Tag Archives: family office

“Family Organization” – An Oxymoron?

by John L. Ward 

Family organizations, such as family offices, face many paradoxical contradictions. Several follow; then a fundamental paradox will be examined.  

  • Centralized leadership or direct democracy
       – Who makes decisions?
       – How is leadership selected?
  • Individual freedom or collective responsibility
       – Is privacy protected or are there no restrictions on social media use?
       – Is each mindful of the physical security of all?
  • Engagement or emotional space
       – What expectations are put on people for participation?
       – How draining are family meetings?
  • Voluntary involvement or remunerated roles
       – How broad is participation?
       – How appreciated are “doers” feeling?
  • Direct costs or shared costs[*]
       – Who pays for what?
       – How much effort determines real costs? 

Perhaps the most fundamental family organization paradox is Familial or ProfessionalWhen family members participate in family meetings or activities or governance they expect BOTH:  informal, family-like feelings AND productive, effective progress. 

One approach to paradoxes is to seek balance – when there are increasing efforts to professionalize put more attention on how to also emphasize more familiarity. Another approach to paradoxes is to seek a synthesis – “win win.”  Perhaps a family will find that the more professional its meetings, the more time there is for just plain, casual fun?


 

[*] Sometimes the long-term view dissolves paradoxical contradictions. Perhaps in the long-term all costs are shared?

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Governance : Why is it so hard to define?

 

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

This week I’ll be speaking to a group of family business owners in the Milwaukee area, and the topic they chose was “Governance”.  When they requested that topic, first I felt excitement – but it was soon followed by a bit of dread.

I felt excited because governance is such an essential component in family enterprise strength and continuity. I also felt dread because, even after years of helping families reap the benefits of governance structures like Family Councils and Boards of Directors, I still find it difficult to come up with a simple, clear definition of governance.

Like most people, my mind immediately seizes upon Boards of Directors as the prime example of governance. Indeed, a web search on the term ‘governance’ quickly yielded the following:

That relatively simple (!) definition may work for public companies, but, the complexities of family enterprise can require more of a multi-faceted approach to governance.

For example, as families become larger and more complex, they also appreciate the benefits of more formal family governance, most often in the form of a Family Council.

Families that pursue their own foundations and other philanthropic efforts come to appreciate the benefits of strong governance in the form of Foundation Boards.

As families move into the cousin stage – and beyond – they seek governance structures to serve their larger, more dispersed ownership group. Often called Ownership Councils, these bodies provide a structure for balanced participation and oversight on behalf of shareholders.

Families with Family Offices also find significant benefits from the oversight and expertise of an objective governance group of some kind.

Given all this complexity – what’s a good, simple definition of family business governance? To inspire you, I will go out on a limb and offer my own working definition – as follows:

  • Family enterprise governance provides an established set of systems and structures that ensure sound and fair actions and decisions, often by a small number of well-qualified people on behalf of a larger number of stakeholders.

I know this definition has plenty of room for improvement – what’s missing? What’s your current working definition of ‘family enterprise governance’  – and how does it help you get the results you seek?

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