2 Critical Issues Facing Family Businesses

For families with businesses, there are two big problems that surface as the family grows and ensuing generations get involved or migrate away from the family business.

Conversations about the business that may have started in the living room at home, moved to the kitchen, then a conference room then to a board room, often become a struggle as families grow and as individual agendas develop. Working well together, across generations, can become tense when visions are not aligned, and responsible stewardship is not defined. Competing and contrasting priorities due to generational differences, ownership positions, and desires for the business as contrasted with desires for the family harmony, surface.

It is not natural to manage such complexity. Like a garden who needs proper care and maintenance to stay healthy, relevant, and vibrant, a family is best served by developing a disciplined and purposed component to their family and family business dealings and becoming responsible stewards of what they are growing and eventually, passing down.

Determining an initial purpose to both the family and family business initially separate the two entities so they can clearly define themselves independently. Agreeing on and articulating the value, vision and mission of each entity across generations is key to being responsible stewards. Adapting and becoming comfortable with change is the responsibility of each generation.

Questions to consider asking at home:

  • Who do we want our family to be, as a family?
  • What do we want our family to represent in the community?
  • What is important to us as a family: what do we believe in? What do we stand for?

Creating purpose, mission, vision and family teams to develop the family’s success goes a long way to sustaining intergenerational trust and sustainability.

Questions to consider asking about the business:

  • What is the purpose and mission of the business?
  • Is the business meant to develop as a business or build family wealth?
  • What do we need to do to support our working together?
  • How do we communicate business information so it does not take over or interfere with the family environment?

Knowing the purpose of the business, communicating that to the family, developing trust in leadership development are all critical to successfully passing a business legacy and leadership from one generation to the next.

The Purpose of the Family Money is a Key Ingredient to the Family’s Mission

You probably know, or at least have read, about the benefits to developing your own purpose and having your own mission. It clarifies your life, making your life simpler. You build direction, energy, and an added dollop of vibrancy. Phil Knight said of purpose, in his memoir, Shoe Dog, “If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointment will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”

Now, what if this idea of creating a purpose or mission was added to a family’s culture? Would that be novel? Although it might be for your family, it turns out that most families who have stayed connected across generations, have done just that, created their sense of purpose and/or mission. Why? Because doing so creates a bridge of connection in which a sustained feeling of harmony and unity is fostered. It has to. Each family member has bought into this sense of purpose. They are all supporting this mission in ways that mean something to themselves personally as well as for the benefit of their family in generation after generation.

A key ingredient in this family purpose is the purpose of the family money. Money moves and without purpose, it moves aimlessly. When there is a purpose to the family money, it becomes easier to talk about money. This is so because there is a framework around the money with its boundaries and limits, opportunities and possibilities. When family members are included in developing the purpose of the family money, they can determine how and when to use it and as importantly, understand the relevance of this shared money as contrasted with their own money.

Tell me what went through your mind regarding your family’s purpose and the purpose of the family money to the family spanning generations. I would love to hear your comments.

Do Not Forget the Past; It Provides Mighty Support

When we forget those who have come before, like our great- grandparents, we forget our history. When we forget our history, we must begin again leaving new footprints that are themselves, swept away and forgotten as our great grandchildren look back at photos of us and wonder who we were.


Contrast this with those families who have captured, and meaningfully nurture the values and enduring traits of those who have come before them as a pillar to support their own lives today and tomorrow.


If you do not care how your family will thrive or if it will drift into a fog of insignificance, your family’s history will play out as it has for centuries for most families. Great grandparents have no meaning, they have been forgotten. New generations start afresh as if nothing came before them.


But if carrying on the spark of “what matters most” to your family, as a group of like-minded connected individuals, then your family story is an important element to your family’s success. And you must create that story. It will not create itself.


Researchers at Emory University found that “…family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world.”  When adolescents can see the values and traits they share with past family members, they form a stronger sense of well-being and a stronger sense of identity.  This Emory University study also showed that ​there is real benefit in sharing the stories about where the family came from, both geographically and through their values. Family stories keep families connected through generations by its narrative.


Your story, the one that will live on, will include how you met challenges, what successes have meant to you, what values you deem to be important and why and how they have guided you. Your story will describe how you came to value what you do value so those who come after you can understand themselves better by hearing from you. When they understand themselves better, they have more confidence and feel more secure in a world where those without this foundation, struggle to be seen and known.


