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”.


How the family Governs the family Business

Putting the “Own” in Ownership

I am a big fan of the three-circle model and I have been since I first learned of its existence a few years ago.

As the story goes, it was actually derived from the two-circle model that preceded it, which was already groundbreaking in its own way because it was an attempt to separate the “family” and the “business” circles, while acknowledging their overlap.

When Renato Tagiuri and John Davis added “ownership” as the third circle, they had created a model that has stood the test of time for three decades now.

Ownership remains the circle that is hardest to grasp for many people, despite the fact that it sounds pretty straightforward on the surface.

People who do not have any relationship to a family business probably have a better grasp on the meaning of the word ownership, because anything that they own is likely pretty clear to them.

This week I attended an event where a woman from the third generation of a business family related that when she became an owner of her family’s business, she was not even informed until a year after the fact.

This reminded me of an event that I lived with my father many years ago. It was back in the 1980’s when CAFÉ was going strong in Montreal, and we attended a workshop together. In preparation, the organisers sent out a questionnaire to all attendees, asking for the percentage ownership in their family business.

My Dad had left this task to me, and I noted that he owned 67% of the company, and I owned 11%. He had set things up with two holdco’s, his, with 2/3 ownership, and his 3 children’s, with 1/3.

During the event, he saw the questionnaire that I had filled out for the first time, and he asked me point blank “What’s this?” I told him essentially what I just noted in the previous paragraph. “Oh, yeah, I guess you are right” was his reply.

Clearly he still considered himself the 100% owner, and I guess my sisters and I did too!

So ownership can be a little nebulous from time to time, and I know of at least one family business advisor who says that he only works with clients on ownership governance matters and avoids working with business founders, who so often have difficulty understanding the three circles.

A couple of weeks ago at the Family Business Summit in Halifax, I participated in an interactive exercise led by Doug Bolger of Learn2, who had the entire room working together and discussing succession matters.

At one point I had another “A-Ha moment”, and I always try to share those in this blog. We were discussing “ownership”, and then someone mentioned members of a younger generation wanting to do their “own” thing.

I had never realized that the word “own”, as in “my own” was part of the word “ownership”. I raised my hand and shared this realization with the group, and based on the reaction, I was not alone.

There is a new initiative being launched by the Business Family Foundation (BFF) this fall that recognizes that members of the rising generation in families seem to be more interested in doing their “own” thing more and more frequently these days.

They have created the “Initiative Intrapreneuriale” which will begin in Montreal in September, in French. As one of their “ambassadors” on this project, I would like to share why I think the idea behind this program is one “whose time has come”.

Intrapreneurship is not a new idea, many companies have benefitted from it, often without even calling it by this name.

What the BFF’s program is designed to do is to help spark business families into intrapreneurship as a way to get younger family members to join their family’s business AND do their own thing.

Enterprising families recognize that businesses have life cycles, and know about the importance of renewal. So why not encourage younger members to come up with their own business, and have it “grow up” within the existing family firm?

Sounds like a win-win proposition to me.



My CAFÉ Symposium 2016 Top 10 List


Returning from Calgary after attending my third annual CAFÉ Symposium in a row, I thought I would try something a bit different in this blog, and with a hat tip to David Letterman, here is my Top 10 List of memories.

Number 10Tony Dilawri’s Dad stories

A second generation family business leader who opened the Symposium with his family story.

Favourite parts: His Dad announcing “We’re all moving to Regina”, as well as his Dad telling him he was not working hard enough because he did not work on weekends, and his reply that he had multiplied the size of the company many times over while working less hours.

Number 9Dinner conversation

At the Family Enterprise of the Year Award dinner, I was seated next to a retired criminal lawyer, Larry Hursh (accompanied by his wife Carolyn) and I had the chance to exchange views with him on the Oland trial that I had attended in November.

Number 8Another Molson please

After the FEYA dinner, author Gordon Pitts interviewed Andrew Molson, who shed light on how their family has remained strong over the generations, including 3 separate times that they have owned my favourite hockey team.

