”.

Little did I know it at the time, it was his Ethical Will.

During subsequent family meetings, we have referred to it often, mostly early on, less so now.

With Father’s Day around the corner, I wanted to say, “Thanks again Dad”.

 

“Know How” Vs. “Show How” in FamBiz Advice

“Know How” Vs. “Show How” in FamBiz Advice

One of the things I enjoy doing occasionally is revisit parts of my eclectic professional career and find subjects that can help me explain things in areas around my most recent incarnation as a family business advisor.

Exactly 20 years ago, I was studying Intellectual Property Law in New Hampshire (Franklin Pierce Law, now part of UNH). During a class on patents, the terms “know how” and “show how” were discussed.

The MIP (Master of Intellectual Property) program was aimed mostly at international students, many of whom came from Asia, to get a one-year intense dose of American IP Law. A classmate from Colombia, whose English was still not great, asked me to explain the difference between the two terms.

We were standing in the student lounge at the time, and there were some vending machines nearby. I always love the challenge of taking complex issues and finding ways to explain them in terms that everyone can understand.

So I started with Know How, and suggested to my friend that if he were thirsty, he should go to the machine, put some money in it, and press a button. He looked at me intently, and said, “Okay…(?)”

Then, I walked over to the machine with him, and said, “Show How: Put your dollar bill in this slot here, and make sure you flatten it out. Slide it in until the machine picks it up. Now, look at the choices and decide which drink you want. Press that button. See, this is where it comes out. Don’t open it yet, because it just dropped and might make a mess because it got shaken. Get your change out of this slot. Show How.”

He smiled and nodded. Mission accomplished. So what does this have to do with family business?

If you are looking for Know How on subjects surrounding family business, and more importantly business families, there is no shortage of it out there. Just ask my friend Google, and he will lead you to more content than you could read in your lifetime.

But just as you could look up and read millions of patents and still not be able to put the inventions into practice, most of the FamBiz content you find really would fall more into the Know How category.

I read stuff every day on the subject, much of it coming from my Twitter addiction, and there are plenty of great ideas for things that families should be doing to make sure their intended transitions from one generation to the next go smoothly.

My problem with so much of what I read is that I believe that very little of it will ever be acted upon.

This may or may not be the fault of the writer of the piece, but I often picture the reaction of someone like my father, or my father-in-law, both of whom started with almost nothing and built successful family businesses, and I simply can’t picture either of them ever putting the advice into practice.

The lack of action by many families has a couple of components to it, of course. Lack of time or urgency is usually one part, and so is insufficient belief in the worthiness of the expected benefits. I can’t help believe that not having enough “Show How” is a very big part of it.

If someone reads that having family meetings is important, they may think that it could be worthwhile, but then might get hung up on how to go about that. What is on the agenda, who gets invited, how often should we do them, how formal, what is the goal, how do we make “ground rules”, do we keep minutes, ah just forget it. Maybe next year…

Many ideas sound great when we hear them (or read them), but then we stumble when we try to implement them, because of some uncertainty in how it is supposed to all work.

There are people who can help show you how, but not nearly as many as there are out adding the vast store of know how out there. You just need to find them and reach out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Is No “Fast Forward” Button

Last week we looked at the fact that people sometimes wish that they had the ability to hit the “Rewind” button in their life, but that outside of Hollywood, this was not something that is available to ordinary people (or even extra-ordinary people).

As I wrapped up, I promised to follow up with the mirror image of the Rewind button, which as we all remember from our 1970’s tape recorders or our 1990’s VCRs, is the “Fast Forward” button.

There are likely more people who wish they could hit Rewind than Fast Forward, based on two simple facts: our own mortality often makes us prefer to slow things down rather than speed things up, plus the fact that what has already occurred in the past is known, while the future is at best an educated guess.

Last week I made the tie-in to business families by talking about how family relationships sometimes get “stuck” because some family members hang on to past issues far longer than they probably should, and well past the point of their usefulness.

Some of you may be wondering how I am planning to make the family business question tie in to the Fast Forward button. Here goes…

Unfortunately, this subject forces us to look at a topic that most people prefer to avoid discussing, and it is one that was mentioned in passing a bit earlier. If you guessed that I was talking about mortality, take a bow.

Before I get to the ultra-frank wording of the manifestation of this problem, I want to tell you that it is something that I have seen far too often, and it breaks my heart every time.

For the past few years, even as my kids were only reaching their teens, I told them many times that even though I don’t yet know specifically “how” I am going to do it, I am determined to arrange my affairs in such a way that they will never be placed in a situatiuon where they will be hoping for me and their mother to die.

