Family Heritage

What is your “True Family Legacy”?

What is your “True Family Legacy”?

The term “Family Legacy” can conjure up different images and thoughts in anyone who hears it, depending on their age, wealth, and life circumstances.

This subject comes up a lot in my work, but I haven’t necessarily written about it much, and I feel a need to share more thoughts on it.


Twitter Chat

I recently took part in the monthly #FamBizChat on Twitter, where a bunch of my colleagues tackle a subject for an hour on that social media platform.

The subject this time was “Legacy”, and I naturally went to my view of legacy as being much more of a “family” thing than a “business” thing.

What struck me is that I felt pretty alone in that perspective.

Maybe most of the others were advisors who worked more on the business side of things, and less with the family, I’m not sure.

But it stayed with me, so I thought a blog on the subject would be timely and useful.


Business Card Title

The title on my business card is “Family Legacy Advisor”, which hints at my bias.

It used to say Family Business Advisor, but because I really prefer to minimize my interactions with the business, in favour of those with the family, I made the change a couple of years ago.

Admittedly, I usually answer “family business consultant” when I’m asked what I do for a living in some circumstances like going through customs.


Whose Legacy Is It?

But my bias is to concentrate on the family legacy versus the business legacy, although in truth, they certainly can and do co-exist together, often for decades at a time.

In a multi-generational family business though, at some point they can bifurcate.

Family involvement in the ownership and/or management of the company eventually changes, and the family eventually diversifies its focus to other endeavours.


Who Takes the Lead?

A business has many resources at its disposal, and they’re necessarily organized into functioning groups of people with more or less clear roles and responsibilities.

So ensuring that the business legacy is captured can actually become part of the job of a person or group. It will often fall under marketing because the business legacy is closely attached to the company’s brand.

And so of course the corresponding person whose job it is to ensure the family legacy is, um, well, of course it must be, um, well, uh, I’m not sure…(?)

“Sorry, our family doesn’t have a marketing department”.


Why Did You Work So Hard?

Most business founders work hard because they want to support their family, and as their wealth grows thanks to those efforts, they continue to work hard so that their wealth can serve the next generations of their family.

Many of those people, however, will fail to properly transition that wealth to their family, and that goal will never be reached.

Research shows that about 60% of the failures can be attributed to a breakdown in family communication.


Family Governance and Alignment

The exceptions, the ones who manage to keep their wealth in the family for multiple generations, are the ones who actually put in the work to establish some family governance.

That word, “governance”, scares some families, and I get that.


It doesn’t have to be that complicated, especially when you are just starting down this road.

What it does require is some intention, which begins with a decision, normally from the top, that it’s important enough to direct some time and effort to this task.


True Family Legacy

Your “true” family legacy is one that’s custom tailored to your family. No other family resembles yours, so why even pretend that this work can come ready-made, off-the-shelf?

Two expressions capture this whole question rather well, and I’ve been known to use both of these:

  • Instead of concentrating on preparing the family assets for the heirs, make the effort to prepare the heirs for the assets
  • Don’t just concentrate on transferring the family’s valuables, work on preserving the family’s values

If you’re the person in your family who recognizes the need for this, you already know you can’t do this alone.

Maybe this can get you moving in the right direction:

The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration

Also note the photo above this post: “Heritage”.

That’s much more about Family Legacy than any business the family happens to own.


Related posts:

My Beliefs on Family Legacy Advice

The Languages of Family Legacy

Brainstorming your Family Legacy

Animal shadows on a white background

“Clunky Ownership Syndrome” in Family Business

“Clunky Ownership Syndrome” in Family Business

Ownership usually doesn’t get much attention in the area of family business, and there are many reasons for that, and we’ll get to some.

Maybe I’m emphasizing it too much. I did a quick search of my website ( and found that I’ve already written 3 blogs with “ownership” in the title.

Everything is relative, though, and even with this fourth blog on the subject, that’s less than one blog a year about this “forgotten” circle. (see: Ownership: the Forgotten Circle of Family Business)


Status Quo That Lasts

The people who own a business have certain privileges that come with ownership, but with those, there are also responsibilities.