Number 7Old Friends, New Friends

Like any annual conference you attend, it just gets better every year, because you know more people and more people know you. It was great to see old friends and meet other new ones, and hopefully we will all see each other again in Halifax in 2017.

Number 6Paint by Numbers

An old friend was Sarah Tkatchuk of KPMG, and she and some colleagues lead a workshop called “Painting a clear picture of long term family success”, which was surprising to me because “painting” and “accountants” are not necessarily two words you think of together. Of course, it was essentially a “paint-by-numbers” exercise.

Number 5 You are getting sleepy

Wayne Lee’s hypnosis show was hilarious and very memorable for the performances by a couple of participants, old friend Trudy Pelletier and new friend Margaret-Jean Mannix. I will just leave it at that.

Number 4Brett Wilson’s unique ways

The former Dragon shared a few of his stories and philosophies to end the conference.

Favourite parts: He admits attending the University of Saskatchewan because he did not realize that (in theory at least) he had other choices of schools. Also, the methods he is using to get his children to be financially responsible, which sound like they are working, even if they are clearly not for everyone.

Number 3 Prepare those heirs!

The mother-daughter team of Kathy Reich and Nicky Scott shared lots of great ideas during their workshop. It is nice to see that more people are getting into what they called “Preparing Heirs for Assets (not the other way around)”.

Having read “Preparing Heirs” myself, and also having the pleasure of speaking with author Roy Wilson on a recent conference call, I am glad to help spread this message to more people.

Number 2A new take on Core Values

Keynote speaker John DeHart spoke passionately about how he co-founded Nurse Next Door and how defining their corporate values was (and still is) their key to success.

It only hit me after he was finished that his real innovation was getting away from the staid old “one word” values like integrity and replaced them with sayings, taglines or catchphrases like “sunny side up”, which was both a personal value of his and a value of his company.

Number 1The Bermingham Story

Patrick Bermingham recounted the tale of his 119-year old family business, and what a tale it was.

Favourite parts: How he purchased the company from his father, they shook hands, and Dad never said another word, he was now fully in charge. How he went about raising cash at a time where he had no other choice, and how he offered shares to key employees to ensure the company’s growth would be sustainable.

Many inspirational stories were heard and enjoyed by the hundreds of attendees, and I was glad to be one of them again.

I hope to see you all in Halifax next year!



Steve Legler “gets” business families.

He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.

He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas. He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.

His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.

He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).

He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.


Teach your Kids to Make Lemonade


Our ability to navigate the tricky subjects around family business is often correlated with the parenting skills that were either present or absent while the kids were growing up.

Most people that I speak to about these subjects have agreed with me when I mention that almost all problems we see as advisors to business families stem from things that the parents either did or did not do while raising their little ones.

Ever since I began the work necessary to becoming an advisor to family businesses (taking coaching courses, attending mediation workshops, and even completing two years in a Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) training program) the most wonderful side effect has been the positive impact on my own parenting.

Back in February, I wrote a couple of blogs called Tell it to the Judge (Part 1 and Part 2) in which I suggested that the only people who could truly judge anyone’s parenting skills are those who were on the receiving end of them, i.e. their children.

So I guess I would have to actually ask my kids if they agree that my parenting skills have improved over the past few years, but I think so, and even my wife agrees!

During a discussion with my fellow BFST trainees, one member of the group described a situation wherein one of their teenage children had been involved in an unfortunate situation, and someone brought up the old saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.

So today I want to revisit the lemonade question and how parents might think about handling it. When something unfortunate happens to someone you love, it is tempting to jump in, and react quickly to try to save the day.

Unfortunately, nobody has yet invented the “rewind” button in life, where you could actually just go back and “undo” something bad that befells you or someone you care about. All we can really do is start today and try to make things better going forward.

So what are some of your options when your child receives a proverbial lemon?

Well, you could hit them over the head with it and blame them and make them feel even worse about themselves. This obviously doesn’t sound like a great idea, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, and far too often.

