The Hero’s Story is Significant


Over the holidays, I attended the annual Seattle Business Magazine’s Family Business Awards Dinner. It was a fantastic event, honoring family businesses who deserve recognition in categories such as: Best Practices, Community Involvement and Family Business of the Year.

During the dinner, Chris Schiller, Managing Director of Cascadia Capital, gave a compelling introduction to the Family Business of the Year award.

I would like to quote Chris, as I thought his words were applicable to those of us who ork in guiding and consulting with family businesses and/or their families.

Chris began his talk by saying: “In thinking about tonight’s wonderful celebration of family business, it struck me that the eminent mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, is much like the story of family business. All of the family businesses in this room have followed a similar path to Joseph Campbell’s hero, with you or one of your family taking the risk to start a company, then embarking on the journey of building your business, meeting tremendous challenges and personal struggles on the journey, finding various mentors (maybe including the family business advisors in this room) to help you overcome those challenges, and then crossing over into a period of transformation that leads to your ultimate success as a business and a family.

For all of you family businesses in this room, you likely have not arrived yet… rather your story continues to grow with your current generation and the next generation coming up. Often the journey is more important than the destination, as they say.

As investment bankers, my Cascadia colleagues and I live in a world of left brain… financial statements, revenue and EBITDA, numbers. Often the value of a business is ascribed largely to these numbers. However, what I have learned and what drives us, rather, is the stories of our family business clients. We are able to exercise our right brain to tell our client’s story to the market in a way that we find the optimal partner that embraces that story, and thereby sees value that others do not see in just the numbers. These stories are really what drives our passion for working with family business. “

These words were inspiring for me. Thank you, Chris, for speaking them and then letting me share them here. The story of the business is so important for families who continue their businesses across generations.


I Made a Startling Observation about Leadership

I recently noted something I want to talk about. A little while ago I attended a “town hall” meeting of a group to which I have been a member and one-time leader for well over a decade. At this meeting of about 200 people, I experienced a phenomenon that may have always been there. Let me explain.

There are members who feel comfortable in criticizing the leadership, the direction and other parts of the organization. They are vocal in their criticism, sometimes sparking controversy and sometimes adding fuel to fires already lit. But, often, something changes within them, that they do not see, when they become titled leaders of the overarching organization of the group.

Suddenly, as if a switch has been activated within them, their criticism transforms into a call for peace and understanding, for tolerance and respect. Those who criticized now call for an end to “negativity”, the negativity they had sparked or fueled, themselves, at one time.

Until recently I had not noticed anything askew about this change. But, for some reason, I now focused my attention on a question. I asked myself: “Why, as leaders, do we shut down criticism, when as followers we initiate or support criticism?” As leaders we tend to seek harmony and while as followers we tend to seek a voice. But so often, neither listens to the other. Each merely wants to shut the other down.

I find it interesting that we cannot look at both criticism and the role of “leadership” as being two sides of the same coin. Neither are inherently “better.” Neither are inherently “right.” I believe voices want to convey something even if their expression, or the words themselves, seem divisive. Leaders are not necessarily parents or moral authorities but can think they are, because they have been given implicit responsibilities or titles.

How do you view criticism? Do you try to shut it down? Do you tolerate it? Do you know how to speak to it, so it feels heard, while still maintaining your center? How do you view leadership? Does it have an implicit authority that overrules a “voice?” How do you build a bridge to listening and collaboration when criticism and harmony live together?


Finding My Way Back to My Core… I’m Ready

There are unexpected and unwelcomed times when I find that I am “off.” What do I mean by “being off?” It is those times that I feel off balanced, feel like I am reactionary rather than thoughtful and somehow, for some unexplained (to me) reason, cannot get back to my center, my core. I find myself mucking around in emotional states and unable to get out of them.

I try to trick myself by putting myself into another emotional state but that doesn’t bring me back to my center. It merely creates more gunk. It is so weird. Eventually, I remember what I must do. I have to say, when I first discovered this, twenty plus years ago, I was stunned by its power. I return to what is at the center of my being, my values.

Values represent the core of who we are. They represent our essence and when we lose sight of, forget or deny our core, we lose our focus. When we are adrift from our center, we take on different characteristics and find ourselves in the world of emotions with their endless judgments, pushes and pulls a circus-like universe of joy, disappointment, criticism, comparison, etc. None of it forwards the core of who we are.

I have been swimming in my emotions for the past few weeks, and only now, by writing this, am I realizing that I have abandoned the guidance my values provide and the compass they are in my life. Okay, I am ready, wisdom, go ahead, rule!

Share with me how your values lead you in your life, how you recognize when you have deviated from them, and how returning to them brings you back to the center of who you are.

Key Strategies to Keep Money Intact Across Generations

When the subject of passing money to the next generation is broached, a question that is often asked is: “What are you going to do with the money?” Although this is a great question, I think there is a farther-reaching question to ask as well: “How is the recipient being prepared to receive their inheritance?” What make this question so compelling? Because it redirects the subject from being about the money to being about preparing the inheritors. And this is so important yet often omitted.