Do you have a family story in your family, one that benefits its members, is shared because it came from the “author’s” experience?  Let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts on this important recommendation.







Can You See It? The Family Mountain Moved

In your own family, it can be hard to be seen differently by your adult siblings than how they viewed you when you were young.

Sometimes, adding a new dimension to that view, is tantamount to moving a mountain. Because of this, it took a l-o-n-g time for me to create bridges of communication between remaining members of my family. But it was important for me to do so. Because of the work I do with individuals and families, guiding them to stay connected for generations, I wanted to bring the same tools to my own family.

We are very competitive, very stoic, very aloof, and somewhat questioning of each other’s motives. This makes for a very challenging environment to talking about family purpose, connection and legacy. The family is able to dismiss the subject in a short dismissive conversation, one that goes like this: “We don’t need to do that. We’re fine. Others can do that if they want. We know what we stand for and if one of us doesn’t, they’ll figure it out.”

I knew my family would be one of the toughest families to bring together for anything other than the customary family events but after a conscientious many year building of trust, safety and deeper connection, the remaining 3 branches to the trunk are beginning to communicate with each other. Wow, what an experience this is. From not being able to recognize a sibling in a lineup of three, to communicating by letter, phone, and social media, is a tremendous change. From not acknowledging each other to asking about each other’s well-being is a huge breakthrough. From not being in the same room together for years to hosting an easy pre dinner social, the family is beginning to talk. And now, we may even have a gathering to put the family story together for future generations.

The mountain is moving…at least in our family. It was worth the focused attention to bringing the family back together.

Is your family preserving or resurrecting its connection? Leave a comment on what’s going on in your family.

The Annual Family Letter, Try It You Might Like It

Most people travel to family celebrations for their annual holiday events. They bring with them new gifts, new stories, and familiar smiles. The celebration is fun yet temporary, a moment together. Eventually memories of the conversations and the rush of seeing each other are taken over by life’s daily demands and schedules. The events fade into an archived folder called “the past”, stored somewhere in the brain. And the intentions you had last year to have more meaningful and more together time with everyone as a group, fade into tomorrow’s pile of things to do…next time.

But some families do things a little differently and this is where I want to focus our attention this week. Some families produce and convey an annual family letter. This letter celebrates the accomplishments of the family as a group. It reminds the members what they accomplished together to further the mission of the family, the mission they all find their place in and support because they have carved their place in it and are recognized for doing so.

The family annual letter acknowledges plans that were undertaken and not accomplished not to blame but just to note in review the year. It is co-written by all family members who share their successes and initiatives that perpetuated and progressed the family mission. It often includes the family’s values, its mission statement and tells how the initiatives for the year sought to further the mission of the family. The family annual letter is a format to close the year in acknowledging successes and challenges.

The letter also carries a preview of goals for the year ahead. It frames the upcoming year so family members stay connected, enthusiastic and on point with their roles and responsibilities to the family as well as their individual goals. It is a terrific way to keep the family connected. It is a phenomenal tool to keep a record of the past while driving momentum into the future.

My family has created an annual letter for over twenty years. What about you-what have you done or what will you start this year to keep your family connected?

Grandparents and Grandchildren Share a Unique Bond

There is something unique and special about the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild. There is that innate connection coupled with a generational skip that can bring a sense of freedom and trust not present between a parent and a child.

Let’s look at a few ways in which grandparents can add richness and long memories to the relationship with their grandchildren.

Grandparents can add a sense of fairytale to the family. Being so much older than the grandkids, from the children’s point of view it almost appears as they lived in a different world. Their view and experiences are a novelty to the grandkids. “You had two hours of homework to do every night? When did you get to play with your Xbox? You didn’t have one? What was it like to play outside all day?”

Grandparents have a great knowledge of the history of the family. They know who the elders are. They can even talk about people in photos that the grandchildren will never know. They add a sense of continuity and can add to the value of the family heritage and legacy.

Grandparents often can impart advice and wisdom to a grandchild more easily than a parent because they are a little more removed from the pressure of attention and parenting. They can help in mending emotional fences and adding perspective when teasing hurts a grandchild. They listen differently than parents do, often less judgmental and more understanding.

Grandparents have traits that grandchildren often inherit, ones that skip generations. I for one inherited from my Grandma a great love of music which neither of my parents had. Although she and I expressed our musical passion differently, we shared a love for singing and an appreciation for composition that no one else in our family embraced.