We could feel sorry for our child, tell them that none of this was their fault at all, and Mommy and Daddy are going to make it better. “Here you go dear, I made you some lemonade!”

I suppose that is better than the first reaction, but this too can be taken to an unhealthy extreme, and is a missed teaching opportunity.

Somewhere in between these lies a more useful and balanced approach. I will try to break it down into some possible steps to draw out the ways I have thought this through:

  1. Make sure that the child is OK and that there is no more immediate danger or problem.
  1. Empathize with them, explain that sometimes bad stuff happens to good people.
  1. Explain the lemonade proverb to them, along with the old “it’s not what happens to you that’s important, it’s how you DEAL with what happens to you”.
  1. Don’t fall for the temptation to make the lemonade for them. Feel free to share your lemonade recipes (i.e. things that happened to you but which you overcame)
  1. Inquire about how their lemonade making is going, ask for a taste, and compliment them on the fine beverage they have produced.
  1. Encourage them to learn life’s lessons so that they can hopefully avoid being dealt those same particular lemons again.
  1. In due time, point out how proud you are of the way they made that batch of lemonade, and that you are sure that whenever they get some other kind of lemons, you are confident that they will be able to handle them with aplomb.

If you can do all of those things, chances are pretty good that your child will judge your parenting skills to be more than adequate.

I’ll drink to that.


Steve Legler “gets” business families.

He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.

He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas. He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.

His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.

He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).

He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Humble and Kind

It has been over three years since I wrote a blog with a title borrowed from a country song, so I hope that nobody will accuse me of going back to the well too soon.

As with Blame it on Cinderella back in March 2013, I was driving when I heard the song, there was a conference involved, and I was on the East Coast. Last time it was a CFA meeting in Boston, and the song that inspired me came on during my drive home.

This time I first heard the song on the way to the Family Business Summit in Halifax, put together by the great folks at the Dalhousie Centre for Family Business and Regional Prosperity.

This time the song was by country star Tim McGraw, and because my radio was still set to HotCountry103.5, I actually heard it again as I was heading back to my cottage in New Brunswick when the summit ended.

I was driving away with a smile on my face, because I met so many great people over the two days, and I was actually trying to figure out what it was about these people that made them so easy to be around and get along with.

Part of me was thinking that it must be the geographic location, because Maritimers are known as some of the friendliest people you will find anywhere in the world.

Whenever someone asks why we have a cottage in New Brunswick (not exactly close to home in Montreal) I never fail to mention that one of the main attractions is the people and their relaxed, easygoing nature.

So the people were nice because they are from Atlantic Canada, right? Yes, but that is only part of it.

These people were also Family Business people, and over the past few years since I got back into the family business game, I had not really thought of this, but there is something about FamBiz types that makes so many of them great people to be around.

And just as I was thinking about all this stuff, still with that smile on my face, Tim McGraw’s latest hit, Humble and Kind, came on my car radio again.

Humble and Kind. Every single person that I had met during the previous 36 hours, from the hotel staff to the speakers, from the summit organizers to the family business people themselves, each one seemed to be truly humble and kind.

When I got back home I listened to the song again, and wouldn’t you know it, I had another A-Ha moment.

When I heard the song in the car, I was focussed on the “humble” and the “kind”, and if you had pressed me on it, I would have sworn that the song was about being humble and kind.

But that would have missed part of the whole lesson. The actuall lyrics that the father is singing to his children are “Always stay humble and kind”. So what’s the big deal about that?

In order to stay, or remain, a certain way, you have to be that way to begin with. Now we know that not everyone scores well on the humility and kindness scales, but is that because they did not stay that way, or because they never were?

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?

My theory is that there is a large “self-selection bias” in family business conference attendance. Families who attend are doing well and want to do better, so they come together, as families, and meet other families, and learn from each other.

The ones who do not attend are probably the ones who really should be there, because what they learn from others could really help.

The upcoming CAFÉ Symposium in Calgary will give me another great chance to put this theory to the test.