And that is the big Fast Forward button that too many people secretly wish that they could push.

Of course nobody will admit this, at least not out loud. Most will not even admit it to themselves. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening all around us, every day.

I did not wish for my father to die, as he left us, seven years ago, at the age of 72, but I sometimes wonder what my life would be like today if he were still with us. I truly hate to admit this, but I honestly do not think that I would be as happy as I am today if he were still around. (Wow, did I actually really just write that?)

There must be a really good reason for me to share this with readers, and there is. Knowing what I know now, about the importance of allowing each generation to rise and become everything they can be, is what I truly want and need to share.

This is not saying that my father was a bad person, in fact, in many ways, it says more about me, and my part in my relationship with my father, and my not having the courage to put what I needed on the table for discussion.

We did not have anyone that we knew at our disposal to help us have the important conversations that we should have been having.

It’s not that I would have pushed the Fast Forward button, but how many people out there secretly wish they could?

You don’t have the excuse that I did, about not having anyone at your disposal to help you have those key conversations, because you do. You are reading his blog right now.

Relations Harmonieuses Maintenant; Mais Après?

J’ai eu le plaisir dernièrement de passer du temps avec plusieurs couples qui étaient tous au stade de leurs vies où la planification d’une transition inter-générationelle de leur entreprise familiale était un de leurs plus gros défis.

Le tout faisait partie du programe Triomphe de l’École d’Entrepreneurship de Beauce, où j’avais été invité pour discuter de mes expériences et de mon livre, Changez votre vision de l’entreprise familiale.

En fin d’après-midi, je me suis présenté au groupe, et ensuite ma tâche était de répondre à quelques-unes de leurs questions. N’ayant pas eu la chance de répondre à toutes leurs questions, j’ai décidé d’en faire le sujet de quelques blogues.

Cette semaine, c’est la question d’une mère, qui s’inquiètait sur la relation entre son fils et sa fille, mais pas pour aujourd’hui. Je vous laisse lire le texte de sa question:

“ Comment peut-on s’assurer que la relation entre les deux relèves, frère et soeur, vont continuer en harmonie, au fil du temps, à travers la difficulté, quand on y est plus?”

Wow, toute une question, une chance qu’il me reste encore plusieurs paragraphes pour tenter une réponse! Mais elle n’est certe pas le seul parent à avoir ce souci non plus.

Et une chance aussi que je n’ai pas essayé de répondre sur le coup, puisque c’est une question qui demandait beaucoup de réflection pour donner une réponse complète, et j’aurais sûrement manqué au moins une partie de ce qui suit.

En effet, ma meilleur réponse contient trois volets;

  1. Des conversations, 2. Une cédule, 3. Un parti neutre.

Conversations

Nous avons tous des soucis pour nos enfants, et trop souvent nous les gardons à l’intérieur. Je recommande fortement de prendre le temps et de faire l’effort d’en parler ensemble, en famille.

Si c’est plus facile d’aborder le sujet un-à-un, faites le ainsi, mais parlez-en. C’est presque toujours les non-dits qui causent les plus gros problèmes.

Et n’attendez pas la chicane avant d’agir, c’est toujours mieux de parler ensemble et de partager nos pensées quand tout va bien.

En discutant ensemble, vous avez la chance de réussir deux chose. Premièrement, vous allez vous soulager d’avoir lancé le sujet pour qu’on puisse en parler ouvertement ensemble.

Et deuxièmement, les paroles de vos enfants, qu’ils vont prononcer devant vous, seront très difficiles pour eux à oublier quand vous n’y serez plus.

Ça vaut la peine, et c’est bon pour toute la famille.

Cédule

D’autres experts iront plutôt avec un mot comme “gouvernance”, mais je n’aime pas ce mot parce que chaque personne y attache une définition différente, et souvent ce mot fait peur aux gens.

La cédule, et surtout ce qu’on va faire avec, va accomplir les débuts de la gouvernance pour l’entreprise familiale.

Pendant que Maman et Papa sont encore impliqués, je recommande fortement de prendre le calendrier annuel et de céduler au moins 2, ou peut-être même 4, rendez-vous familiaux, où vous aller discuter uniquement du sujet suivant:

Nous possèdons une entreprise familiale, mais encore plus, nous sommes une famille entrepreuriale, et c’est la famille qui doit remporter.

