How to Choose a Family Business Consultant

There are many factors to consider when you are looking to find the kind of help that many business families eventually require. This usually arrives around the time that the family realizes that their leading generation will someday need to make way for the rising generation.

Most will have an inkling that they will need to do “something, someday”, long before they actually start to act upon those feelings, and that’s only natural.


Structural Issues

Often the impetus to act will come from a business advisor of some sort, like an accountant or a lawyer. In any inter-generational transfer, there are plenty of legal and structural issues that will need to be taken care of, for obvious reasons.

What remains less obvious to many, is that the legal and structural “paperwork” is only the beginning. These official documents deal mostly with the “what”, but very rarely get into the crucial details of the “how”.

If this is all news to you, there are dozens of other blog posts on this site that you can read to get my drift. For those who are already on board, I will now segue into the thrust of this post, about how to choose your family business consultant.


Don’t Allow Family Issues to Get Lost

Here are my Top 5 things to consider before deciding on who is best suited to helping you with these crucial matters:


  1.    Overlap of Business and Family

 Does the person that you are going to engage, to help lead your transition, truly understand that most of the key issues that you will be facing involve both the business AND your family?

A business focus without understanding the family issues is no better than a “family therapist” focus with no understanding of business and wealth.


  1. Business > Family       OR       Family > Business?

Do they come from a background where they naturally lean toward business solutions, or from one where family harmony is the driving force?

Which is more important to them, which is more important to you and your family, and is it the same for both? Should it be the same, or should there be a counter-balance? Some semblance of balance should not be overlooked.

There is no right or wrong here, but you need to comprehend this point.


  1.    Do they LISTEN, and to WHOM?

So many professionals who work with business families are used to taking orders form one PERSON (the boss) and the rest of the family are merely an afterthought.

When advising a business family, ideally the FAMILY is the client. That is a huge leap, and one that is never easy to make.

Some advisors don’t get this, and some can understand it in theory but find it impossible in practice. Beware the “yes man” advisor.


  1. Beware: “I have THE solution for YOU”

Recycling is great for your garbage, not so much for your family legacy. If your consultant arrives with lots of “ready-made” solutions that they have used with others in their experience, please ask LOTS of questions

Buying a suit off the rack is okay, but a plan for YOUR family’s legacy should be custom-made for YOUR family.


  1. There is no “Free Lunch”

Good professional advice is not free, and shouldn’t be either. Some providers, usually in the asset management space, will promise to do many things for their wealthy clients “for free”.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with this, IF you understand and accept the terms and conditons that go with that.

Buying based on “low price” is not recommended either, but understanding HOW advisors are compensated should not be overlooked.


IFEA “Seal of Approval”

In Canada, over the past several years a few hundred people have been through the multi-disciplinary Family Enterprise Advisor program and a couple of hundred have then gone on to become “FEA” designates.

As one of them, I have a certain bias, and look at the letters “FEA” as kind of a “seal of approval”.

The field is evolving and many professionals are trying to find ways to capitalize on the huge demographic wealth transfer that is now underway.

All FEA designates have been through a thorough program and a rigorous certification process.

Please do your homework, and choose well.


I can see clearly now

Even if it’s Free, I Don’t Want it

No Money bag sign icon. Dollar USD currency symbol. Red prohibition sign. Stop symbol. Vector

A few weeks back, I was on the road with my teenage son for a week, attending a basketball camp in the US. We shared a hotel room, as we had in previous years when we made the same trip.

It made me think back to times in my life when I had travelled on business with my father, and we had shared a hotel room on occasion.

My Dad was quite a snorer, and his loudness sometimes kept me from getting a good night’s sleep.

I am a former loud snorer, but thanks to the C-PAP machine I’ve used for years now, I get a restful night of sleep, and so does anyone sleeping within earshot.


Talking in your Sleep

One morning I asked my son if he was sleeping OK, concerned that I might be keeping him awake despite the “snoring machine”, as we call it in our family.

No snoring issues were reported, but apparently I do talk in my sleep sometimes. One night, according to my “roommate”, I uttered, “Even if it’s free, I don’t want it”.