Steve Legler “gets” business families.

He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.

He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas. He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.

His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.

He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).

He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.

Going Far? Go Together

Quoting African proverbs has not been a habit of mine, but whenever I come across something that makes me sit up and think, you know I will soon be writing about it here.

I don’t know where or when this first came across my radar screen, but that’s not important. The key is that it’s worth thinking about and sharing, and as usual I will add my views on the family business angles that I think are worth keeping in mind.

Without further ado, here is the proverb:

If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to far, go together.

What jumps out at me is that before you “go”, you need to think about your priorities so that you plan your “trip” the right way.

Family businesses, almost by definition, are about “together” and “far”, not so much about “alone” and “fast”.

But here is where things get interesting. Many, if not most, successful businesses were started by one motivated, hard-working, driven person, whose determination was the key to creating a business that was then capable of bringing in others, often including many family members.

Over time, of course, that founder gets older, and plans need to be made to transition the business to the next generation.

Not only are the skills required to continue the business very different from the ones needed to create it, technology changes over those decades often mean that the business needs to redefine itself to continue being successful in the future.

Now if that founder is lucky enough to have just one child, AND that child has exactly the right attributes necessary to keep the business in a sweet spot for another generation, great. But how realistic is that?

More often, there is not one child, but several children, and even if they all have valuable skills to contribute to the success of the company, what are the chances that they will all be in agreement about what to do, who does what, and of course the biggie, who gets to decide?

So here we are. We may have decided WHAT we want, i.e., we want to go together. We also know why, because we have decided that we want to go far. Okay, on the surface, most people are still nodding in agreement. But this is where it gets tricky.

HOW do we do it?

The devil, as always, is in the details. And the details around the “how” have derailed many a well-meaning family’s plans. So, what do we do?

Let’s go back to Africa, where our proverb came from. If we were planning a long trek through the desert or jungle as a family, what are some of the things that we would need to do before leaving?

And just for fun and some added realism, the parents aren’t coming along on this trip, it’ll be just the siblings. We need to be sure that they can survive as a group without their parents, because, well you know the part about parents usually dying before their kids, right?

If those siblings came to me for advice before their trip, I would recommend they figure out a few things before setting out. Among the most important questions are these:

  • How are we going to make decisions together?
  • How are we going to communicate effectively?
  • How are we going to solve problems together?

Notice the word “together” appears in two of those, and is implied in the other.

Now Mom and Dad could sit them down and dictate the answers to those questions, and that may be helpful. Or it may not be.

Ideally the answers come from the sibling group. Do I mean that the oldest child will dictate them? Um, no, probably not much better than the answers coming from the parents, maybe worse.

These details should ideally be worked on together, as a group. What we are looking for is co-developing them, and building consensus along the way.

Can they do this by themselves? Maybe, but likely not.

How about bringing in a skilled outside facilitator?

Great idea!

If you do that, your odds go up astronomically.


Toolbox for family Business

The Tradesman and the Toolbox



This week my Dad would have turned 80, so he is part of the inspiration for this post. He had apprenticed in Austria as a teenager, and when he arrived in Canada he got a job, bought tools, and went to work, all within a few days.

He knew a trade, and then bought the tools he needed to do the job. But it isn’t always that straightforward.

I learned a lot from my Dad, but very little of what he taught me had anything to do with tools.

True, before my first summer working in his steel fabrication plant, we made the obligatory trip to the hardware store (remember Pascal’s?) after which I was “equipped” to work, even though I had barely a clue what I would be doing or what each tool was for.

I still have that red toolbox, with the blue label on it, “91 S. Legler 91.” (My punch card number was 91). Those tools have been doing a lot of dust gathering lately.

The types of tools that I am coming across regularly these days are not the kind you find in any store, hardware or other.

And interestingly enough, I have not been looking for these tools. Instead, the people who are developing these tools have found me. So what kind of tools am I talking about?

It isn’t that easy to even categorize them, but let’s just call them technology platforms for families. Say what?