Ce sont les débuts de votre “conseil de famille”. Vous développerez votre propre ordre du jour, vous ferez un compte rendu, vous allez céduler votre prochaine rencontre, etc. Mais vous allez formaliser un processus pour discuter des sujets importants dont on n’en parle pas tous les jours.

Parti Neutre

J’en parle souvent, mais à long terme, il est primordial d’avoir une personne externe, avec un nom de famille différent, à qui la famille a accès, et en qui ils ont tous confiance, pour discuter des sujets inter-personnels.

Ça pourrait être un employé sénior, un professionnel externe (avocat, comptable), un ami ou voisin, ou peut-être une personne d’une autre famille que vous connaissez qui a déjà fait face à ces sujets.

L’important c’est de commencer à inviter cette personne à vos réunions de conseil de famille au moins une fois par année, pour qu’elle puisse suivre le fil des sujets importants.

Ça prend les Trois

Je sais très bien que la grande majorité des familles ne suivront pas les conseils ci-hauts, mais je sais également que pour chaque famille qui décide de tenter de les suivre, les chances de faire un succès de leur transmission inter-générationnelle seront grandement améliorées.

[Si vous avez une question sur les entreprises familales que vous voulez me lancer pour en faire le sujet d’un blogue, allez-y. Merci!]

 

Leading Family Firms at IVEY

This week I attended a two-day program in London Ontario, at the fantastic Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre. The course was put on by the Ivey Business Families Centre, which is run by David Simpson.

David has been running the “Leading Family Firms” program for 6 years, bringing in families who are in business together, and getting them to learn about, and start talking about, some of the important issues that so often get too little attention.

We had an eclectic mix of people in the room, including a couple of brothers who are part of a third-generation company along with some of their cousins; two brothers-in-law who work along with two of their other brothers-in-law; as well as a Mom & Dad, & Son team.

In addition, we had a father with his recently graduated Ivey daughter, who does not work in Dad’s business, but who has been helping guide him in many ways thanks to her Ivey degree, as well as a handful of current Ivey students who come from family businesses to which they will likely eventually return.

I never get tired of hearing people’s stories about working with their families. There are always similarities to other situations, but then there are huge differences too. But because of this, there is always something we can learn from others in this field. Some is “what to do”, and some is “what NOT to do”.

Simpson started off the first day by congratulating everyone who was there. He clearly recognized that making the effort to take two full days away from your business is not a step that everyone is prepared to make, but that he was happy that they had all taken a couple of days to work ON their businesses (and their families!) instead of IN their businesses.

The course itself is based on the Roadmap course put together by the Business Families Foundation, which includes a series of videos about the ficticious Dupont family, and the trials and tribulations they face in running their hotel business. The videos are a bit dated and over-acted, but they do a great job of depicting situations that participants can identify with, and thus are wonderful conversation starters.

And conversations are the single biggest key to most of the issues that business families face. Actually, maybe I should say that conversations that have not happended are often the source of most of the problems that arise in family businesses.

While I was doing the Family Enterprise Advisor program this year, we used many of the same videos, and covered a lot of the same topics. One thing I can attest to is that the people who live in a business family are much faster at learning this stuff than most advisors.

Simpson told me beforehand that he accelerates the material when teaching families because a slower pace just isn’t needed. Having gone through it with him now, I get his point. But he gets it because he has been involved on all sides in family business with his own family and as a teacher in the Entrepreneurship program at Ivey.

On Friday afternoon as we were wrapping up, each person was asked to commit to one or two things that they were going to do in the coming months. There seemed to have been lots of progress made over two short days, as people were committing to some key steps that they were planning on taking very soon, which otherwise might have been left to “someday”.

All in all, it was an interesting, fun, and educational program, and I am certain everyone who was there found it worthwhile.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

La communication a bien meilleur goût

Mon choix de thème cette semaine a été très facile, puisque des lacunes dans la communication apparaissent assez souvent dans ma vie quotidienne. Je remarque aussi des changements dans les habitudes des gens dernièrement, quant à leur façon de communiquer, et ce n’est pas toujours pour le meilleur.

Le premier sujet, c’est le choix de communiquer ou de rester muet. Quand je reçois un morceau d’information qui pourrait avoir un impact sur quelqu’un d’autre, mon instinct me dit que j’ai le devoir de communiquer cet information à l’autre personne, et normalement ça devrait se faire assez vite. Malheureusement, je me sens dans la minorité à cet égard. Combien de fois est-ce que ça vous arrive de penser “ah bien, ayant su d’avance que… j’aurais agi autrement”.