I could not deny having said that, because it sounds like just the kind of thing that I would say. Not only that, it also sounds like the kind of thing my Dad would have said too.

I had no recollection of whatever dream I was having when I said it, but it did strike me as something that would be worth exploring here. The concepts of “free stuff” and “getting what you want” apply to many family legacy topics.


Zero Dollars

The word “free” itself seems to be disappearing in the business context; I am constantly annoyed by radio commercials from mobile phone carriers offering the latest device for “Zero Dollars”. (So it’s not free?)

And just because something is free, or included, does that mean you should take it? Think about that free dessert that comes with your meal.

Providers of goods and services put lots of thought into how to price, market, and bundle their wares in order to maximize profits, and often what seems like a great deal at first becomes a little “less good” for the consumer upon deeper reflection.


But it’s FREE!

When you think about low-cost items like a meal or even a monthly phone plan, the stakes are not that high, so who cares, right?

But what about transferring your family’s wealth to the next generation, you know, investments, banking, life insurance, and legal and accounting services?

Unfortunately few families have even a basic understanding of how those who provide them with big-ticket services get paid at the end of the day.

When something seems “free”, it is usually worth asking a few questions. More than a few, if that is what it takes to truly understand the business relationship that is being considered, or that has being going on for some time already.

“Gee that insurance fella seems like a great guy, he’s been really helpful, AND, he never sends us a bill!” If you saw how much the insurance company paid him for selling you that policy, you would have a better understanding.

And then there’s, “The bank offered to take care of all this for us for nothing!”


You get what you pay for

This blog often contains useful ideas, and it is free, that doesn’t make it bad, does it? Well of course not, I put this stuff out there at no cost, because some of my readers do buy my services, and it helps me attract other paying clients, and so I do it for that reason.

If there is one hope that I have in this area it is for families to take a more active role in deciding what services they DO want and need, and for them to realize how all their advisors get paid.

And if you have different specialist advisors, please understand that having them collaborate may seem more expensive in the short run, but it makes so much more sense in the end.

It’s not free, but definitely worth it.

And if you paid someone to coordinate it all for you, that would likely pay for itself too!

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”.



Creating Pathways for families

Sweet Secluded Rendez-Vous


As I hinted last week, I will attempt to review my experience at my third trip to Rendez-Vous, the annual get together of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

A couple of months back when I attended the annual CAFÉ Symposium, I recapped my trip with a “Top 10 List” of the event. For Rendez-Vous, I’ve decided on 2 “Top 5 Lists”.

The Top 5 of the sessions I attended, will be followed by a Top 5 of the best things about attending Rendez-Vous, from my own biased perspective, of course.


Top 5 Sessions 


  1. Collaboration Day

Rendez-Vous (R-V) officially got under way on Wednesday evening, but this year there was something new in the mix, and many attendees took advantage of it.

Preceding the usual R-V was another conference called Fusion Collaboration (FC), aimed at introducing more technical practitioners (lawyers and CPA’s) into the purposeful work that attracts others to R-V.

The final day of FC was dubbed “Collaboration Day”, and through keynotes, break-outs and an interactive video case with roundtable discussions, lots of valuable lessons were learned on just what it takes for various professionals to work together on solving real family issues for clients.


  1. Helping or Hurting

Karen Laprade and Kyle Harrison’s breakout session once again did not disappoint, evident by the fact that they ran over time yet not a single person noticed or even looked at the door.

The real life case stories they shared, and the input that they asked for and got from everyone was just the type of interaction and collaboration that you really only get at Rendez-Vous.


  1. FRED Talks

A take-off on “TED Talks”, a series of five tight 18-minute talks from a variety of experts shed light on everyting from addiction to widows finding love again, to ways that Millenials are changing how families communicate.


  1. Jaffe & Grubman on Cultural Differences

Dennis and Jim presented work on the three dominant cultural styles around the world, and talked about how global families have to deal with new realities arising from differences in how things play out in a home culture when the rising generation is exposed to other cultures through education and marriage.


