Ebook on Creating Harmony In a family Business

My Baby, My Heir

There is something about reflecting on the past and dreaming about the future that can get us excited. When we specifically involve our family members in these thoughts, it can be even more remarkable.

Now if only we could make sure that the past memories and future dreams were all positive!

We start worrying about our offspring before they’re born, and sometimes even before they’re conceived. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it all starts at birth.

We also worry about what will happen to them after we’re gone. Of course after we’ve passed away, there isn’t really much we can do about anything anymore.

For practical purposes, the moment a baby is born, they become a future heir, and upon the death of a parent, they become the true heir.

During the time when a parent and child are both alive, there are many stages that they go through as they move from “baby” to “heir”.


Not All Distinctions Are Clear

Unlike birth dates and death dates, the movement from one stage to the next is usually less clear. Let’s look at some examples.

When does one move from “baby” to toddler, to pre-schooler? Do these stages always last as long as we hoped, or are they too long, or too brief? Do the child and parent agree on when they moved from one stage to the next?

Some of the periods are quite clear, “high school student”, for example, or undergraduate in college, with specific start and end dates.

There are overarching periods too, like “dependent”, and that one can become a bit ambiguous too. Parents usually say they want their offspring to become independent, but sometimes their actions make it look like they’re unsure how to go about that.

If the family owns a business, there’s a whole new set of stages, like part-time employee, summer intern, full-time employee, whether starting in the mailroom, or otherwise.

Then there are other business roles, like manager, VP, leader, board member, owner, CFO, CEO. Some of the distinctions are clear, some overlap, some do not apply, and a whole bunch of others can be added too.


Business Roles, Family Roles

Outside the company there are even more important roles, even if they do not come with a business card and title.

We don’t like to think about the time when there will be a role reversal, and the child will become the caretaker, and the parent will be the dependent. It is, however a reality that most of us will face. And it might be sooner than we expect.

There is a natural progression to all of this, but it isn’t always smooth, and in fact it can be quite “lumpy”, not to mention bumpy.

If you are concerned about your multi-generation legacy, as I believe you should be, it makes sense for both generations to be on the same page, but often they are not.

I have done some gross over-simplification here as we have gone along, only looking at a one child, one parent scenario.

Yes, I know that things are usually even more complex, involving two parents, and multiple children. My point is that even the one-parent-one-child situation is rarely simple.

I thought about calling this post “From Baby to Heir, and Everything in Between”, but shortened it. I want to highlight that there is a fixed period of time, while both generations are alive, where you can both truly work on the relationship.


Natural Order of Things

The relationship will NATURALLY change, from dependent to caretaker, from child to former child. I like the word “offspring”, as it covers both, and hopefully gets the parents to stop thinking of adults in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s as “kids”.

The parent goes from leader, in the “one up” position, through a period of “equal” adults, and then finally to dependent, or “one down”.

Not thinking about this doesn’t change it, it only delays your doing what needs to be done.

Are there some relationships in your family that are still stuck in a framework that is no longer suitable, and is unsustainable?

What are you going to do about it? These conversations need to happen, however difficult they are to get started.


Family Business Decision Making

So Maybe it IS the Highway

Highway traffic in sunset, travel concept background

“It’s MY way, or the Highway”

That expression is familiar to most people, and if you have ever been around an old-fashioned founder of a family business, it may hit especially close to home.

It’s interesting to note that as recently as a few decades ago, the default reaction to someone making this exclamation has probably changed.

What I mean by that is that in the middle of the last century, a family business leader who demanded that everything be done their way would more often than not succeed in getting everyone to do as they pleased.

In the early decades of this century, however, I would venture to guess that more often than not, they will have difficulty in getting everyone to buy into the “MY way”. So much so that fewer people will even dare utter that phrase.

So what has changed? Well there are a whole bunch of societal changes that have been occurring over the past few decades and it is important to be aware of how they are affecting business families.


Two Kinds of Life Expectancy

People are living longer, and staying productive and healthy for many more years than in the past, and the typical business founder has some difficulty letting go. Decades ago, their offspring could join the family business with the expectation that they would get to a point where they would inherit the business while still young enough to get to do things their own way. Not so much today.

The other kind of life expectancy is a term that I coined here myself, just for this blog. When invited to join the family business, more and more Next Generation members are thinking hard about what they expect out of their life.