Ça revient peut-être à une question de “style” personnel, mais je trouve que c’est important de partager mes idées avec mes proches et d’être transparent avec mes intentions. Si je garde tout dans ma tête, ça ne m’aidera pas.

Quant à la fréquence de communiquer, je crois que plus souvent est meilleur que moins souvent. Cela mène parfois à la répétition, mais je préfère ce scénario, surtout quand on regarde le contraste, qui se résume par “Ah, je ne savais pas” ou “Ah, j’ai oublié”.

Comment communiquer? La technologie qui existe nous laisse des choix qui n’existaient pas il y a quelques années. Ça fait longtemps que j’ai posté une lettre (à part une mise-en-demeure récente), ou envoyé une télécopie (un “fax”).

Mais dernièrement j’ai participé à des appels conférences, j’ai envoyé et reçu des textos, j’ai parlé au téléphone, j’ai assisté à plusieurs webinars, j’ai jasé sur Skype, j’ai envoyé des tweets et bien des courriels, j’ai fais des mises-à-jour sur mon profil LinkedIn, et j’ai écrit des blogues. J’ai même eu un souper tête-à-tête hier soir avec ma femme, pour célébrer ses 4_? ans.

Il y a plusieurs mois, j’ai écrit un blogue (en anglais) où je discutais d’avoir des conversations, versus simplement communiquer. Prendre le temps de s’asseoir ensemble pour discuter de choses importantes, c’est toujours aussi bénéfiques qu’avant, même si c’est moins à la mode.

Les vraies conversations sont la façon idéale pour enseigner ses enfants ou ses employés (sans oubliés les enfants-employés!). Quand on prend le temps de discuter, de se faire entendre et d’écouter l’autre personne, on peut découvrir des points de vues révélateurs. On peut confirmer si notre message a été bien reçu et bien compris, et sinon, on peut la clarifier.

Dans le monde émergent de “coaching” personnel et executif, tout est centré sur les conversations entre le coach et le sujet. Le coach sert presque seulement de poseur des questions, et le résultat est de faire réfléchir le sujet sur différentes points de vue, auquel il n’aurait pas eu l’esprit de réfléchir autrement.

Mais ça prend un effort. Ce n’est pas toujours facile à commencer. Mais la bonne nouvelle, c’est que, une fois débuté, c’est plus facile de continuer.

Finalement mon blogue sur la communication ne pourra pas se terminer sans parle de la langue choisie. Quand vous avez le luxe de pouvoir communiquer dans plus qu’une langue, je crois que ça vaut la peine de se pratiquer non seulement dans sa langue plus naturelle, mais parfois aussi dans l’autre(s). Même si cela nécéssite une correction (merci ma fille, avec ses bonnes notes en français du secondaire I).

Mon titre faisait allusion aux annonces sur les spiritueux de la SAQ, mais je vais terminer sur un autre breuvage, le lait. Quand je parle de communication, faire un effort c’est bon, mais deux, c’est mieux!

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Take My Advice: Don’t Take My Advice

I recently read the following quote from an article by Vinod Khosla, tweeted by Vala Afshar: “For entrepreneurs, the toughest thing is knowing whose advice to take and whose not to”. Agreed.

In the family business realm, the head of the company may not consider themselves an entrepreneur anymore, but the question of whose advice to follow is just as difficult.

On my website [fbo7624.com], I recently added a section called “Articles”, where I have begun to post links to some of the more interesting things that I come across. I added a link to the audio of an interview with Tom Deans, author of the best-seller Every Family’s Business, discussing his new book, Willing Wisdom.

Deans mentioned something that I found interesting about the differences between Canadians and our American counterparts, when it comes to whom they consider their “Most Trusted Advisor”.

For Americans, it is most often their lawyer, yet for Canadians it is their accountant. When you think about it, it is not that surprising, what with the relative number of lawyers in each country.

Because family businesses are more complex than others, the advice required often emanates from areas of overlap between “family” matters and “business” matters. Many advisors, both accountants and lawyers, feel more comfortable when they concentrate on their area of specialty, and it isn’t usually the family part.

So what do you do when your lawyer tells you one thing, and your accountant tells you something else? Thankfully, there is a growing field of multi-disciplinary advisors, coming through various programs, like IFEA in Canada, and FFI in the USA.
It is not difficult to understand that when the advisors understand each other and their respective roles, AND they learn how to work together to help their clients, better solutions are almost always developed, compared to each working individually.