  1. Gratitude

The opening keynote on Thursday by Robert Emmons was about how gratitude is so important to success and happiness, yet it costs nothing. In fact, the more you give, the more you usually get back.

And he wasn’t just making stuff up, he has a PhD in this, and shared ways to demonstrate and share our gratitude, and hopefully make that a lifelong habit.



Top 5 Reasons to Attend


  1. Welcoming Vibe

From the first time I attended Rendez-Vous, the vibe was what hit me. This is not a conference where experts with big egos pontificate to the wannabes, it is the opposite of that.

Every single attendee and presenter has always been more than open to talk about the issues that we all face in helping families achieve better results with their planning.


  1. Community

As this was my third year in a row attending, I am now at the point where I truly see and feel the community aspect of PPI, which dovetails with the welcoming vibe.

Everyone seems to share my feeling that we need to spread the message to the masses, and nobody is trying to “corner the market” because there will be plenty of work for all of us when a majority of families recognize the importance of this work.


  1. Dutch Treat

Small groups of attendees go to a restaurant and chat about whatever they want, and really get to know each other. This adds so much to the camaraderie of the event.


  1. Collaboration Unifies everything

It becomes clear that PPI is all about getting professionals from various fields to collaborate in service of their family clients.


  1. Jay Hughes

How could I not mention Jay Hughes? PPI’s first Laureate, and most deservedly so, Jay was present throughout, and I have rarely met a kinder, more humble man.

Thanks to Jay and John A. Warnick, PPI continues to spread its influence and grow. See you at Rendez-Vous 2017. Get off the fence, be there.


Progress of family business

Progress vs. Perfection


This week I was in Denver for conferences by the Purposeful Planning Institute, one of my favourite organizations. I’ll attempt a recap next week.

On Tuesday I noted the expression “Progress is more important than perfection” during one of the sessions. “Oh, I like that one, I’ve even used it personally”, I thought to myself.

Trouble is, due to the number of presentations and my less-than-stellar note-taking, I completely forgot the context in which it was raised, so I am kinda flying blind here.

So instead, I will share the contexts in which I have heard and used the concept before, and then get to its importance in the realm of transitioning family business, wealth, and legacy.

Now it also brought to mind another, seemingly contradictory expression, and I wrestled with that, so I will try to square that circle too.


Coaching courses

When I began taking coaching courses years ago, the idea of simply trying to help people get “unstuck” really resonated with me. Just making a bit of progress and overcoming inertia can be huge, because when you feel stuck, anywhere but where you are seems like a step up..

In contrast, you aim for perfection, but spend so much time with aiming the rifle that you never actually fire any shots. (I’m not a big fan of guns, but I just spent a week in the Wild West, please forgive this analogy).

We all know people who put things off forever, waiting for the perfect time to act, which never arrives.

Zig Ziglar had some great schticks about this, talking about people who live on “Someday Ilse”, and giving people a round piece of cardboard with “To It” written on it, so they could finally do all of the things they promised to do when they “got a round ‘to it’”.


Family transitions

Families who are looking at how they are going to transition their business, wealth, and legacy to the next generation will often fall into this trap too. It is rarely the “right time” to begin doing this work, so delays in getting started are quite common.

A proper, well-thought-out transition will usually take years, so that “perfect state” is really far off, and the time it takes to see the finish line can discourage families along the way.

Good advisors are constantly reminding their clients of how far they have come, that they are moving in the right direction, and how important realistic expectations are.

On a personal level, I’ve used the progress/perfection concept to keep myself motivated in my own long-term project, that of getting to a healthier weight.

Neither family transitions nor weight loss will typically follow a straight line, so being satisfied with some progress can be a huge element in encouraging “stick-to-it-tive-ness”.

But then I thought about this other expression: “Don’t let ‘good’ be the enemy of ‘great’”. Hmmm… I like that one too, but it feels like a contradiction to “progress vs. perfection”.


Action orientation

Good vs. Great is more about being satisfied with something mediocre and therefore never trying to get to something great. The big differences to me are the time element, and the sequence.

