All posts by Kelly LeCouvie, Ph.D.

Feeling Burnt out and/or Frustrated on the Family Council?

Kelly LeCouvie

We hear from Family Council members that they sometimes dread going to Family Council meetings.  There are a number of reasons why this happens, and it is not uncommon for Family Council members to feel burnt out from the long list of “to dos”, the lack of time ‘to do’ the work, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. The following five considerations might help to alleviate some of those feelings:

  1. Ensure that the Family Council agenda is specific: does it have timeframes around discussions, does it include questions or comments for participants to reflect on and prepare for in advance of the meeting?
  2. Avoid getting mired in details that are best left to committee members. This not only keeps those details where they belong, it shows that the Council has faith in the committee chair’s ability to champion and execute specific initiatives;
  3. Recruit Council members who are interested in doing the work, making a difference. This may mean that you need to revisit the branch-representation rule, if you have one;
  4. Prioritize objectives, and projects. If FC members constantly feel overwhelmed with Council work, it is possible that the initiatives planned for the next year or two are simply too ambitious.  Projects can look great and sound wonderful on paper. Finding the time to implement them successfully can be impractical, given that most people are time-starved. Do what is do-able!
  5. Stop beating yourselves up for what is NOT getting done. Look at what you’ve accomplished. Celebrate those accomplishments and communicate them to the family.

Journey to the Future: What is Your Collective Vision for Leadership Transition?

Kelly LeCouvie
Kelly LeCouvie

For the next 19 years, 10,000 American baby boomers will turn 65 every day. Many of them are family business leaders who are thinking about transitioning leadership to the next generation.

While it is great to start considering the transition to the next generation – sometimes we find ‘action-oriented’ entrepreneurs jump to make changes before they have fully thought through the big picture.  We are not advocating delay – just planning and communication.

Too often forward-looking leaders jump into action by developing next generation leaders, creating new reporting structures, revisiting estate plans, and establishing new governance structures. All of which are important. However, sometimes leaders find themselves in active pursuit of a destination that is not only unclear to them, but is interpreted differently by multiple stakeholders in the process.

So before you put the car in drive, be sure to communicate with your passengers and gain alignment on some important questions: What is our ultimate destination? Which roads will get us there while meeting our objectives along the way? If we need to take a detour, what are the best alternatives? What is our arrival date? How will we know we’re there?

A desired outcome, or vision for what future leadership looks like helps ensure alignment and creates the collective energy you need for a very important journey.


Warren Buffet’s Successor: A Soybean Farmer!

Kelly LeCouvie
Kelly LeCouvie

Howard Buffet is Warren Buffet’s 56 year old son, and works as a corn and soybean farmer in Nebraska. Warren Buffet has recommended to the board that Howard succeed him as Chair after his retirement.

You might question this choice. Berkshire is a large enterprise that requires rigorous oversight of its operations, and a Chair who will ensure that strong governance is perpetuated after Warren Buffet retires. We might envision an industry expert, or at least someone who has work experience in multi-business enterprises.

Yet Howard Buffet’s background doesn’t fit that profile. He understands agriculture, and through the Howard G. Buffett Foundation works to improve the standard of living and quality of life in developing nations, particularly Africa. In addition to teaching farmers how to grow successful crops, he encourages them to learn accounting. Howard Buffett would not be considered an industry expert. But Warren Buffett is more concerned with engaging a Chair at Berkshire who understands the importance of perpetuating the values and culture that have helped create Berkshire’s competitive advantages. And he has pointed out the importance of this in family-owned businesses: “Family-owned businesses share our long-term orientation, belief in hard work and a no-nonsense approach and respect for a strong corporate culture,” said Buffet during a talk in Switzerland.

Howard Buffett may not seem like an obvious pick, yet based on what we know about continuity through generations in family businesses, he might just be the very best strategic choice for leadership at Berkshire Hathaway!


How Do You Find the ‘Merry’ in Your Family Christmas?

Kelly LeCouvie
Kelly LeCouvie

Family members that work together spend many days of the year dealing with business challenges, some of which have been particularly difficult since 2009. Then the holidays arrive and for some, the thought of spending Christmas together presents additional stress.

Here are a few suggestions that might help your family enjoy the holidays together:

  • Be mentally prepared. Holidays create stress and it often affects our behavior. We might be less patient, suffer from tension headaches, and react negatively to others.  Prepare yourself to react positively to others. Pause before you respond to comments that might create conflict.
  • It’s likely that you know what triggers negative reactions and anger among family members, particularly if you work together in the business.  Avoid those triggers.
  • Manage alcohol intake. One too many drinks might prompt an inappropriate comment or tone. If other family members are drinking in excess, it might be a good time to leave the party.
  • Use these family occasions to celebrate successes in the business. What happened in the last year that was positive for the business, shareholders, employees, and customers?
  • Spend time apart while visiting with family. While the primary objective is to enjoy time together, sometimes that is best accomplished by planning some time out (even for a drive) by yourself, or with your nuclear family.
  • Take advantage of an opportunity to visit community beneficiaries of family philanthropic initiatives.
  • Have some fun! Remember that in theory, this is one of your primary objectives. Take the time to relax and appreciate your family. They might even re-energize you for a better 2012!

Do Good Board Candidates Find Your Business Attractive?

Kelly LeCouvie
Kelly LeCouvie

This is a follow-up to the October issue of the Family Business Advisor, which presents the non-strategic value of directors. We are often so focused on finding “the best” director candidates, that not a lot of thought is given to the circumstances under which they will find our family business attractive. How do we appeal to outstanding directors?

The list can be very lengthy, but there are a number of questions we often get from the candidates we try to recruit – some food for thought:

  • Is there currently a functioning board in place?
  • Are there other independent directors, or would I be the only one?
  • Does the family really want outside advice or are they just attempting to appease a group of shareholders?
  • Have they developed specific expectations for this position?
  • How would you describe the communication within the family (collaborative, conflictive, for example)?
  • Does the business have a strategic plan?
  • How would you describe the leadership style of the current Chair? The current CEO?

Remember that board candidates are interviewing you and your business as well. They want to commit to a board that works well together, knows how to be productive, and presents a culture that is aligned with their own values and business principles. So getting your ducks in a row prior to your search is a good way to send the right message to great candidates!