But it is not always easy, because there are so many variables in a family business. I believe that most professional advisors are well-meaning and honestly want to provide quality advice to all their clients. I do not, however, believe that they are all successful in achieving that goal.

Too often things are done in a hurry, before everyone has taken the time to understand the situation and ensure that a coherent plan is developed. This could be because the client has serious “fee aversion” and expects to get quality work done at a low price. Or it could be the busy professional making assumptions about the client’s situation and proposing a “cookie-cutter” solution that had worked for others before.

So what is my advice? I wish you wouldn’t ask me that, because I don’t like to think of myself as an “advisor”. In the end, the client must make up his own mind about what advice to follow. You shouldn’t decide until you are confident that you understand your options, having examined the pros and cons of all your alternatives.

Sometimes people need help understanding all the options and all the advice their have received. What I believe they could use at times like those, is not another “advisor”, but more of a “confidant”.

Multi-disciplinary advisors are well positioned to take on the “most trusted advisor” role, because they have the ability to relate to and understand the other key professionals too. If the advisors can’t properly explain their advice in laymen’s terms, they may not be the right ones to use.

Like so many other things, it is not really the advice you get, but what you do with it, that counts. I prefer to offer my help in understanding all the advice, rather than offering more advice, because that would just make things more confusing.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Simple vs. Easy. How a Facilitator Can Help

Life is full of simple truths. So many things are so simple to explain and so simple to grasp, in theory, that you would think that everyone would live carefree lives.

But many people make the mistake of believing that “simple” is the same thing as “easy”. It is very easy to fall into that trap. So let me attempt to forever dispel that notion from your mind.

Let’s start with an area of my life with which I have struggled virtually my entire life.

From a very young age I can remember going shopping with my mother for clothes and hearing the saleslady inform her that they did not have these clothes in my size, or that we should look for something in the “husky” department.

Today I prefer to shop in stores that specialize in Big & Tall, since I can actually spend time choosing clothes that I like, as opposed to what they have that might fit me.

The point is that losing weight is a simple concept. Eat less, exercise more, and VOILÀ! If only it were so in real life. Yes, it is simple. But that doesn’t make it easy.

When we move over to the field of business, and specifically family business, there are so many simple things that you can do to make you business grow, make more profit, have a balanced life, keep everyone in the family motivated and happy. Yes, there are many simple things that you can do.

Very few of these simple things are also easy to put into practice. So let’s go back to the weight analogy. My last blog dealt with ignorance, so let’s tie that in too. I have learned a lot about nutrition in the last year since my doctor recommended that I see a nutritionist. I now understand a lot more about the subject, and she has taught me many tricks that have actually started to help me move in the right direction.

But one of the keys is that she always makes sure that we schedule a follow-up visit so that I do not forget that I am somehow accountable to her, since I know that I will be seeing her again in a couple of months. In this way, she is kind of my coach, keeping me on track.

My doc has also mentioned that he may recommend a personal fitness trainer to work with me in a similar way with respect to the exercise part of the equation. We are not there yet, but I already clearly understand where most of the benefits would come from, and that is the follow-up and accountability aspect.

So I have already used the term “coach” and “trainer”, and they both work in their respective fields. Now I want to bring in the term “facilitator”, since it actually has some use and acceptance in the field of family business advising.

During a recent course on facilitation we discussed the term and I happened to mention that the root word “facile” is actually the French word for “easy”. I thought it was a no-brainer (it’s good to speak more than one language!) but the reaction from the others illustrated that I was clearly in the minority.

The dictionary app on my phone does not have an entry for facilitator, but for the verb facilitate, we see: to make easier or less difficult; help forward (an action, a process, etc.) To assist the progress of (a person).

If you have an “A-Ha” moment here and realise that you could use a facilitator in your life your business, or your family, I felicitate you, but that is another French word for another day.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

If Ignorance is Bliss, What’s Oblivion?

I am often prone to thinking about abstract concepts, and lately my brain seems to be in overdrive in this area.

Hopefully, I will be able to tie things up into something relevant and useful for those who are interested in business families and the succession issues that they face. Ultimately, that is the goal of this blog.

We have all heard that ignorance is bliss. What that statement means to me is that sometimes when you are unaware of something (usually something bad), you are actually happier than you would be if you were aware of it.

Say you are in a foreign country where you do not understand the language. You pass a sign that says that you have just entered a dangerous area. Assuming you survive, would you have been happier knowing that, or remaining ignorant of the fact?