In a static situation, good/great is about being satisfied with something sub-optimal and being too lazy to try for something better. The family is getting along “OK”, so why try to improve things, we may just make them worse? You’ll never get to a better state, due to inertia and fear.

In a dynamic context, like a project, it is no longer about getting started, it is now about not getting discouraged into stopping along the way. “We’ve tried to get the kids to work together well, and they still aren’t doing great things together, so why bother?”

Well, if they had not even been on speaking terms for years, and can now be in the same room and speak to each other civilly, can we agree that that’s an improvement?

The small steps need to be recognized and celebrated as important progress. Then you need to keep at it. Now that things are “good”, try to make them great!

Progress is good, but keep going for great.


It’s NOT about the Money

It’s NOT about the Money

No Money bag sign icon. Dollar USD currency symbol. Red prohibition sign. Stop symbol. Vector


In some ways, this blog has been a long time coming. It feels like an obvious topic for me, I am almost surprised at myself for not having addressed it yet.

I am not sure what triggered it now, but here goes, let’s see if I can turn this question into something useful and entertaining.

Money has a huge impact on all of us, and working with business families and those in the UHNW space (Ultra High Net Worth) it is obviously top of mind much of the time. But for people who have a lot of money, is money all that they talk about, think about, and worry about?


What else is there to talk about?

In my experience, those who have plenty of money prefer to talk about other subjects. Maybe it is because they don’t have to worry about where their proverbial next meal is going to come from, or maybe it is because they are tired of listening to all the financial experts in their lives, who seem to talk about little else.

I arrived at this calling of working with enterprising families after a couple of decades managing a small family office that was created after a liquidity event in my family when I was in my twenties.

I quickly learned that when you are managing your family’s wealth, it is much better to lay low, or else you will become a target for anyone and everyone peddling their wonderful solutions to problems you never knew you had.

I guess one of the reasons I am writing about this now is that I have noticed an uptick in the number of these financial solution peddlers hitting me up lately. You see, when I decided to enter the world of family advising, it made much less sense for me to lay low, and in fact I needed to do a 180 and try to make a splash.

The curious thing is that these peddlers are contacting me repeatedly now, and I find very little compelling in what the vast majority is offering. For everyone who claims to offer something unique, I could literally find five to ten others offering something quite similar within a few block radius in any major city.

Before I look at how you plan to take care of any money that I might allocate to you, I need to feel comfortable with you and learn one whole heckuva lot more about you, and your firm, AND know that you have taken at least a bit of time trying to understand ME and my family.


Do I need ANOTHER financial solution provider?

Most families don’t need another financial solutions provider. They are almost literally available on every street corner.

Families who own significant wealth will more likely need help figuring out how to treat all family members fairly, whether they grew their assets by 5% last year or by 10%.

They will more likely appreciate help in deciding how to think about, plan, and communicate their legacy decisions, as they imagine how the things that they have worked for all of their lives will play out as the wealth gets transitioned to the next generation.

Oh, and that NextGen group? Yeah, well they probably have lots of questions for their parents too, not they they feel comfortable asking them. What kind of questions?

You know, the ones about fairness, controlling their own destiny, having a clear understanding of all of the “dreams and plans” that their parents have for them and their wealth, but that have not been discussed or written down anywhere.

If bragging about how your fund beat the S&P by 2 percent last year is what you wanna sell, good luck with that.


That Pie is pretty big!

Once the family pie reaches a certain size, making it bigger ceases to be the focus. Figuring out how to enjoy it as a family together over generations takes over as a priority.

Families have a pretty good idea of what they want to do, and why they want to do it. They usually need help with the HOW. The how involves family dynamics, and that can be a scary subject.

Can you help a family with that? If not, you better find someone who can.



Hard versus Soft? Or Hard versus Harder?

It honestly makes me laugh sometimes when I hear people speak about the hard issues, like dollars and cents, as if they are so much more important than the soft issues, like relationships, emotions, and just getting along.

There is a huge disconnect in the family wealth industry over the relative importance of these issues.