What has the relationship with you grandparents brought to your life? How do you promote the relationship between your own children and their grandparents? I would love to hear from your experience.

The Most Important Element You Must Have If You Want to Keep Your Wealth

What is the nature of your family’s wealth? You may quickly respond that it is made up of your real estate, your investments or your business. And indeed, your wealth may be made up of these. But if you are looking only at the value of your investments, business or tangible assets, then you are not looking at the entire picture. That is a critical point to understand. Your family’s wealth is more than the sum of your investment portfolio.

The origin of the word wealth stems from the Old English word for well-being. In order to build and sustain the meaning of wealth, you have to also define what the well-being of your wealth looks like for yourself and for your family members. There must be agreement as to what the purpose of the wealth is for. There must be an understanding of its purpose if you want to sustain your wealth for generations. Without doing so you run the great risk of individual agendas squabbling over their portions, invading and squandering the wealth you grew…for them.

The meaning of wealth, must have an understood and commonly respected purpose to help give assurance that the wealth you so diligently grew will be sustained over time.

Wealth is not protected through documents and plans. Wealth is protected by people, people who understand they are stewards of a purpose, in this case, the purpose of their wealth.

It is a matter of having a purpose for the money that the family understands, develops, and tends to…diligently.  The clear and concise meaning of your wealth has to be endorsed by the entire family. This concise meaning is the ‘why’ of your wealth.  This why enables a family to shift from having a fragmented and individualized attachment to the wealth to one that encompasses a bigger picture, one that tends to and insists on its well-being.

Take a moment and reflect upon this question: What is the purpose of your family’s wealth?  Once you have heard your own response, ask other family members the same question. You will undoubtedly get different answers. This is because the family is still operating as individuals. The binding connection has not yet been ascertained and developed. You must decide to determine, together, what the meaning of the family money is so you can continue growing it together.

Tell me your thoughts on what wealth means to you and then what wealth means to your family. I would love to hear from you because wealth may be established individually but it is kept by tending to its well-being as a group who steward its purpose.

Your Legacy and Your Heritage Work Together… To Keep You Connected…for Generations to Come

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary the word “Legacy” is defined as:  “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” Looking at the origin of the word, the Online Etymology Dictionary says that Legacy stems from the 14th Century French: “legate-body of persons sent on a mission or charge”, and from the middle Latin “ambassador or envoy.” Putting these two elements together, I define a legacy family as: “A long standing family with a calling or charge.”


Returning to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, we find Heritage is defined as: “something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the origin of the word Heritage is “that which may be inherited.” Inherit is derived from the word “heir” which the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines as, “one who receives or is entitled to receive some endowment or quality from a parent or predecessor.” From these pieces, I define heritage as this: “Something received from the past which is distinctly inherited from the family.” This could be anything from DNA to traits to characterizations, to physical looks to interests.


Combining the words legacy and heritage brings me to this definition for a long lasting family: A family that transmits something from one generation to another as a quality or specific charge, that has a beginning, is ongoing and is lasting.” It has beginning where it defines its values and articulates its purpose. It is ongoing through each member’s individual commitment to its values, and a furthering of its purpose. It is long lasting as it stays relevant and flexible through changing times and customs.


A continuing connected family is one in which:

  • The successes and trials of its past (the heritage) are not forgotten
  • Its future (the legacy) is built with confidence and the present (the bridge between the two) is unified in strengthening the purpose of the family.



Tell me your thoughts about your family’s legacy and history.

  • Is it one that is supported by the entire family?
  • Do individual family members have separate ideas on what constitutes the family legacy?
  • Do you have a cohesive way to build your legacy while celebrating your heritage to strengthen a long lasting connection?

Let me know, I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Part 2 is the Will, but Part 1 is Often Overlooked to Dire Consequences

Jennifer and Lily were sisters. When they were young they played dolls together as so many sisters do. Of course, their brothers, Peter and Tom would not join their sisters in doll play. They were out in their forts taking sides against the enemy and sometimes, each other.

Years later the girls stayed connected to each other; only now it was around the goings on in their families; their dolls had been put away a long time ago. Their brothers, on the other hand, who went into the family business, talked shop most of the time.  They vetted their frustration with their autocratic dad who would forget to include them in important business decisions and directions. Just the other week he signed an agreement with an offshore distributor, about expanding into Asia at a time the business was losing market share in their core markets.  The brothers were now in their late thirties and early forties. Wasn’t it time to bring them in to conversations that their Dad reserved for his two golfing buddies and his business attorney?