We all know and understand that the ways that people communicate in 2016 are far different than they were even a decade ago. The ability to connect with people has grown exponentially, which has many positive consequences.

Family communications can be improved in so many ways with these kinds of tools. And the lack of communication within families is one of the biggest contributors to the demise of family wealth.

So naturally, any tool or toolbox that helps families communicate should be a welcome addition, right.

Well, generally, yes, more communication is almost always better than less, so there is that. Where it gets a bit trickier is thinking that the mere existence of the tool will make the family communicate.

Think of the horse you lead to the water, if he isn’t thirsty (and some family horses are more like camels) he may not start drinking for a long time.

The nice thing about creating this type of tool is that you build it once, and then it gets used over and over again. If you build one thing, copy it virtually cost-free for others and sell it to them, well, the profit opportunity can be large.

Now let’s look at the tradesman. This person needs to learn the skills and the tricks of the trade in order to be able to go out and have some valuable help to sell.   It isn’t nearly as easy to replicate, as each person is unique and unfortunately not “clonable”.

But that doesn’t mean that the tools are not useful. What it does mean, from my perspective, is that the opportunity to come up with the “killer app” in the family wealth/family harmony space, may not be as profitable as some might expect.

First off, I am getting the feeling that the field is getting crowded.

Secondly, very few families realize that they could benefit from these tools. (Yes, there is a need for them, but that is not the same as saying there is a demand for them).

Maybe I am biased by the fact that I am a tradesman in this space, and I like to think that there is some magic in my words and the way I communicate with people in families, without much in the way of a toolbox.

Ideally, many families will benefit from qualified helpers and some of the great tools that are being developed.

My tendency would be to defer to a skilled person with a mediocre tool over someone with a great tool but without the proper training or skills.

As this field continues to evolve, I will continue to work on my craft, while incorporating the best tools I come across.

Family walking on the beach

Y-a de la place en masse dans ________ ?

Mon Jacuzzi? Peut-être que oui, mais ce n’est pas notre sujet cette semaine. Mais devrait-il toujours y avoir de la place?

Les sujets dont je parle ici sont souvent reliés aux familles en affaires ou, comme on dirait en anglais, les “business families”.

Il y a une distinction importante entre ces deux groupes, c’est-à-dire la “famille” et la “business”. Y-a-t-il toujours de la place dans la famille, dans la business ou les deux?

Pour moi la réponse est assez évidente, mais je reconnais que pour plusieurs, ce n’est pas toujours facile de démêler ces deux groupes. Pour certaines familles, quand on fait partie de la famille, c’est un acquis qu’on va travailler dans la compagnie .

Pour d’autres, c’est moins certain. Souvent, il n’y a pas assez de place pour tous dans la business, ce qui peut amener à de la jalousie, mais dans d’autres circonstances, il peut y avoir des sentiments d’obligation envers la famille.

Il n’y a rien de nouveau ici, mais je veux stimuler la reflection aux lecteurs qui font face à ces situations dans leurs familles et dans leurs entreprises.

J’ai eu l’opportunité récemment de parler avec la mère d’une famille qui gère une compagnie avec des centaines d’employés.

Pour ce genre de famille, la question de trouver une place pour ses quatre enfants dans la business est certainement moins difficile que ce sera pour une famille qui détient un simple dépanneur.

Une des premières étapes est de savoir si chaque membre de la famille veut travailler au sein de l’entreprise familiale. Notons aussi que la réponse pourrait différer selon l’âge de la personne, en plus de ses circonstances personnelles.

Il faudra aussi se questionner si l’entreprise a de la place pour accueillir cet employé. Comme c’est souvent le cas, les ambiguïtés peuvent se présenter ici. Dans quel rôle? À quel salaire? Est-ce qu’on lui “crée une job”?

Y-a-t’il une liste de pré-requis avant de même être considéré pour un emploi dans l’entreprise familiale? Ou est-ce que des pré-requis s’appliquent uniquement pour ceux qui espèrent occuper un rôle de gestion? Ou pour devenir actionnaire?