Most people who work for a family business know who the owners are, and they’re usually given certain deference.

The owners, in turn, try not to act like superior overlords, and this dance can continue for decades, as long as nothing changes.


Fast Moving World

While ownership remains fixed over time, the two other “circles”, family and business, are constantly in flux.

The business evolves, new products are launched, new locations opened, expansions bring in new employees, and new markets are developed.

Financial results are compiled monthly and quarterly.

The family also changes, as members find partners and have children, people get educated and find their passions, some join the business, and everyone grows older every year.

Oh, and some die.

Things are constantly evolving, and changes are part of life, and these days things seem to move more quickly than ever.

Yet ownership usually stays fixed, and rarely even gets a second thought.


Clunky by Definition

I chose the word “clunky” to describe the situation because it felt like the right word, and I’ve used it to explain this to people in the past.

Searching to find an appropriate image for this post, I almost had second thoughts, as the photo choices for “clunky” were mostly 1980’s cellphones.

(I went “outside the box” a bit with my choice of hippos; not sure it worked (?)).

Then I Googled “clunky definition” and I was immediately sold on the fact that clunky was the right word.

Here’s what came back:

clunky: awkwardly solid, heavy, and outdated.


So What? 

I’m not suggesting that ownership should necessarily change more frequently than it does; that would be stretching it.

What I am saying is that the definition above includes a couple of words that many family businesses should be thinking about much more than they typically do.

There are only four key words in that definition, so you can probably locate the two that are ringing alarms bells in my head.



“Awkwardly solid” almost sounds like a backhanded compliment. Solid is usually positive, but when it’s awkwardly so, well, maybe not so much.

Family business relationships are often already awkward, simply because family and business overlaps cause complex situations.

Now throw in ownership overlaps, compounded by the fact that things are stuck in the past, and things get even clumsier.



“Outdated” is probably the simplest word to describe the issues that I’ve seen regarding the ownership of family businesses.

It’s not hard to understand why things change so infrequently, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should just be cool with it.

Rising generation family members crave some clarity about their futures, but they often continue to put up with vague replies when they broach the subject.

“Don’t worry, some day this will all be yours”


When Exactly is “Some Day”?

Once again I feel the need to explain my views on this, lest readers get the impression that I think ownership changes absolutely need to happen more regularly and quickly.

I’m advocating for some thoughtful discussion and planning, and hopefully some transparency.


Transition Planning

As the business evolves and family members age, transition plans are contemplated to make sure that people will be prepared to assume their future business management roles.

Don’t forget that there needs to be an ownership transition too.



Do you really think it makes sense to think about those things as completely separate discussions? I don’t.

And if you ask those being groomed for future management roles, I bet they’d agree too.

Look 15 years into the future. People will be that much older, and the business will have grown.

If nothing changes, your current ownership structure will be pretty clunky.

Start planning those changes now too.

2 kids on a side walk sharing a red apple.

“Sharing”: My Theme Word for 2018

“Sharing”: My Theme Word for 2018

Happy New Year 2018

The fact that this blog would be going out to subscribers on Monday, January 1, helped spark the idea for this post.

I’ve been working with a coach for a long time now, and I recently had my last Skype of the year with her. As usual for this time of year, she asked me some questions about my accomplishments in 2017, as well as my intentions for 2018.

Her final request is for one single word that will be my theme for the coming year. I thought about it for over a day (she had sent the questions to me in advance, from her blog) and I came up with “sharing”.


“Spreading the Gospel”

Back in 2013, when I was actually just starting to discover this field, I wrote a blog entitled Spreading the Gospel vs. Cornering the Market and my feeling about this subject has only become stronger.

Not only has my belief in the importance of sharing grown, thankfully my ability to share useful ideas has also increased.

Just today I was involved with two separate groups of colleagues on calls as we prepare to submit proposals for the 2018 conferences of some of the major organizations in the family business/legacy space.


Content Creation and Dissemination

I’ve developed a bit of a reputation as a content creation machine in this space and I wear that badge with pride.

So I recognize that “sharing” may not seem like a new theme for me, but there are a few other things I have planned going forward to hopefully “kick it up a notch”.