Education = Options

Many families who have successful businesses will encourage their children to get a great education, but while they are getting educated, they are also getting exposed to the world of opportunities that such an education affords them.

What often happens is that a number of great options become hard to resist. If the choice is to return to the family fold and fall in line with a parent’s, “My Way”, or to go out and forge your own path, well, at least one of those paths is usually more tempting.

It can be understandably disappointing for parents to discover that a business that they built “for the family” does not seem to have any interested “takers”.

Families with means encourage independence in their offspring, and then lament the fact that they are no longer able to interest their children in being involved and taking over.


No Magic Bullet

At the risk of disappointing readers expecting me to provide a magic bullet solution, “sorry”. But I will offer some words of advice just the same.

It is true that there are more and more good “highways” out there, and if your “former chidren” have found a career for which they have a passion, then that’s probably better than having them come work for you and hate Mondays.

Also, if you have built a sustainable company and do not have any heirs who want to work there, all is not lost. Have you thought about having the family continue to own the business, even after you retire, having it run by professional, non-related management?

If you want to be involved with your children and they have an entrepreneurial spirit that they inherited from their parents but they are not exactly enthralled by your business, have you thought about helping them get started in a business venture in a field that they are passionalte about?

These last two ideas, long term family ownership of the business and starting a new business with and for your kids, are just a couple of ways to avoid the old question of My Way OR the highway.


The Family > The Business

If you have an open mind, and some creativity, you can look for ways to do things “Our Way”, and try a few different highways.

When thinking about the next generation, I always encourage people to be a great parent first, and think about the business second. I hope you see the wisdom of that approach.

I Can See CLEARLY Now…

Empty road with motion blur

…the rain is gone.

Jimmy Cliff was not an advisor to business families, but he certainly put his finger on one of the bigger issues that families are faced with as they try to figure out how to make sure that their legacy makes it to following generations.

It has nothing to do with making the rain stop, and everything to do with CLARITY.

This all sounds so simple, doesn’t it, that making things clear is what you need to do, and if and when you do that, the rest is easy. Well, as important as achieving clarity is, it is rarely easy. But it is an essential first step.

OK, so what are we talking about here? Maybe I need to be more clear. True enough, because I could be talking about a whole lot of different things here, right? Well, yes, and maybe I am.

We are talking about business families, or UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth) families, or legacy families, and we are talking about when they get to the important decisions that need to be made surrounding the passing of their wealth to their succeeding generations.

The senior generation and the rising generation each see things from their own point of view, and a good deal of what they each feel is important will often remain undiscussed.

Let’s now add in the professional advisors to the family, from the accountants and lawyers to the wealth managers, bankers, insurance people and tax specialists.

Each of these trusted specialists also tends to see things from their own professional perspective, and since each one is armed with their own specialist hammer, they will often see every family’s issue as being just their kind of nail.

All of the parties are well meaning, competent, and intent on arriving at the best possible result for the family, because they all know that while it is not easy to beat the odds, this family has just what it takes to pass on their wealth for many generations to come.

After listening to a variety of ideas from their trusted advisors and even the members of the rising generation of their family (who will play instrumental roles in seeing the plans through), the leading members of the family who must ultimately decide on various courses of action are often hesitant to act.

The finger pointing can now begin. The rising genration can point at their parents and blame them for not trusting their children, the lawyer can blame the accountant, the insurance person can blame the tax guy, and Mom can blame Dad.

All along, the missing ingredient was clarity.

Here are just a few of the items that were probably not made clear, either because everyone assumed the answers where understood and agreed upon, or because they required discussing issues that are just no fun to talk about.

  • What are the main goals for the family; to run a business together, to run a foundation together, to share use of the family real estate, to raise future stewards of the family legacy, or for everyone to do what they love and happily gather as a family at holiday time?
  • How important is it to minimize the amount of taxes that the family will have to fork over to the government when each person passes away?
  • Do the people who are expected to play key roles in carrying out the plans actually know what those plans are, understand those roles, and agree to carry them out?
  • Are there other family members who may be expecting to play certain roles who are being left out?
  • Is anyone being conveniently blind to poor relationships that exist, and hoping that when these people inherit assets that they are to manage together, they will magically become great business partners?

Now I never said that making these things clear was simple, and I guess after looking at these questions it is easy to understand why these things get overlooked in the name of action, any action.

But as professionals helping families, we have to do a better job of helping families “see all obstacles in their way”.