Maybe it is because there are a lot more people working on the “hard” side of things, the things in found in the “business circle”, than on the “soft” side, which deals mostly with stuff in the “family circle”.

Maybe it is because the people working on the investment side, the securities, asset allocation, and Wall Street stuff seem to be paid much more than the folks who worry about the family harmony and communications.

Maybe it’s because it is often the Dad who works really hard and makes a pile of wealth for the family, while Mom worries about the kids, and tries to make sure that all the kids are treated fairly so they will always get along together.

In any case, hard business stuff seems so much sexier than the mundane soft family stuff.

I don’t know if it is because hard and soft are antonyms, and because another antonym of hard is easy. Something tells me that is part of it, but of course is all speculation.

The people who specialize in the soft side of things will all assure you that soft and easy are NOT synonyms.

Of course now that I brought up the word “easy”, I have to share with you one of my favourite sayings around the word easy.

Some people love to throw around the word “simple”. Losing weight is simple. Eat less, exercise more, and you will lose weight, it literally is that simple. Simple and easy are NOT the same.

To me, simple is about easily explained concepts, while easy is more about things that just about anyone can do, regardless of intelligence, experience, or effort.

This week I met with a man who works with his son, and the son has been slowly trying to force Dad out of all decision-making functions, and treating him like an over-the-hill impediment.

I have yet to meet the son, and there are always two sides to every story, but the person I spoke to did not seem like he was ready to be put out to pasture.

When I made a couple of suggestions to him about what he could do, the response was, “But it is so hard, because it is emotional”. I resisted the temptation to correct him and tell him that we were talking about something considered soft.

I think that there is some good news on the horizon for those of us who like to specialize in the family circle issues. The amount of research that shows that family wealth is more often destroyed due to family issues than money issues continues to multiply.

When you couple what is finally being acknowledged and understood with the demographics of baby boomers and the transitions that have already begun, I cannot help but believe that we are on the front edge of a wave here.

It may still take years before views like mine become mainstream, but that’s okay. The movement has begun, and it will continue to grow.

Those who want to continue to serve families of wealth by only dealing with the hard issues and continuing to ignore the soft issues (or, as you may have already concluded, the ones I consider the harder issues) do so at their peril.

Families don’t have a shortage of places to invest their wealth, or people who will help them do so.

What is missing is providers of holistic solutions that take into account the hard and the harder. Enlightened families are demanding help to make sure their wealth survives generational transfers.

If you want to help them get that right, you can’t just hope it happens by itself. There are emotional issues around family wealth in every family. Those who help their family clients navigate them will be the winners.

Kermit on my Mind

When I was a kid I watched Sesame Street, and then during my teens, the Muppets moved into prime time. We hadn’t seen a lot of Kermit and his pals lately, until ABC brought them back this fall.

They have some new characters to complement many with whom we are already familiar, including my favourite, Chip the tech guy, but Kermit is still the star in my books. And for some reason I have had frogs on my mind lately.

This week, over coffee with a colleague, we were talking about the types of families who make up my “ideal client” base. I really don’t like the terms used in the wealth management space, like HNW and UHNW (high net worth, and “Ultra” HNW), but they are part of the lexicon.

The truth is, though, that if a family’s wealth isn’t into the eight-figures range, they aren’t likely to bring in someone like me to work with them for a few months to a couple of years to help them set up their family governance and get everyone on the same page.

It was then that I said to my colleague that I understood that I needed to “kiss a lot of frogs”. And then I felt like an elitist A-Hole for using that expression.

I have been working on and reflecting upon how best to take my unique life experiences, my newly discovered passion for helping families prepare for multi-generation success, and my ever-expanding network of like-minded professionals, and put them all together to “serve”.

And then I re-read that last paragraph and hope it doesn’t come across in a way that makes people gag, and think of me as a snob who laments having to “kiss frogs”.

I hope that by sharing my feelings about this, my real humility will come through.

Then today, while thinking about the frog kissing comment, I flashed back to something I heard about a year and a half ago. It was at the 2014 Rendez-Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute.

