Facts versus Opinions and Assumptions

Hand holding a Facts 3D Sphere sign on white background.

Opinions disguised as Facts

This week I was participating in a monthly online group meeting with colleagues who are all Bowen Family Systems Theory enthusiasts, and one of them made a statement that immediately struck me as “blog-worthy”.

She was talking about her family of origin (the one in which she grew up) and when referencing her father, she attributed the description “someone who stated a lot of opinions as though they were facts”. Wow, I thought, that sounds like my Dad!

This got me thinking about the characteristics that helped my father become successful, which included his “don’t take no for an answer” approach to life, his self-confidence, and his ability to size up a situation quickly and develop a plan of action.

When I think of what helped make him a great businessman, these are some of the attributes that made him who he was. Even though I am certain about them, that doesn’t mean that my assertions qualify as “facts”. They are, quite simply, my opinion.

I am less prone to act quickly, preferring to observe matters, take in various details of what I see and hear, and then take my time before deciding if any action is warranted. Perhaps it’s just my nature, or maybe part of it comes from the fact that I usually feel like I have the luxury of time to think.

Looking back at my Dad and his own upbringing and the circumstances under which he built his business, for the first 50-some years of his life, I doubt that he ever felt like he could afford to think about taking his time.


Important succession character traits

When business families start to look at the questions surrounding succession of their business and who should be involved, the ways that the different generations consider these issues start to come into play.

An entrepreneurial business founder who started a company, and against all odds built it into a sizeable organization, will likely have many of the traits that my father had, including an action-orientation that leaves little time to consider various opinions about important matters.

The character traits that will help ensure that the company and the family will continue to prosper into the next generation, however, are likely to be quite different.

If the number of people involved increases from one generation to the next, as it often does, then the ability to consider the opinions of all stakeholders will likely become a factor going forward.

Sometimes the hard-charging founder will have a child who is literally a “chip-off-the-old-block”, and they will usually be seen as the “heir apparent” early on, with the thinking that what was important for the business in one generation would continue to be key in the next.

The problems with that line of thinking include:

  • The skill sets involved in growing a business from the ground up, versus those of maintaining it, are sometimes quite different;
  • Technology changes over a few decades can be considerable;
  • The main group of concern may no longer be the company, but may well have shifted to the family.


Expert Opinions are still Opinions

There is no simple answer to these questions of course, but as an advisor to families who are faced with business and wealth transition situations, I can affirm that the most successful plans come after consultation with the stakeholders.

The leading generation often seeks the input of trusted advisors, all expert in their particular domain, like legal, tax, or accounting. These experts are also prone to offer up their opinions cleverly disguised as facts, which makes them seem incontrovertable.

When a family gets the experts involved before including the family, a plan is usually presented to the family after it has been made, as a “fait accompli” (note that “fait” is French for “fact”).

The opinions of those for whom the plan was made, usually the children, will not have been considered (at least not their true opinions). More likely the parents will have made assumptions about what was best for them, without asking.

When you look at how often “assumptions” and “opinions” get treated as “facts”, you can understand why so many family business transitions fail.

Stick to the facts.

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.



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.


Objective. Neutral. Compassionate?

Business families can often benefit from bringing in outside consultants or advisors to help them with certain matters. In addition to taking advantage of the expertise and experience of these resources, there is usually something else that is being sought.

The key feature that such an outsider brings along is an objectivity that people within the family just cannot have. Family members enjoy a deep connection and history, and while a lot of good comes out of these deep relationships, there can also be a downside.

When you think about the word objective, it is normal to contrast it with its cousin, “subjective”. To me, subjective conjurs up “subject to”, as in “subject to MY feelings”, as opposed to the more factual and objective, “how things really are”.

The word neutral is one that has slightly different connotations for me, as it brings up the part about not being partial, biased, or swayed by one side or the other, in a situation where people are in disagreement.

As someone who enjoys helping families sort through many of the “family issues” that arise around their businesses or wealth, being seen as neutral is one of the most important things I need to do to be successful.