Family Inheritance

What Are You Leaving Them?

1yWhat are you leaving your Family - Curling Game

Just about every parent gets to a point in their life where they cannot help but think about just what they will be leaving their children when they die.

Among the things that they think about are both the tangible, like money, property and other valuables, and the intangible, like life lessons, values, unforgettable life experiences and a true sense of their family legacy.

“What” is not the only question that comes up of course, there is also “why” and “how”. And let’s not forget the sub-parts of “what”, like “when”, “where”, and “who”, but they’re well beyond the scope of one blog post.

The “why” and the “how” are pretty important to work out, because they are so often the root cause of family conflict afterwards, when children are unclear as to why their parents arranged things as they did.

When I ask these questions of parents, the “what” is the easiest place to start, and I always begin with the tangible stuff. We are not ignoring the important intangible things, just delaying them until we get a better handle on stuff that everyone can see and agree on.

I’ve always been a sports fan, and maybe even a bigger fan of analogies, and plenty of sports analogies come to mind on the topic of “what you are leaving”.

In rugby, when a team scores a “try” (similar to a touchdown in football), they get to kick a convert for more points, but unlike in football, the spot of the kick depends on where the player downed the ball in the end zone.

So if a player scores a try near the sideline, he (or his teammate) needs to attempt a much more difficult convert than if he scored in the middle of the end zone.

Moral: The details of what you leave definitely affect others and their likelihood of success.

In hockey, the difference between a good goaltender and a great one is often their ability to control rebounds. A good goalie stops the puck, a great goalie will not only stop the puck, but also make sure that it ends up in a location that makes it more difficult for the opposition to score on the rebound.

Moral: It is important to think not only about what you leave your loved ones, but also what you do NOT leave to others.

In billiards, a good player will sink the ball in the pocket, and then see what the next shot will be. A great player will plan her shot so that she leaves the cue ball in a good spot for her next shot, or at least not in a great spot for her opponent should she miss.

Moral: Sometimes you need to decide what to leave, without knowing what comes next.

In curling, you always know that your opponent will be throwing the next stone, and once again there is a huge difference between good players and great ones. Also, curling is the ultimate team sport.

A good team will make their shots and hope for the best with what happens next. A great team will always consider a number of things before even choosing which shot to attempt:

  • What is the score?
  • What are we trying to do with this rock?
  • What will the other team likely try with their next shot?
  • Where do we ideally want all of the rocks to be when they all come to a rest?
  • What happens if we miss, and how can we miss in a way that still gives us an OK result?
  • What are we planning to try on our next shot?

Moral: Complex decisions always entail a number of questions, and the best decisions come when the members of the team know each others’ abilities, trust each other, and have a clear idea of what they are trying to do together.

The curling analogy fits best for me, as each player contributes to each shot, and a great team needs to have great players and be well coached.

Your kids are part of your team, aren’t they?

Who is coaching your family?


The language of family business

The Languages of Family Legacy

Foreign language study concept background - stack of dictionaries isolated on white background

Having grown up in Montreal, a bilingual city, has been a wonderful boon to me. But the daily exposure I have had to both French and English has some benefits that many local friends take for granted.

Starting first grade, my Dad had decided to send me to French school, for my own good, but mostly because he wanted me to be well prepared to take the reins of the business that he was building.

In my 20’s, I took a vacation to Mexico and felt really ignorant because I did not understand the language, so when I got back, I headed to the YMCA for Spanish courses.

Facility with language learning is not something everyone has to the same degree, but having exposure early in life certainly helps one have the confidence needed to learn a new language when needed.

So what does this have to do with family legacy, you ask? Let the analogies begin.

Dealing with your family legacy requires getting used to some new language, or at least some new vocabulary and new ways of expressing yourself, to develop common understanding.

Just like learning a new language, you don’t just decide to learn Spanish one day and become fluent the next.

These days there are new methods like Rosetta Stone that take advantage of technology and a better understanding of how people learn languages best, but let’s just break it down into some simple levels.

For many, reading a new language is the easiest way to begin to understand, because you can take your time and look at each word. Hearing people speak the words and understanding them in real time is more difficult.

To speak and be understood is again another level, and writing something coherent in an unfamiliar language is not advisable until you are much further along.

My point is that there is a progression through different levels, a need to move up gradually to develop a vocabulary, a comfort level, and the confidence to speak and use the new language.