C’est assez facile de faire comprendre aux gens que les places dans une entreprises peuvent être limitées, et c’est donc fort possible que certains membres de la famille ne pourront pas devenir employés dans la compagnie familiale.

Mais si c’est possible qu’il n’y ait pas de la place en masse dans la compagnie, où est-ce qu’il a toujours de la place?

Y-a de la place en masse dans la famille.

Ceci semble de toute évidence pour la majorité des gens. Par contre, ce qui arrive trop souvent, c’est que le choix des priorités entre la compagnie et la famille est complètement à l’envers.

L’emphase est trop souvent sur le “quoi” et le “combien” de grandir la business. C’est bien beau de bâtir quelque chose qui nous donne une fierté, une richesse et un style de vie confortable.

D’après ce que j’ai déjà vu, trop fréquemment, la partie qui se fait oublier est celle de la famille.

Dans la famille, on parle moins de “quoi et combien”, mais plutôt de “pourquoi”, “comment”, et “pour qui”.

Mon livre, Changer votre vision de l’entreprise familiale, a comme titre secondaire “Cessez de travailler dans votre entreprise familiale et travaillez plutôt sur votre famille entrepreneuriale.”

À un certain point, le “leadership” de l’entrerprise et de la famille doit reconnaître que la compagnie est un ACTIF qui appartient à la famille, mais que leur vrai héritage passera par les membres de leur famille, peu importe ce qui se passe avec l’entreprise au fil du temps.

J’aimerais souligner un point important ici. Je ne parle pas de situations noires ou blanches. Je ne recommande pas d’abandonner l’un pour se lancer dans l’autre.

Mais étant donné que c’est souvent la famille qui écope, et que travailler dans la business est plus “motivant, fun, et facile” et que c’est plus naturel et ça fait partie de nos réflexes, on doit parfois se forcer à regarder l’importance de la famille et la prioriser.

Il doit avoir de la place en masse dans la famille, pour tous et chacun, peu importe leur contribution à l’entrerprise.


what makes a family business successful

Driven to Commit Patricide (Part 2 of 2)

When we left off last week, I was in the courthouse bathroom, having texted my wife about my surreal elevator ride up with the accused murdered. As I went to wash up, I sensed someone entering behind me. Yes, you guessed it, it was my “new friend”.

I thought about our similarities; same generation, only son of a relatively wealthy, successful man, a father with whom we did not always see eye-to-eye, having spent decades trying to live up to our parents’ expectations. Each of us had lost our fathers within the past decade, albeit under very different circumstances (cancer vs bludgeoning).

I tried to put myself in his shoes here today, and wondered about how I would feel, on trial for having killed my father, and having pleaded not guilty.

Had I been unfairly accused of killing my father, faced with serious jail time, I am reasonably certain that I would not have looked so calm, serene and, I daresay, happy.

Something didn’t compute in my head, there was a disconnect between what I was seeing and the vibe that I was getting, with what I had expected to see. In just a few minutes, my mind was made up, and in my head I had already found this man guilty.

In my heart, however, I was less certain. The stories that came up during the testimony of many witnesses over months of the trial painted a picture of the murder victim that made it very hard to accept that the “good guy”, the son, could go to jail for a long time for getting rid of the “bad guy”, the father.

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful, and the trial continued for another few weeks before the case was given to the jury. They came back with their guilty verdict after 4 days, the announcement met with shock and disbelief.

The case may be coming back on appeal in the fall, meanwhile my “friend” is behind bars, having already once been denied bail pending that appeal. There may be more courtroom drama coming, but we have plenty to chew on already, and hopefully some lessons we can learn.

No, this will not be about how to get away with murder, but more about the ways that wealthy families can go about their business and family lives without the murder instinct ever being triggered.

Parents usually control the family wealth, doing so as their children grow up and mature. There is often a tendency to want to continue to control not just the wealth, but also the children, for far longer than what would normally be considered a healthy and useful time period.