In addition to possibly presenting at some of the conferences that I attend regularly, I’m now looking at other ways to get in front of other advisors in the family business space to share some of my ideas and tools as well.

This is still in the embryonic stage for now, so I’ll just leave this here as a bit of a tease, but there are some other aspects of sharing that I’d like to highlight here too.

These thoughts about sharing are directed at the enterprising families themselves.


Business Families Should Share More

Most business families could also stand to share more too. You may think that I’m talking about being more philanthropic, but that’s not my angle here.

The more I learn about the subject of philanthropy, the more I realize to what extent business families are already among the leading givers in our society.

No, I’m talking about sharing internally, family member to family member. So what kinds of things should they be sharing?

I put these into two major categories; Past and Future. Those labels are pretty good for conceptualizing the differences, but aren’t very descriptive.

How about “History” and “Dreams”?


FamBiz History Lessons

Leaders of a family business often take for granted that because they lived the beginning of the company and its growth, and came home every night and shared their day with the family around the dinner table, well, everyone already knows the company “story”.

But most of the key events from 20 years ago will be lost today on those who were teenagers at the time. An occasional sharing of how we got to where we are today can be helpful.

Naturally, it’s nice when the audience plays along and is in an accepting mood to hear the stories, so don’t forget the word “occasional” I used above.


Dreams of What’s Possible

Having family members share their dreams is also something most business families could stand to do more of from time to time.

The rising generation may not be enthralled by the particular business that Mom or Grandpa started, and they may have their own entrepreneurial dreams.

Asking them to share those in a safe space can be very enlightening, and provide future growth paths for the family to invest in.


Family Interdependence

I’ll end here with a word on “interdependence”, which I might suggest any business family use as their “Theme word for 2018”.

The “NextGen” and the “NowGen” depend on each other for different things, and the balance of that equation changes over time.

Realize this, share the history, share the dreams, and build the future together.

The balance will shift some day, if only due to ageing. Sharing nicely now will beget sharing nicely later.

Horse shoe with a 4 leaf clover and a lady bug

Genetics, Luck, and Karma: Secrets to FamBiz Success

Genetics, Luck, and Karma: Secrets to FamBiz Success

People ask me where my blog ideas come from, because I find something different to write about each week. My answer: “anywhere and everywhere”.

This week it’s from watching Jeopardy, and one of Alex Trebek’s brief interviews with the contestants.


Top 5 of All Time

A bartender named Austin Rogers had a fantastic run recently, running up over $400,000 in winnings in just over two weeks, which placed him in the top 5 of all time Jeopardy winners.

After he had accumulated some sizeable winnings, Alex asked the likeable young man from New York to what he attributed the success he’d been having on the show.

His honest reply struck me as quite refreshing:

“Genetics, Luck, and Karma.”


Fits with Family Business Success Too

 I couldn’t help think how nicely these three elements fit with family business success too.

I realize this isn’t necessarily obvious, but hey, that’s why I write these blogs, to share my thoughts on just this kind of thing. Let’s take them one at a time.



The family business angle fits pretty clearly with the genetics comment. “He sure seems to take after his Dad”.

Yes, indeed, we do inherit many traits from our parents, and in a thriving family business, the hope is usually that the next generation will have many of the same positive characteristics that made the parents successful.

Problems can arise though, when the children have different positive traits, and clashes can happen when the generations don’t see eye-to-eye on everything.



Luck is a bit harder to get agreement on. Successful people like to think that they alone are responsible for their company doing well, and in most cases that’s true, but it’s only part of the formula.

I can’t help think that luck has more influence on how things turn out than most people acknowledge.

Yes, I’m quite familiar with the expressions “You make your own luck” and “The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get”, and they resonate nicely with me too.

But, for every business person who blames failure on “bad luck”, there’s probably another who should be thanking “good luck” for their success.



If you think that luck was a difficult concept to grasp, let’s move on to karma, and try our luck there.

Let’s start with a quick Google search, which turned up this nugget:

          Karma (car-ma) is a word meaning the result of a person’s actions as well as the actions       themselves. It is a term about the cycle of cause and effect. According to the theory of Karma, what happens to a person, happens because they caused it with their actions.