Being perceived as “Dad’s guy”, hired to come in to deliver his message to the kids, has been the kiss of death for more than a few outsiders brought in to deal with intra-family affairs.

This fanatical desire of mine to work on my own neutrality has seen me search high and low for tools to achieve this goal, even while questioning whether true neutrality can ever be attained.

I am now halfway through the Third Party Neutral program (TPN) offered by the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution (CICR), having just completed my second of the 4 weeklong courses.

One of the things that has struck me thus far is that there is general agreement that becoming truly 100% neutral is an almost impossible goal. You would likely need to find a robot if you absolutely needed to find a completely neutral outsider.

The TPN program realizes this, and so their focus is on training people to become custodians of a neutral process. It is not the person who is neutral, but the process. The person serves as a guide, or facilitator, and works at getting the parties to follow the neutral process through to a resolution.

My favourite realisation regarding the neutrality of the process instead of the neutrality of the person comes back to my passion for this field.

I entered this field a few short years ago, in my late forties, in response to a calling to help families, because I have seen and heard too many stories about families who have made avoidable mistakes around their inter-generational transitions.

As the only son of an entrepreneur who built a business, and now the parent of two teenagers, I truly have seen both sides of things. Empathy is one of my strengths, but the problem in my head was how do I square the empathy with the neutrality.

The answer, which is slowly becoming more clear to me, lies in two areas.

The process: The process is neutral, and as the custodian of the process, I need to do my best to remain unbiased by one side or the other.

The family is the client: This has been on of my principles from day one, having learned it during the Family Enterprise Advisor (FEA) program. (

With a neutral process and the family as my client, I am now free to use my empathy and my passion without trying to hide them or feel the need to apologize.

One of the veteran instructors in the TPN program stopped by our class this week and spent a bit of time meeting all of the current students. I introduced myself to her and explained how I came to this field, which she referred to as “peace making”.

When I finished my intro, she summed me up in two words: Compassionate Neutral. It may sound like an oxy-moron to some, but you know what, I think it fits, and I like it.


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.

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.

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.

 Does Father REALLY Know Best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad’s advice has been serving me well recently.

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

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

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

Yes, huge.



Judgement, Not Judgement

Writing a blog post every week forces me to constantly be on the lookout for interesting subject matter, so whenever I notice an interesting choice of words, my first thought is usually “how can I turn this into a good blog?”

Such was the case this past week, which I spent in Ottawa, partaking in the first of the four courses in the Third Party Neutral (TPN) training program, given by the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution (CICR).

Because I often deal with various members of a business family, to help them get through some of the sticky issues that they face together, remaining neutral is a huge plus. Even the perception that I am taking sides can quickly work against me.

When a family brings someone in from the outside to help them, it is the outsider’s objectivity that is usually cited as one of the biggest resources that they bring to the table. Unbiased, neutral voices are often not present when everyone who is involved has a lot at stake.

The interesting word choice that piqued my curiosity was taken from a list of the Principles of the Third Party Neutral process, principle 7 (of 9): Judgement, Not Judgement.

My first thought was about spelling, but this couldn’t be about whether we went with “judgement”, with the E, or “judgment”, without.

Dsimissing that, my mind quickly went to work to try to figure out what this was supposed to mean, and it soon became pretty clear, despite the ironic juxtaposition.

I like to think that I have good judgement, but then again, most of us self-identify that way, in the same way that studies show that a large majority of people consider themselves to be better than average drivers.

The first use of the word “judgement” in the TPN Guidelines was clearly a reference to this version of judgement, i.e. using your judgement, thinking before acting, giving things proper consideration before deciding, that kind of stuff.

The second “judgement”, the one that follows “Not”, is the bad kind. Whereas the first one, the good one, the one you are supposed to have and use, makes you think of the quality of being “judicious”, the second one is all about being “judgemental”

While doing my CTI coaching courses a few years back, one of the first things we learned was the importance of listening. We talked about “active listening” and “level 3 listening”, but the biggest take-home message for me was that we needed to master the ability to “Listen without judgement”.