“It’s for their own good”, we tell ourselves as parents, “I know what is best for them, and I have their best interests at heart”. Besides, I worked so hard/waited so long myself (choose one, or both).

It takes a heck of a lot of courage to let go of that control, and to trust that the job we did as parents will be sufficient to allow our children to assume increasing amounts of decision making over the family’s wealth.

We have strayed from the case at hand to some generalities here, but that was always my intention.

“How could this family tragedy have been avoided” may be the specific question, but “how can families learn from the mistakes of others” is what I am really after here.

The natural order of things is for the older generation to die before their children, and thankfully this is usually the case. Having the children wish for their parents’ early demise is one thing, patricide quite another.

Transitioning family wealth, and the decision-making and control around that wealth seem far less intuitive, and not necessarily part of any “natural order”.

From my view, this was not a case of killing someone to get at their money. A son who finally snapped after having been controlled and belittled for his whole life, by a bitter man who clearly had issues in his own family of origin?

That would be my sad conclusion.

Driven to Commit Patricide (Part 1 of 2)

There was a court case in New Brunswick (Canada) last year that really attracted my attention. It was a murder trial, the result of the bludgeoning death of a high profile, wealthy man, just one province away from my home, and not too far from our family cottage.

What also raised my interest was that even though the murder dated back to 2011, the arrest was only made in 2013, and the trial was finally set to begin in September 2015.

Since I work with business families and families of wealth, the fact that the man being tried was the victim’s only son also piqued my curiosity. A person driven to commit patricide, wow, you don’t see that every day, certainly not in small town New Brunswick.

Instead of recounting the background details of this case, here is a link to a National Post story from Christie Blatchford, who has covered her share of newsworthy trials.

Trial of Dennis Oland, accused of murdering millionaire father, reveals dysfunctional family

This news account came after the first day of the long awaited trial, so it sets the stage nicely without giving away the ending.

I began following the trial on Twitter when it began in September. There were a handful of local journalists who attended every day, and they gave their followeres a blow-by-blow account of every courtroom interaction, day in day out, week after week.

Then one day in November, I was at my cottage, and I decided to take a two-hour drive to check things out for myself. I had no idea what a surreal experience I was in for.

I told myself that I needed to take this trip, as sort of a research project, because how many more chances would I get to have a front seat at a murder trial making headlines.

The trial that day was set to begin at 1:30 PM, so I left the cottage to make the drive to St.John around 11 AM. I parked my car around 1:15, having underestimated the time the drive would take.

I hurried to the courthouse and suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was going or even whether I would be allowed in. I noticed a small group of reporters outside, waiting, with cameras, for the arrival of the man on trial.

I approached the front door and noticed the security system, not unlike what you would see at any airport. I acted like I knew what I was doing, removed my watch and belt, and made my way through the metal detector. Once on the other side, I gathered my things, and while putting my belt back on, I saw a familiar face, a few years younger than me.

“Hey, who is that guy, he looks familiar?” I thought to myself. “Oh, that’s right, it’s the guy who’s on trial, that’s where I know that face from”. (WTF!?) The smiling man came through security right behind me, with his lawyer, and he politely said hello to the courthouse staff and headed for the elevator.

I suddenly realized that I still didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t want to ask, trying to look like I belonged there, not like some interloper. So without thinking about it too much, I raced for the elevator to join the party of two, knowing that the floor I wanted was also the one that they were going to.

A few hours ago I was at my cottage, and now I was riding in an elevator with an accused killer and his lawyer. The things I wouldn’t do to learn more about business families and the dysfunctions they breed.

The elevator stopped and I allowed them to exit ahead of me. I noticed a buzzing courtroom in front of us, and decided to try and find a bathroom.

During my visit to the facilities, I texted my wife about my surreal elevator ride, and she quickly responded, asking whether my “new friend” had been shackled and handcuffed. “No, but no worries either, he doesn’t have any reason to want to kill me”.

To be continued next week.