In a family trying to preserve its legacy, to transition from one generation to the next, many important questions arise, like:

  • Who does the work
  • Who undertakes the leadership
  • Who keeps things on track

When families fall apart, it is almost always because somehow things fell through the cracks or people did not get along and agree. Often, nobody really ever understood and bought into the plans in the first place.

For the members of the rising generation to buy in, there are some things that are almost indispensable to have in place, to one degree or another.

The siblings (or cousins) need to share at least some level of financial fluency. Like a language, nobody just decides to learn it and gets there really quickly. But if a group of people is expected to work together on a big project, it helps if they all have a basic level of understanding of the subject being discussed.

But if basic financial fluency was all that was required, that could be remedied easily enough, assuming a willingness to learn.

The harder part is learning how to work together. The family interaction part is where so many plans go off track. Once again, a phased leaning process can help.

Let’s look at what makes people progress faster when learning a new language:

  • A teacher who knows the language AND how to teach it
  • Lots of opportunities to practice
  • The ability to give and accept feedback
  • A helpful, “can do” attitude of those learning together
  • A safe environment so nobody is afraid to make a mistake

Preserving a family legacy for future generations is no easy task, but if the people you are counting on to make sure it happens all speak the same language, it sure helps. If they helped each other learn it together, even better.

People can learn to work together, but first they must all be aware of just why it is so important for them to do so. Some basic family harmony is required, and unfortunately, it doesn’t usually happen all by itself.




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”.


Growing and sustainable family business

When your Greatest Desire is also your Greatest Fear

This week I was privileged to be invited to a lunchtime speech by David Lansky of the Family Business Consulting Group. Lansky is based in Chicago, but being a Montreal native, the good folks at Pembroke Private Wealth Management invited him to speak to their clients in Montreal and Toronto.

His presentation was entitled “Family Wealth Continuity”, and I went into it fully expecting to nod my head up and down throughout, and he did not disappoint. I am not a big “note taker” when I attend presentations, preferring to be fully attentive lest I miss something while I am jotting stuff down.

Occasionally though, someone will say something that I just have to write down, and then it almost always gets turned into a blog post.

So here is, from page 10 of his Powerpoint deck:

“What benefactors most want…they also most fear.”

Wow. I had never heard anyone put it that way. Let’s walk our way through this a bit.

People work hard to create wealth for their family. We all know many families who have done an extraordinary job of doing just that. We don’t often ask them why, because the answer seems so obvious.

They work for their wealth so that their family can be happy, have nice things, live in a safe place, go to nice places, have access to great healthcare, and lots of smiliar reasons.

They want their children to have a great life, and very often they don’t want their kids to have to work as hard as they did.

So far, so good. Somewhere along the way, though, especially in families who have done a really good job of creating more wealth than they could ever use in several lifetimes, some doubts creep in, and these parents start too worry about leaving their kids too much money

This brings back a memory of a great quote I recall from a CAFÉ Symposium a couple of years ago. Mike “Pinball” Clemons, a CFL Hall of Famer and winner of Grey Cups as both a player and head coach said, “Make sure that your family members are the beneficiaries of your family business, NOT its victims”.

Sometimes there is “too much wealth”, sometimes there are disputes between family members, sometimes both of these things are present, along with a host of other complicating factors.

Unfortunately, the fact that wealth can be a blessing or a curse will always be with us.

I have been running several questions through a model that I am working on to help explain and simplify things, and its basic elements are What, Why and How.

Allow me to try to demonstrate not only my thoughts on this important topic, but also use the three-stage model.

We start by looking at the What, i.e. what we are trying to do, in simple terms. We are trying to pass our wealth down to our children.

Now, we need to step back and ask ourselves Why we want to do this. So we talk about the things I mentioned off the top, having nice things, living in a nice place, making sure our kids don’t have to worry about money, etc.

Now comes the hard part, the How. At this point we have to look into the future and step forward and figure out all of the details around How we can do What we want to do, and have these details be aligned with the Why we want to do them.

My main point is that families can and do pass wealth down to their children without the fear that other families experience.

The major difference with the families who do that well and many others is that they are very careful with the How, and they take the time to talk with the entire family about the What, and the Why, and the How.

It is not always easy to have these critical conversations, but having them is what separates the successful families from the ones where the fear is justified.

It can be done, but it doesn’t just happen by itself. But then again, nothing important ever does.