That wasn’t exactly what I thought my search would turn up, but who the heck am I to argue with Google? That might not bring me good karma. (See what I did there?)

A lot of different things come to my mind when I think about karma. The “Golden Rule”, and “Do unto others” are a couple of them.

I also think about humility, and not acting like you’re better than everyone else, because that probably won’t create good karma.


Humble and Kind

The Karma idea made me flash back to a blog post from June 2016, Humble and Kind, in which I wrote:

And if you do start out humble and kind when you are young, how did you get that way? My guess is that most of it comes from your parents and the example they set.

When family businesses fall apart, it is usually in large part because of family conflict, so what happened to the humility and the kindness?

When I first thought about Karma and family business, I thought about in the ways that the business interacts with customers, suppliers, and competitors; you know, the outside interactions.

But now that I’ve re-read the excerpt from that blog, it makes me realize that the internal Karma, within the family, is probably even more important.

Teaching your children about karma brings good karma.


Something to Think About

Back to Austin, our Jeopardy contestant. He eventually lost a game and was dethroned, but his reaction seemed to fit with his penchant for keeping the karma gods happy.

He was last seen laughing and high-fiving the woman who beat him.

His luck might’ve run out, but his karma was going strong.

Father’s Day Introspection 2017

That Time of Year

Every year when Father’s Day rolls around, I get mixed emotions. Being a father is truly the greatest joy of my life, and this weekend will be my 18th as a father, but also my 9th without my father.

When I work with members of a family, I like to help them see things from each other’s points of view, and asking them to project forward or backward many years comes naturally to me, stimulating conversation through curiosity.

Asking a father to think back to when he was at his son’s current age will naturally shift his viewpoint.

Likewise, having a son project to when he will be his Dad’s age and imagine what that could be like, forces him to adopt a different mindset.


My Own Journey

For the first few decades of my life, I only saw Father’s Day from one perspective.

When our son was born, I developed a new appreciation for the third Sunday in June, as I was now a father too. Having my father still around then, I got to experience the “dual roles” of son and father.

I didn’t get to enjoy too many of those, unfortunately, as my father was struck down too soon by cancer, so now I am back to only one way of experiencing this special day.


Father–Son Experiences

This past week I was in Halifax for the Family Enterprise Exchange’s (FEX) Symposium, where there were plenty of father-son teams and stories.

(There were of course mothers and daughters too, but this is my Father’s Day blog and I’m a guy, so please excuse the gender slant this week.)

Whether it was a father and son on the stage, recounting the evolution of their relationship, or members of a family at my table during one of the sessions, I couldn’t help comparing what I was seeing and hearing to my own experiences.

It felt like most of the relationships I witnessed were healthier and more open than the one I had with my father, and much closer to what I feel like I’m living with my son (and daughter).


Objectivity Problem?

I can’t be sure of my biases here, but I think I’m being pretty objective.

Were these isolated examples of great family relationships?

Was my view of them skewed by their efforts to show “good behaviour” in public?

Was it a sign of the times that younger generations have got the father-son relationship figured out better?

I can’t be sure, but I do know that the fact that my Dad and I were in a family business together certainly DID have an effect on our relationship.


“We’re Not Gonna Do That”

I shared a fundamental story of ours many times during the FEX Symposium, one that I wish had turned out differently.

In the mid 1980’s my Dad had joined CAFÉ (Canadian Association of Family Enterprise, forerunner of FEX) while I was completing my Bachelor of Commerce studies at McGill.

Those studies were part of what I understood to be my “duty” as his only son: to fulfill my “destiny” as his successor.

One day he told me that many of the advisors who had spoken at CAFÉ events were very much against the idea of hiring your kids right out of school and straight into the family business.

I recall looking at him with a hopeful twinkle in my eye (which he clearly didn’t read the way I had hoped), waiting for the next line.

At that point he put his hand on my shoulder and “reassured” me with, “But we’re not gonna do that!”

Once again, he decided for we.


Wait, Why Not?

My hope is that modern day sons would have the courage to say, “Wait, why not?”