Nothing changed until one day, in his office, their Dad suddenly had a fatal heart attack.  Neither the two brothers nor their sisters were prepared for this. Their parents had divorced years earlier and although their Mom was devastated by the news, she would not be part of the instructions in the will.   Any thoughts, wishes, pleas or understandings were of no use now as the brothers and sisters gathered in shock.

The will was distributed to each adult child. The siblings seemed satisfied at what they read. The two daughters, to their relief, were given cash while the two sons were given merely the struggling business in equal shares…to their dismay. They knew how to talk about Dad together but not how to manage a business together; plus, given this business with its precarious financial state, they wondered if they really received anything of benefit.

Fast forward five years later; the brothers who initially thought about selling the business, were able to stabilize the company and then watch it rise back up to a positon of strength. They now had a business of value and with a bright future. Their sisters, those with the cash, $1 million each, were out of money. They spent their inheritance on cars, family trips, clothes and things they don’t even remember purchasing. It didn’t matter. Their money was gone.  Now, they were thinking of suing their brothers for part of the estate they never received-the business.

Let’s take a look at this situation. This family was ripped apart by an idea that sounded good on paper: money to one set, the business to another but in all reality, this good paper idea turned into a point of contention. The sisters and their brothers, who grew up together under the same roof, found themselves with different inheritances.

The will was well crafted by outstanding attorneys who knew the Dad well. But documents cannot serve a bigger purpose than what they state. If documents are meant to serve a bigger purpose, the conversations of purpose and intention need to happen between the will maker and the beneficiaries, the parties who will be served by the functionality of the will. When this doesn’t happen the probability of squandering, spending, or squabbling over the assets is high, very high.  The brothers weren’t prepared to inherit a business. The sisters were not prepared to receive cash.

Are you paying more attention to the passing of the assets or the passing of purpose and responsibilities to your family? Think about it, it’s an important question to ask yourself.

Leave me your thoughts. I would like to hear from you about this important topic.

What Are You Leaving Behind?

Imagine this scenario:

You are about to leave on a vacation. You’re running a little late. Your bags are packed…almost; your passport and id are nearby…you think.

You’ve left a note with the housekeeper, a quick and cryptic message with your cell # in the event of an emergency. You forgot to tell her about the furniture company exchanging your newly purchased bedroom set for one you like even better.

You’ve checked your international coverage on your phone. Scratch that, you didn’t quite have time for that. You’ve got all your camera gear, your IPad is in the briefcase, your…no, it’s too late, the cab is here; you’re running late, you’ve got to get to the airport NOW!!!!

So, what did you leave behind? Oops, you forgot an extra battery for the camera, you forgot your MP3 player, again… You forgot to let someone know where your HIPAA papers are and where to locate key passwords should you meet a medical emergency. You forgot to tell your family when you’ll be back. It’s too late. You’ll text them later.

As you’ve done before, you hope everything will be okay; that an emergency won’t come up, that you’ll be able to clean up your unfinished items later.  I hope so too.

Why do I bring this up? It’s not merely to illustrate a scenario you may have experienced or heard someone you know recount their vexing story to you.  I bring this up to highlight something more.

If something tragic were to happen to you and you didn’t come back from your vacation, what would you be leaving behind that others would have an uncomfortable time sorting out? Who has your most current and signed HIPAA form? Who has access to your key accounts and key advisors? Who knows what you want done with your most personal items?

Have you prepared your loved ones or have you left your stuff here and there for them to stumble over, or race to find before other beneficiaries demand information or the federal government reminds them of its fixed deadlines for estate information?

As a vacation is more relaxing and open to more serendipity when we have completed our preparations for it, so is our life.  When you have prepared your loved ones for your eventual demise, you are leaving them with one of the greatest gifts you can possibly give them. This gift of organization and clear instructions, not found in your will, makes their duties much easier to undertake. A booklet we use is called “Making It Easier for My Loved Ones.” Email irina@focusansustain.com or call us at 425-823-0984 to learn more about this valuable tool.

Do you know of an estate that was a mess because of the lack of instructions to the executor? What were the consequences to the family relationships, as a result?

Do you know or have you heard of someone who prepared their beneficiaries by letting them know where their key information is located and clearly identifying who gets what? Leave me a comment. I would love to hear about your experiences.  There are some outrageous stories out there.