What does planning for a family's 100-year future mean in the context of climate change? How can business families talk about the threat of a changing climate?

The central assumption in most family enterprise books, workshops, and advice is that a business family should work to sustain its financial and human capital for multiple generations. The "great families," we are told, think in 100-year time frames and lay plans to survive seven generations or more. "Keeping it in the family" often means propagating financial assets and handing them down to further the family's interests over a long period of time. The

last few decades have seen massive concentration of wealth into the hands of a relatively few such families, and a massive explosion of consultants and advisors (myself included) offering to help them plan for an extended, multigenerational family legacy. Family offices, private trust companies, family foundations, and perpetual trusts are all designed to preserve a family's control of its human and financial capital for many generations. And ... in October, 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel…

What is a family learning curriculum? How should it be structured? And how can it address human capital, learning capital, social capital, legacy capital, and financial capital?

Many multigenerational enterprising families have learning goals: to bring younger family members up to speed on the workings of the family business or financial assets; to create family cohesion around a vision or sense of purpose; to educate beneficiaries about the workings of trusts, family partnerships, a private trust company, or other legal structures; to bring family members into the family's philanthropic efforts; and so on. These goals may be more or less articulated, but they are often evident in the way a family sets their agenda for family meetings and other learning events. My focus in this post is on how those goals should inform a family's long-term learning plan. As a long-time educator, I am used to the notion of a curriculum--a sequence of courses that together lead a student through a deepening understanding of an area of study. To become expert at something, you don't just begin with an advanced course in the subject (e.g., Econ 300). Instead, you begin at the beginning, learning introductory material first and then building on that…

Why should a twenty-something family member care about family meetings, family education, and family governance?

Over the years, I have heard many family office professionals, advisors, coaches, and others who work with wealthy families bemoan the lack of participation or engagement by family members. These complaints take many forms: "They won't respond to emails", "they aren't really active in planning the family retreat", "we can't get them to engage in family governance." These concerns are often directed at younger, 20- and 30-something family members, who may be even less connected than their parents. Recently I asked a 20-something for topics for her family's annual meeting. (I'll call her Cheryl here, just for convenience.) The first thing she came up with--not sarcastically, but entirely seriously--was: why should I (or we) care? Something in the sincerity in Cheryl's tone stopped me in my tracks. It was as if I were hearing this question for the first time. Perhaps it was that she asked it so genuinely, with just a tinge of resignation or sadness, as if to say "I'd really like to care about these family issues, but I'm not sure how, or why, or in what way it would matter to me. What am I supposed to care about? What, ultimately, are you all asking of…

Are family office professionals, advisors, and trustees unintentionally making family members and systems more fragile by coddling?

I've recently read two books in close succession that have resonated off of each other and made me really wonder about the unintended consequences of the work done by many family offices, family advisors, and trustees: Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb, and The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. There is a lot one could say about each book, and I will undoubtedly return to some of their themes in other posts. (I have some reservations about each book, but will hold those for later as well.) But for now, each raises a fundamental question for family office professionals and advisors: are the interventions you're making, the support and education you're offering, the forms of assistance to the family that you're providing, examples of iatrogenics--harm more than help, treatments in which the healer (unintentionally) causes more damage than good?…

What is the focus of a "trust company"? The trust. What is the focus of a "trusted company"? The quality of the relationship between the trustee and the beneficiary.

I recently began saying that I do not aspire to head up a trust company; I aspire to be a "trusted company." This may seem like word smithing, but I think it’s important. There is a subtle but powerful difference between a trust company and a trusted company. The former implies that the object of the company’s attention is—trusts. A “trust company” administers trusts. That’s what it does. That’s the focus of its efforts. In many ways, the phrase “trust company” suggests that the entity’s clients are the trusts that it oversees. If a PTC aspires to be a “trusted…