I really wish that I had, and if my son were faced with such a situation, I hope he would too. But I don’t plan on ever putting him in that kind of situation.

And for any other father-son team experiencing this question, please resist the temptation to taking this short cut to working in the family business.


Worth the Wait

If it’s right, it’ll be even more right, later.

Let your kids become their own selves first, outside their parents’ shadows.

It is worth it for them, and it will be for the business too.

Personalizing your Family Business meetings

5 Things you Need to Know: Professionalizing your Family Business

Most family businesses start small and are run rather informally, usually with one or two people calling the shots. As the business grows, more people are brought in, and things can go along for years without much in the way of any formal procedures or written rules.

When one person can no longer stay on top of everything, their ability to delegate will largely determine how much the business can grow.

As the next generation joins the business, a certain level of informality may be part of the culture as well. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but behaving at the office as you do around the dinner table can have its drawbacks.

Many people recommend “professionalizing” your family business, and with good reason. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you do it?

I’m glad you asked…

1. Education

An obvious place to begin is with the education level of the next generation of family members entering the business.

If your children have the ability to go to college or university and get a degree, that’s a plus.

If they can get an advanced degree, that’s better.

If they can do that AND go and get a few years of work experience working for an unrelated business, that’s best.

If you are inclined to hire your kids right out of high school, I urge you to rethink that plan, as their future and that of the company will likely be limited by that choice.

If it’s “too late for that” in your family, there are plenty of education opportunities that last anywhere from a few days to a few months that are probably worth looking into.

It is never too late to learn new things and to upgrade one’s skills and abilities.

2. Hiring Non-Family Employees

The quickest way to professionalize any business is to hire people who are professional in the way they operate, hopefully also bringing along some work experience.

Aim to bring in outsiders who are MORE professional than the people you currently employ, treat them professionally, listen to their ideas, and learn from them.

You can only go so far without great non-family people on your team.

3. Outside Professionals

Every business needs and has outside professionals that they deal with, like accountants and lawyers. They often began with friends or whomever they could afford when starting out.

As the business grows, it is sometimes necessary to move up the ranks and switch to professionals who are at the level you require.

It is quite possible that your business has outgrown your professional advisors, and an upgrade will be needed. It isn’t always easy to cut these ties, but can be necessary.

4. The HR Department

During the growth of any business, the need to begin to treat Human Resources as its own department becomes key. The sooner you acknowledge this, the better.

Your business can only grow as quickly and as far as the ability of your people to grow along with it.

A real HR department will think twice (hopefully) before agreeing to blindly hire a family member and put them into a role for which they are ill suited and unqualified.

This issue has tripped up more family businesses than you can imagine, as mistakes like this cost not only the department where the person works, but can get everyone shaking their heads about what is important to the business.

The biggest part of this comes down to attitude. Have you realized how important humans are to your company, as a resource?

Finding, onboarding, and keeping great people is a must for just about every business. And so is having the right people filling all key roles.

5.   Board of Advisors

Last but certainly not least is the company’s board. I know that even fathoming a true Board of Directors is a complete non-starter for most small family businesses.

So why not start small and informally, with a board of advisors?

The outside perspective alone is worth it, even if it is only to help you look at your own family members more objectively.

Bringing in independent advisors (preferably NOT your current lawyer and accountant) can be the single biggest step to professionalizing your family business. Just ask anyone who has done it.

Family Business continuity

An Offer He Can’t Refuse

This week contained a flashback for me. I was a guest speaker at a University business school, five hours down the highway. There I was, standing before a group of students getting ready to soon begin their careers, much like I was “just” 30 or so years ago.

Invited by two colleagues/friends who teach “Managing the family Enterprise”, I had sent along copies of my favourite book, SHIFT your Family Business, so that the students could be prepared to ask whatever they wanted of its author.


Lucky You!

I began by asking the students if they felt lucky (no, not because I was in their presence). To my surprise, heads began nodding, even before I shared my thoughts about why they were in fact quite lucky to be sitting where they were.

I related my story of being in their shoes in the 1980’s, getting ready to work in my family’s business, but doing so without the benefit of a single course related to Family Business.