Let’s look at some definitions I found online for “judicious” versus “judgemental”.

Judicious: having, showing, or done with good judgment or sense

Judgemental: having or displaying an excessively critical point of view.

Most business founders who have been successful in building a company have been blessed with the quality of being very judicious.

Unfortunately, sometimes the success that they have achieved leads them to believe that they are also blessed with the gift of knowing what is best for others, and some become judgemental as well.

They don’t necessarily go around and tell everyone what they should be doing. They don’t have time to do that with everyone, so they concentrate on those close to them. You know, the ones that they love; their family.

Therein lies one of the reasons that the founder of the family business is not often the one who sees the need to bring in an objective third party.

You may think that this comment from me comes off as judgemental of business founders, and I would not likely successfully refute that argument.

Being neutral is hard work, especially for humans. The TPN program is all about being the custodian of a Neutral Process, lead by a human who has been trained in guiding that process.

The best way for me to be of service to these families is to check my biases at the door, and I am constantly working on the skills required to do that.

In the coming months I will be doing the TPN 2, 3, and 4 training, and I will be sharing more about this subject going forward.

Questions, comments?


Vermont, a Global Hub? What the FECC?

Burlington Vermont is not a place most people think about when globalization is the subject. But once a year, that all changes, and people involved in Family Business congregate there in January for a one-of-a-kind experience.

The Global Family Enterprise Case Competition (FECC) just wrapped up this weekend, and the fourth annual edition was better than ever. The folks at the Grossman School of Business at the University of Vermont can truly call their event “Global”.

I had the privilege of serving on the judging committee at this competition for the third year in a row, and as always, it was an enriching experience. So how global is it?

Well on Thursday I served on a panel with another Montrealer, but he happens to hail from Mexico (as did a couple of the Undergraduate teams participating). That same panel featured a woman from Switzerland, who was born in Czechoslovakia (which is now 2 countries!)

There were 24 student teams competing, with 16 in the Undergraduate section and 8 in the Graduate portion, and these teams hailed from 10 different countries, but if that weren’t enough, the students themselves came from even more diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds.

I don’t have vital stats for all of the participants, but from just the eight teams that I saw, here are a few examples:

A team from Sweden featured at least 2 competitors who were German, which they clearly used to their advantage on the case of the Juchheim company, which, suprisingly (or not) was about a Japanese family enterprise.

Another team, from Texas, featured students with both Latin American and Asian roots, and a team from Spain featured one presenter with a Middle Eastern background.

I could go on, but I think that I have already given you a flavour of what the event is like, and I have probably already used some terms that will have offended some people who are more politically correct than me.

So what is it that makes Family Enterprise such a great field for a global competition? That’s an easy one.

The languages and the culture change from country to country, but the prevalence of family business is pretty well widespread around the world. And not only that, what parents want and hope for when they go into business with their family members is not very different from one location to another.

Furthermore, the issues that come up in family enterprise situations that you can find in one country will invariably show up in just about every other country too.

The good news here is that you can learn a lot about the big issues and how you may want to handle them simply by studying what has gone on elsewhere. You know, learn from other people’s mistakes.

The field of family business as a discipline, to be studied, researched, and taught in schools is still relatively new. The related field of family business advising is also still considered pretty new.

What this means is that the families who are eager to get involved with examining their own situations by opening their eyes and themselves up to what is going on with other families, are still part of what one would term the “early adopters”.

Family Business is not yet seen as “mainstream”, and is not taught as a separate discipline in very many business schools yet.

Likewise, many people like me who call ourselves Family Business Advisors are still looked at as a little bit odd (OK, I confess, you got me there) and we are sometimes met with questions like, “Is that a thing?” when we describe ourselves as such.

Things are changing, slowly but surely, in the right direction. If you have any interest in the field of Family Enterprise education, I invite you to check out the FECC at UVM and get involved in next year’s 5th annual edition. I know that I am already planning a return trip.


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.