Family Business Flashback

Last week I was called upon to do the “good son” thing, and I obliged and brought my mother 6 hours down highway 401 for the funeral of her eldest brother. Meeting up with many cousins that I have lost touch with stirred up long forgotten memories.

The reflections that events bring about are only useful if we take the time to process them, and so thank you for accompanying me on this journey. I will try my best to make this entertaining and educational for you as well, as usual.

The flashback begins in the late 1970’s, when, as a teenager, I began my first summer job, working in the plant of the steel fabrication business that my father founded before I was born. The funeral that I attended last week was for the plant manager, uncle Stu.

My immdediate supervisor that summer was my cousin Mark, from my Dad’s side, and his boss, the plant manager, was my mother’s brother Uncle Stu.

Uncle Stu had initially been a partner with my Dad in the business, but somewhere along the way, during the early days and the struggle to attain profitability, Dad ended up buying out both of his partners.

I was still a kid while this was unfolding, so the details of how things went down are not clear to me, but I can tell you that, decades later, the relationship between these brothers-in-law was never the same.

My mother is a saint to me, and to learn that she was not 100% sold on making the trip to her brother’s funeral says a lot about how their relationship was strained. Going into business with family members can have its drawbacks, especially in the family harmony department.

So during this first week as a teenager in the plant, I soon realized that everyone knew who I was, because my Dad was the big boss. Uncle Stu would walk through the shop at least twice each day, and clearly everyone knew who he was too. His slow, determined gait, coupled with his menacing gaze, were hard to ignore.

Not that Dad’s trips through the plant were easy to miss, but the contrast, in retrospect, was huge. Dad’s pace and style was more “bull in a China shop”, but he was also more likely to stop and talk to someone after catching them doing something right. Of course you never knew if you were getting a compliment or catching hell until he was done.

So here I am, 15 years old, running this huge drill machine, with a whole 5 minutes of training. Everyone knows who I am, I know my cousin Mark and nobody else, except everyone’s bosses, my Uncle Stu and my Dad, who come through every once in a while.

Some seemingly random guy with a beard, a few years older than me (I had just started shaving) stops by to chat with me. I realize a few days later that the guy was my cousin, Uncle Stu’s son, Fred, who I had never seen with a beard until then.

So all these thoughts are going through my head during the funeral, while Fred is eulogizing his Dad, and I am sitting next to Uncle Stu’s youngest sister, my Mom, who is surely reflecting on their shared and complex past.

But the biggest flashback was still to come, after the ceremony, when guests were invited to share a bite to eat and continue sharing memories. Mom had another brother and a sister, both of whom have passed on, who owned neighbouring cottages on a lake, where we often visited them during the summers of my childhood.

Jim, a decade or so older than me, who had married one of my cousins, reminded me that as a youngster, I had confided in him at the cottage by the lake, that “I don’t wanna do what my Dad does”.

I do not remember sharing that thought with him, or anyone else for that matter. But I do remember thinking it, many, many times.

Family business. Plenty of drama for the whole family.

Rest in peace Uncle Stu.

 Does Father REALLY Know Best?

The expression “Father knows best” probably came before the TV show of the same name. But I could be wrong. I always thought that Yogi Berra was a nickname based on the cartoon character, but now I am pretty sure it was the other way around.

The subject of fatherly advice came to me this week as I listened to a presentation by Norman Hardie, a well-known wine maker, at a Toronto client dinner hosted by JC Clark Investments.

I was invited to the dinner by the good folks at JC Clark as their guest despite not yet being a client of theirs. Not only that, I was lucky enough to be seated next to the speaker during dinner, and learned a good deal about the art and science of vinification.

Hardie talked at length about the way he got where he is today, which was by no means a straight line, and how many times he relied on the same pieces of advice that he had received from his father.

His Dad had counseled him to always learn from the best, and to never be afraid to ask for help. Norm related a handful of occasions when these principles helped him make key advances in his career.

This also had me flash back to a time about a decade ago, when I was watching the stock market on a daily basis, and therefore also reading publications directed at investors like myself.

My favourite read was Richard Russell’s Dow Theory Letters. He was already well into his 80’s when I discovered him, and I can’t tell you how often he related the story about how he got started in finance.

His father, he repeated often, told him to go work for the banks. When he asked “why?” his Dad replied, “Because that’s where the money is”. This man then spent over 6 decades of his career based on some early key fatherly advice.