This was no slight to my alma mater, it was more about the timeframe. I explained that the Family Firm Institute just celebrated its 30th year in 2016, and CAFÉ (Canadian Association of Family Enterprise) also had its 30th recently. This “field” is still quite new.

I also shared one of my favourite stories about my Dad, who had joined CAFÉ in those early years, and his reaction to the great advice he’d heard from the advisors at those earliest CAFÉ events.

It was quite à propos in this setting, as these were undergraduate business students, like I had been at the time, many preparing to join their family companies in the coming years.


“We’re not gonna do that”

“You know, these people at CAFÉ”, I related my Dad’s words, like it was yesterday, “they say that you shouldn’t hire your kids right out of school, you should make them get a ‘real’ job first”, he said, as I nodded, hopefully. “Well, we’re not gonna do that”, he continued, patting me on the shoulder.

For effect, I acted it out with a student in the front row.

I also added that not standing up to him and questioning him, and not suggesting that I would like to pursue that option, turned into one of my biggest regrets.


Case Study: Corleone Family

The class uses one family business case for the entire semester, and this year’s choice is the Corleone family, of Godfather fame. “Cool!” I thought, as I learned this fact during a call with one of the instructors a week prior.

I really enjoyed doing “my homework”, watching the movies over the weekend so I could contribute to class. I hadn’t seen them in decades, and had forgotten how Vito actually stepped aside, letting Michael take over decision-making without second-guessing him, well before his unfortunate demise.


Family Governance

This class also featured a group presentation on Family Governance, and I have to admit that I got a kick out of the fact that the team used a quote from my book on one of their Powerpoint slides, with attribution, and my name spelled correctly.

Last week I wrote about the Queen and Prince Charles, and now the Godfather, what’s next? (Hint: more on Family Governance).


Should Have Refused

Back to the title of this post, courtesy of Vito Corleone, likely recognizable to most readers.

The reason I use it here is to underscore that I now recognize that the key word in the sentence is “can’t”.

More and more these days, kids are in fact refusing their parents’ offers to join the family business. To me, that is a good thing.

I should have refused too, but I didn’t. It would have been better for me, and actually better for the whole family, but it did not fit the shorter-term plan of the patriarch.


Love of “Business” vs Love of “My Business”

In response to a question from the class, I suggested that I strongly support teaching the “NextGen” about “business”, and even to “love” business, as part of “financial literacy” and to pass along the entrepreneurial family spirit.

But loving “business” and loving “this particular business that Dad started” isn’t the same thing.

Imagine if Michael Corleone had been able to use his great skills in the truly legit ways he had hoped, without the family baggage…



Family Business - Family Ownership Tree

Pruning the FamBiz Ownership Tree

Family businesses come to life in different ways, but their ownership structure usually starts out pretty simple. With the coming of age of the next generation of family members, things inevitably get more complex.

Preparing the rising generation to work in the business is a subject that gets talked about quite a bit. Preparing them to be good owners is also something that we are beginning to hear more about as well. All of this is good news.

But my subject today is based on a real life case, brought to my attention by a colleague. I asked her for permission to address it in this space, because I have not seen much written on it, and it can be pretty tricky.

Unfortunately there isn’t necessarily an easy solution, but then again, in the arena of family business, there rarely is.


The Case of the XYZ Family

My colleague and I are members of a “study group” of a dozen or so members of FFI, we come from a handful of countries, and it is always interesting to note the cultural flavour that comes with the stories we share.

The XYZ family is based in another country on another continent. X and Y are brothers, and they own their business 50/50. So far it’s pretty simple. Oh, one more important point, X is a silent partner, and Y runs the business.

I don’t know for sure but will assume that there is no shareholders agreement in place, likely because of the standard, “hey, we’re family, we trust each other, we will work it out” attitude.


Arrival of the Next Gen

The business continues along without issue, and the brothers start families of their own.   Y, the active brother, has a son and a daughter. X, the silent brother, eventually also has a daughter.

Just to add a bit more complicating “spice” to the story, Y’s son, Z, ends up going to work in the business along with his Dad, Y. X remains silent. Everything is fine, right? Well, for now, seemingly, yes.


