Family Governance: Who Needs It? (Part 1)

JoAnne Norton

After giving a presentation on laying the foundation for family-business governance, an energetic young man came bounding towards me from the back of the room as I was stepping off the stage. Taking my hand in both of his, he smiled as he said: “Where were you when we needed you?” I laughed, and responded: “I don’t know; where were you when you needed me?”

The young man’s name was Will, and he said his family had always meant to do all the things I had just spoken about: have regular family meetings, create a vision, decide on a mission, explore their values, but they had just never gotten around to it. Their family business had been all consuming. Then one day about a year ago, a large competitor had made his father, his uncle and all of his siblings and cousins an offer they couldn’t refuse. So now there was no need to have those crucial conversations that can be so energizing, enlightening, and exciting when family business owners discuss vision, mission, and values. Since there would be no more decisions to make or conflicts to resolve, there would be no need for family governance. “That ship has sailed,” he sighed.

Actually, that ship hasn’t even left the dock yet.

Many families who have earned or inherited significant wealth together often want to continue their affiliation. In some cases it’s because, even after the primary business has been sold, they continue to hold real estate or other investments together. In other situations, family members have developed great trust and admiration for each other, and they believe it is advantageous to keep their family and their wealth together. Sometimes they accomplish this by establishing a family office, and at other times a strong matriarch or patriarch might take the lead. For whatever reason, many families choose to work together to leave a lasting legacy and to ensure their wealth lasts for many more generations.

Families who want to successfully work together need the same things family businesses do: a clear vision, an inspirational mission, and shared values. They need policies and procedures and well-defined expectations. At The Family Business Consulting Group, we are experts in family governance regardless of whether there is still a family business or not. Will and I discussed this concept, and we set up a time to discuss the direction his family was going because families who sell their businesses still need good governance.