These days I have been putting some of my father’s advice into practice, and interestingly enough, there are some similarities with his words of wisdom and those of Norman Hardie’s dad.

I recall when we went from being a steel fabricator that sent almost all of its finished products out to others to be hot-dip glavanized, to Dad’s ambitious move to design and build our own in-house galvanizing facility.

Steel fabrication is something he knew well, having apprenticed in that in Austria as a teenager. But setting up a plant around a huge tank to melt zinc (to over 800 degrees) to then dip the finished pieces of steel into a bath of liquid zinc was quite another endeavour.

One of his first moves was to join the American Hot Dip Galvanizers Association, an organization that connected him to many experts who knew the field much better than him, and he in turn learned from some of the best.

This idea of collaborating, getting help from others and in turn sharing knowledge with a larger group was something that came naturally to him.

I have followed that path myself over recent years. Just because I had worked in my own family’s business, did that automatically make me qualified to consult to other families in business? Some people do just that, but for me it was not nearly enough.

I have joined the Family Firm Institute, the Purposeful Planning Institute, the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise, and of course the Institute of Family Enterprise Advisors. In addition, I have taken courses in conflict resolution, coaching, and Bowen family systems theory.

Dad’s advice has been serving me well recently.

You may not have noticed that the men in the stories above were all following their fathers’ advice in situations where Dad had nothing personal to gain from their sons’ actions.

Unfortunately, in business families, there are still too many occasions where Dads (and Moms) give their children advice, but in many ways that advice is self-serving.

“Go find something you love to do” and “come and work for me, you will love it” may sound similar to the person speaking, but to the listener there is a huge difference.

Yes, huge.



Tell it to the Judge (Part 2 of 2)

Last week my intention was to write a single blog about this subject, but then things didn’t go as planned, because there was just too much “stuff” I needed to cover to do the topic justice.

So I cut things off at a point where I was hitting my self-imposed word limit (around 700) and figured that sleeping on the subject for another 6 days would truly inspire me to wrap things up in a fantastic crescendo finish. We shall see.

At the end of part 1, Tell it to the Judge (Part 1 of 2) we had begun to look at how parents are judged.

My argument was that the only people who are truly in a position to judge the parenting abilities of anyone, are their “subjects”, i.e. the children that they raised.

In the same way that my sisters and I are the best possible judges of the parenting abilities of our mother and father, my parenting abilities can only really be properly judge by my children

Assuming you buy into my argument (thanks!), let’s look at some of the issues this also brings up. The first one is the timing. When are they actually in a position to judge?

An infant will judge Mommy and Daddy by how quickly they change a soiled diaper or give them a bottle when they are hungry. Many years later in life, they may judge their parents by what has been left to them in the parents’ last will and testament.

That potentially leaves a LOT of time in between, and there are many points where their opinions of their parents can and will change.

Many people agree that the teenage years are the most challenging for parents, and so asking teens to judge and evaluate their parents could lead to some interesting responses.

A lot of adults will look back at the time when they were teens as a period when they did not appreciate their parents enough. It takes a certain amount of maturity to fully get the fact that discipline imposed by parents pays off in the long run.

By the time you hit the point where you realize that you need to worry more about your parents than they do about you, you are certainly mature enough to judge the job that they did raising you.

So what is this fascination that I have with judgement of parents all about? Allow me to try to sum it up. I believe that the “job” of parents is to take parenting seriously, and to make rasing their children a top priority in their lives.

As an advisor to business families, I get to meet with many people who have made running and growing their business a higher priority than parenting. I also believe that many of the people who have put business above family will eventually regret it.

The book I wrote in 2014, SHIFT your Family Business, had this as its secondary title: “Stop working IN your family business, Start working ON your business family. It is kind of my “go to” message.

The good news is that it is never too late to make that shift. But it does require courage. Running a business also takes courage, but sometimes it is easier to be courageous in the cutthroat world of business than amongst your family.

I don’t know why that is, but I just feel like I see it too often for it not to be true.

It also takes courage to ask your children to give you feedback on your parenting. I know that most parents will never ask their kids this type of question, and I suppose some people would call me crazy for even suggesting it.

I like to think that I am doing a good job as a parent, but if I never ask my kids what they think, how will I know?

Why should I care? Because I take my job as a parent seriously. And their feedback can help me do it better. But do I have the courage to ask them? Stay tuned to this space for the answer.