The speaker was none other than James E. (Jay) Hughes, who is one of the most respected authors and speakers in the field of family wealth.

He was talking about the importance of each generation developing their own interests and passions, and not getting sucked into the “black hole” of the business of the previous generation’s dream. I very much agree with his premise.

But during the Q & A, he brought up the old story about the frog and the pot of boiling water. It goes like this: If you have a pot of boiling water on the stove and you drop a frog into it, the frog will instinctively jump out.

However, if you put a frog into a pot of cool water, and slowly raise the heat, the frog will end up getting cooked. And then Hughes added that it was impossible to get out of that black hole, or that pot of water.

I took exception, but only internally. I wish I would have gone and spoken to him afterward. I believe that if you turn off the stove in time, and allow the water to cool down, the frog can jump out and find his own passion and successfully leave Dad’s black hole.

I believe that I am “Exhibit A” for this. It took around 20 years for my water to cool down and for me to discover my passion for helping other families with these kinds of family business and family wealth issues.

And I will gladly help and kiss lots of frogs along the way, not just Kermit, or the ones who have enough wealth to afford me for my “full service” option. There are plenty of families who can use guidance to help them figure out how to make decisions together, communicate better, and solve problems together.

Or maybe just to encourage them to let their offspring find and live their own true passions.

In 2016, I resolve to better communicate how I can serve them all, and continue to preach about the important role of family harmony to support family legacy.



“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.








OSFM: One Size Fits Most

During one of my too-frequent hotel stays this summer, I noticed a bathrobe hanging in the closet of my room, and there was something about it that struck me. There was a tag sewn into it, with the letters “OSFM”.

This set my “blog antenna” into action, as usual, as I wondered at first what those letters stood for, and then after my “A-Ha” moment when it dawned on me, the antenna kept vibrating until I had come up with a way to tie this into my work with business families.

As the title of this post has already given away, OSFM stands for One Size Fits Most. True enough, for most people, the robe in the closet would fit. For those who know me, you have already figured out that I am one of the exceptions. So be it.

There was probably a time in decades past when the more all-encompassing term “One-Size-Fits-All” would have been used, but either through a realisation or some sort of legal threats, the robe makers re-stated the case to “most”, which is surely more accurate.

So what does this have to do with family business?

All business families rely on outside advice from professionals of one kind or another, even though most really do not enjoy the process. They will usually try to limit these occasions as much as possible, wanting to minimize costs and what they often perceive as non-family people trying to influence things that are too close to home, and none of their business.

But here is where the downside of this comes in. Because of this reluctance to allow outsiders to truly get to know and really help their family, what ends up happening far too frequently, is that these advisors will “recycle” solutions that they have used for other families.

The family ends up with a solution that probably does fit MOST families. But it will not always fit THEIR family.

The advisors themselves can be part of the problem as well, if they do not know how to ask the right questions of the family leaders, or if their accounting or legal practice is set up in a way where cranking through a file as quickly possible so you can get to the next one and send out another invoice is part of the culture.

Inter-generational transitions are complex, and few professionals understand all the pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together.

When the lawyer works on his part, the accountant on hers, the wealth managers on theirs, and the tax specialist on hers, the client will often end up with what they believe to be a great plan.

The problem is that they can live with that feeling for many years before anyone learns the truth and that the pieces did not fit together very well at all. Not only will the one size not fit the family, it would not fit ANY family. Unless that family wanted a robe with different sleeve lengths, a non-matching belt, and polka dot elbow patches.

The complex planning that goes into the business or wealth transition from one generation of a family to the next MUST be a coordinated activity.

There is more and more recognition of the need for one of the advisors to have the “inter-disciplinary fluency” (term coined by Dean Fowler, I believe) to coordinate the process among the professionals.

“One size fits most” might be good enough for a lot of families, but I don’t think you truly believe that it is the best that you can do for YOUR family.

No professional will be able to truly be of service if you don’t both take the time required to work through a proper plan from A to Z.

And if you end up hiring someone who doesn’t fit into the hotel’s bathrobe, that’s OK too.