Now being ignorant of too many things is not necessarily wonderful either, in fact, the term “Ignoramus” is not usually used for flattery.

We are all ignorant of many things, due to the simple fact that no person can know everything. Some people act like they know everything, but that is another subject. They don’t. Nobody knows everything.

But there is another form of ignorance that is slightly different, and it is oblivion. To be “oblivious” is to be unaware. It is not a lack of knowledge of a subject in general, but a lack of realisation in a particular situation.

I get frustrated when I shop in stores with narrow aisles. I like to move quickly, find what I need, get in, and get out. But there are always (well not always, but it seems like always) oblivious people in my way. They stand in the middle of the aisle, sometimes with a shopping cart left in a spot that makes them even harder to get around, and they seem to be there to thwart my progress.

That kind of oblivion (the word “obliviousness” seems better in some ways, but is really not very elegant to say) is relatively benign.

My father was less ignorant than most people. If a subject interested him, he could study it quickly and get a deeper knowledge than many who were much more familiar than him.

But oblivion? Wow, what a difference. Maybe it was his entrepreneurial nature, always moving forward, always focussed on getting something done. Too much focus on one topic almost lends itself to being unaware of other things going on around you at the same time.

How many business families can relate to this one? Dad is hard at work, building the business for his family. What other things is he missing? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

So if ignorance is bliss, what is oblivion? It could also be bliss, but my take is that it creates blind spots in some family areas that should not be neglected. And those who are in the family do not always find it easy to confront Dad about these subjects. They have learned that it is best to stay out of his way.

So what do you do if you are in a business family with an oblivious older generation? What is the point of even bringing it up, he probably won’t even listen. Right? You may be surprised.

Start. Start somewhere. Anywhere. Get together and talk in a group. Start conversations about how things are being done and how that affects everyone else. Bring in someone from outside the family if you need to.

Ignorance can be solved by knowledge. Oblivion requires awareness. Too many people are doing too many things while UNAWARE of the unintended consequences of their actions. They need to be made aware, to shake them out of their oblivion. It is never too early to start.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Nothing Succeeds Like Succession

Succession is a huge subject in the realm of family business. It is literally a subject about which complete books have been written. I just want to touch on one particular aspect of it here, because it is too often overlooked.

A lot of time and effort is usually required in order to make sure that a succession is well planned and executed. The process often takes years, as it should when you think about all that is at stake.

When you are looking at your family business and how you are going to hand it over to the next generation, getting it right so that the business will contine to be successful for generations to come is complex and fraught with all kinds of potential stumbling blocks.

Last year I wrote a blog about the difference between “family businesses” and “business families”. There are important distinctions here, and this is precisely where the complications come in.

My premise is that far too often, a great deal of effort is placed into making sure that the business succession is successful, and very little effort is made into making sure the family succession has been handled effectively.

Maybe it is because the business is easier to look at in quantitative terms. The business is still profitable, is still growing, and is still a leader even after the next generation has taken control. Wonderful and congratulations, it is not an easy accomplishment and likely took a great deal of planning and effort to make it so.

I only hope that everyone in your family sees it as the success that the professionals who helped make it happen do.

I believe that the succession of the business is wonderful, but only if it does not happen at the expense of a successful succession of the business family.

This week I listened to an interview with James E. Hughes Jr., who is seen as a guru in the field of family wealth preservation and whose books are now at the top of my reading list. He makes a distinction between the transfer of wealth and the gift of wealth.

The parallel that I am drawing is that the transfer is that of the business, whereas the gift is more about the whole family. Hughes has seen his share of situations where the transfer was emphasized and likely seen as a success by most, but the gift was not made in a fashion anywhere near its potential.

I am still very much a neophyte in the space of family business consulting, as I have only recently begun moving away from managing my own family office and into helping other business families with their transition and succession issues.

But when I hear veterans of the space, or read their books, or follow their courses, I am very much inspired that I have found my sweet spot. I have lived many of the situations that they speak about either through my own family or my wife’s, or through others who work with family businesses on a regular basis.

Too often people are guided by professionals who are well-meaning and knowledgeable, but whose solutions have negative consequences that just aren’t understood. It is relatively easy to find specialists to help you save taxes or set up a trust for your grandchildren.

What is harder to find is someone to help you work through all these proposed solutions and examine their consequences to your FAMILY first, and then only your business.

I believe that the success of your succession should be viewed first by your successors’ ability to succeed. Whether the business is even involved at all at that point should be a secondary consideration.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
 
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
 
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
 
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
 
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
 
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.