Projecting the Future

So if you are Z, the son working in the business, what might concern you, long term? What issue keeps you up at night, to the point that you would raise it with your friendly neighbourhood family business consultant?

If you guessed “ownership”, give yourself a gold star.

The young man has likely already witnessed some of the difficulties that his father has had in running the business while being responsive to a silent partner, uncle X.

When he projects to the future, he sees a situation where he is the only family member working in the business, but his “silent partners” could be his sister, and his cousin.

If ownership follows the standard equal distribution among children that is the default in their country, he foresees himself owning 25% of the shares, and having to answer to his 25% owner sister, and their 50% owner cousin.


Sustainability in Question

When something can’t go on forever, it won’t.

Just to make sure we see the difficulty here let’s add another layer. Let’s say Z has five kids, and his sister and cousin only have one child each. And let’s say only one of his kids joins the company and runs it, along with his silent relative partners.

How would it be to own 5% of a company and run it for relatives who own the following shares:

Owner-Manager:        5%

Siblings:                        5%   /   5%    /   5%   /   5%

Cousin:                       25%

Second-Cousin:        50%


Thanks, but No Thanks!

Talk about a thankless job. Family businesses CAN last many generations, but those that do are the exceptions, not the rule.

We often look for whom to blame when they don’t last, yet sometimes just the way they are structured and the simple math of family division make it nearly impossible to make this work.


So Do We Give Up?


We look ahead and foresee the potential issue, and talk about ways to resolve it. The brother owners need to realize that this can’t work long term, and figure out their next steps.

Assuming that Y can buy out his brother’s 50%, that would resolve a big chunk of it, for now, anyway.

They might even use a formula that Z will be able to follow to eventually buy out his sister down the road.

Bring it up, talk it out, resolve it before it kills the business.




Good Governance Structure for Family Business

Family Governance, Aaaah!

It’s hard to get a handle on “governance” sometimes, and depending on the context, its meaning and connotations can vary greatly.

In some contexts, it’s a pain in the backside. In others, you can’t live without it.

Put me in the “can’t live without it” camp when it comes to family business continuity and family legacy.

Governance in those situations can be tricky, but you really need it, and this post will shed light on that perspective.


Institute for Family Governance 

This week I was in New York for the first annual “Institute for Family Governance” conference. The IFG is in its infancy, and came into existence at the crossroads of STEP (Society for Trust and Estate Professionals) and FFI (Family Firm Institute).

Babetta von Albertini, of Withers Consulting Group in NY, the Program chair, is a member of both FFI and STEP, and I first met her at the FFI annual conference in London in 2015.

She is the driving force behind IFG and must be congratulated for pulling off a great kickoff event.

She also announced that the 2nd annual IFG conference will take place on January 25, 2018, and that none other than the legendary Peter Leach of Deloitte UK will be a featured speaker.


What the Heck is “Family Governance”? 

“What is Family Governance?” could be the proverbial $64,000 question. But it’s more like the $64,000,000 question, because sometimes size does matter

If your family net worth is in the range of $64,000, please skip the rest of the questions, thanks for your time completing our survey.

If, however, your family net worth is in the $64,000,000 range, perhaps this topic is one you need to be paying attention to.

Okay, let me rephrase that.

If you care what happens to your wealth over the next generation or two (or more), then good governance will be important. If you don’t really care what happens after you die, don’t bother reading past this point.


What Happened to “Governance, Ugh!”? 

For longtime readers and fans of my work (Hi Mom!) you may be confused by the title of this blog, which seems to suggest, via the “Aaaah” after “Family Governance” that it’s something good, and which brings relief.

You may be thinking “Hey Steve, how does this square with Chapter 8 of your book, SHIFT your Family Business, which I clearly recall was titled “Governance, Ugh!”?

My answers to this are many, including:

  • Thanks for noticing
  • Yes, it IS available on Amazon
  • Evolution


The Evolution of Governance

Back in 2013 when I wrote the book and called that key chapter “Governance, Ugh”, I did so based on my perception that the word actually conveyed that “Ugh” reaction to a large number of people.

I like to believe that the world of Family Business and Family Wealth has evolved somewhat since I wrote it, and based on what I heard in NYC this week, it has.

Even if the “world” has not yet evolved, though, I know that I have. Let me elaborate. I have always known that good governance is essential to creating a sustainable legacy for a family.

I used to be afraid to tell people that they needed “governance”, but shying away from the word made it seem “unspeakable”, which may have conveyed that it was also undesirable..


My Own Evolution

When the Institute for Family Governance, came to life, and when I realized that I was excited to discover it, that told me that I have evolved, as has my thinking and my desire to call it what it is.

Yes, we can continue to refer to it as “decision-making”, and “communication” and “structures and processes”, and “how we are all going to get along together” and “formalized rules and regulations”.

At the end of the day, for me, the best word to encapsulate all of these is GOVERNANCE.


The Real $64 Million Question

The real question is WHY is it required.

My short answer is:

Because your Wealth and Legacy won’t Preserve Themselves.

Family governance is a must, and it must be custom-developed by your family, for your family.

But it is definitely OK to get help with this. It is even highly recommended to do so.


To Be Continued

Watch this space for an upcoming blog:

5 Things you Need to Know: Family Governance.

Coming in February 2017


Lessons from a drowned phone

Lessons from a Drowned Phone

Happy New Year?

The first week of a New Year seems destined to bring up a challenge for me. Last January I was involved in a car accident that resulted in a concussion, and 2017 started with me accidentally drowning my phone.

I must admit that given a choice for 2018, I would sign up for stupidly putting my phone in the washing machine over innocently getting rear-ended at a red light.

Even though I have nobody to blame but myself for the phone fiasco, I must admit that this year is off to a better start than last. And of course the drowning of my phone has given me a juicy blog subject to boot.


The Incident

Last Friday when I finally found my misplaced phone in the “last place I looked”, i.e. the pocket of my jeans, in the washing machine, well into its wash cycle, I was relieved that at least I had solved the mystery of “where the heck is it?”

The thrill of finding it was quickly extinguished of course, as I had already concluded that it was now merely a paperweight.


Now What? 

Saturday morning I went to my phone service provider with it, holding a glimmer of hope that it might still be useful. No such luck.

I purchased a new phone, and then came the time to transfer what I had in my old phone. There is a great app you can use to transfer stuff (photos, contacts, apps, etc.) from an old phone to a new one. But it doesn’t work when the old one is dead.



My work is all about helping families define and preserve their legacy, which includes very important steps that I explain to client families, which they cannot skip if they want to keep the odds of success on their side.

My old phone had lots of important stuff in it that I wanted to continue to benefit from. But it was now dead, and I had not done what was necessary to preserve what was in it by backing up everything.

Now, recreating what I had, became a much bigger challenge. In fact, some stuff, like photos, was gone for good.

Most of those photos weren’t critical, but they did have some value, which was now lost. Likewise, much of what the senior generation members have in their heads is not truly critical for the survival of the family, but it can often rise to a level above simply “nice to have”.

In case my analogy has been lost on you, allow me to spell it out more clearly. If you wait until after people have died to try to have a valuable relationship with them, it is MUCH harder to do.



What about contacts? The way things turned out for me, thanks to technical ineptitude and the lack of foresight on my part, when my contacts updated on my phone, I got hundreds of names and email addresses from everyone I had ever emailed through my Outlook account, a majority of which are useless now.

The cell phone numbers that I actually wanted and needed were nowhere to be found.

I now have to delete a whole bunch of useless stuff, and I need to email a bunch of people and ask them for their cell phone numbers again.

So I got a lot of stuff I don’t want, and the stuff I want, I need to actually work to get, even though I already had it before.

This is kind of like having to go through all of the files and documents of a deceased relative, while never having had the benefit of the personal introductions to people who were important to the family.


Lesson Summary

  1. Whatever happens, it could be worse. Phone issues are preferable to concussions
  1. To have a back up, you actually have to DO a back up.
  1. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

Please realize what you have and figure out how to preserve it. And I’m not just talking about your phone.  There are so many things that the NextGen and the NowGen need to work at transfering.

Better get started today.