There is a common phenomenon taking place around the world. This phenomenon even has a phrase associated with it. It has to do with the common consequence to inherited money: inherited wealth does not tend to survive beyond 3 or 4 generations. Independent studies have found that 70% of families lose their wealth by the end of the second generation while 90% of families lose their wealth by the end of the third generation. The common phrase that accompanies this horrible unintended consequence is: in the U.S., shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations; in China, rice paddies to rice paddies in 3 generations; in Italy, barn stall to stars to barn stalls in 3 generations. Although this may be a common consequence to wealth, thankfully, today, this common phenomenon is being addressed head on. Families are looking to change the statistical probability to their accumulated wealth.

Let’s look at two strategies families are using to keep their wealth intact as it moves across the generations.

The first strategy is the passing down of the story, the one that describes how challenges ere overcome, how successes were dealt with, and what it meant for the creators of the wealth to build that which they can pass on. This is important for a family to have because each generation is farther removed from the wealth and having the story reminds them of their roots and of the principles it took to accumulate the wealth future generations have become accustomed to having. When succeeding generations understand what it took to build the wealth in an experiential rather than in a didactic fashion, there is a much greater chance for financial stewardship across generations.

The second strategy is to pierce the veil of sheltered silence, that silence protecting the status quo and instead, talk about the purpose of the money and supporting money stewardship in the family. Teaching money skills, like the 5 S.I.D.E.S. (Save, Invest, Donate, Earn and Spend)© of Money, help family members feel more confident with money conversations. Developing family philanthropic initiatives give families a formal method to talk about how their money impacts their community. Holding Money Nights, where one topic about money is discussed without judgment or interruption, develops deeper trust and more engaging conversations around money.

Find tools to use with your family so that the money you accumulate can stay intact across generations.

How do you view money as a family? Let me know your thoughts.

The Importance of Living a Meaningful Life Through Your Values

Values provide us a compass by which we live our lives. Although values are always present, we rarely give them much thought. Much like a compass we use on an unfamiliar hike, values provide us the platform from which we direct our lives. We judge based on the consistency of values utilized by someone.


The Barrett Values Center, in 2010, found, in researching more than two thousand private and public institutions in more than sixty countries, that: “Values-driven organizations are the most successful organizations on the planet. They found that values drive the culture as well as contribute to the employees’ fulfillment. In the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, the noted the same outcome in companies they observed over several decades.


Martin Seligman, a leader in the positive psychology movement, found, through his questionnaire, that signature strengths and values fundamentally contribute to a meaningful life.


I remember, many years ago, thinking that emotions were fleeting and mercurial. They seemed to be missing a key ingredient to living fully.  When I was first introduced to the concept of values I thought they were a wonderful state to aspire to.  Years later, when I identified my core values, I felt a strong resonance and connection to my life. I realized that I could live from my values and when I did, life was clearer and more satisfying, with richer meaning and depth. I realized that they were my compass, the one I had been missing and to which my emotions could not relate.


What are your values? How cognizant are you of them on a daily basis?

Connect with Loved Ones over the Holidays by Trying This

It’s time for the family gatherings again. You know the ones I am referring to: where people cluster in their usual groups, talking about the weather, travel hiccups, politics; where people cluster around the food taking bites in short and informational filled conversations; where someone introduces a topic they know will fuel the flames of emotional reaction. Yes…those dynamics.


This year you can come to a family celebration prepared to add a dollop of meaningful connection. Bring a series of questions with which you can connect more personally with those you engage in conversation.


Start by asking someone to share something significant that has positively impacted them this year. Listen as they share that event or experience with you. Then follow up by asking them either: how this significant impact they experienced benefited them or ask them how this significant impact made them feel.  And again, just listen. When you do, you will find that they will share with you a value of theirs that is important to the core of who they are. This will connect you to them in a very personal way that small talk cannot.


I find that asking questions like these, at the end of the year, to be a wonderful icebreaker and connector with friends and family.


Let me know how the outcome of having this conversation at your family gathering. I would love to hear your comments.


The 2nd Most Important Day in Your Life Is…

Millennials, currently under the microscope of researchers and data collectors, have been found to want to be involved in something that matters. Studies say that 87% of Millennials take into account a company’s commitment to social and environmental causes as they decide where to work.  That’s a big percentage of people looking to plug in to what matters.


Baby boomers, moving into retirement in huge numbers fear that retirement means retreating into irrelevancy. Shell Oil and independently the University of Zurich, found that there is a strong correlation between a rudderless retirement and early death. They each found that there is an 89% chance of death within 10 years for those without a purpose than those who have one.


As Mark Twain brilliantly stated: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born…and the day you find out why.”


Having a purpose provides a foundation for motivation and for developing the meaning in our lives that one day becomes our legacy.


How have you found a purpose in your life benefit you? Let me know by leaving a comment.

As They Removed Their Masks, This Choir Left Us in Tears

I recently returned from the GALA Choruses’ tenth quadrennial music festival held in Denver. With over 130 choruses and 6,500 singers from all across the U.S. and overseas, men and women commanded the various stages at the Denver Performance Art Center, the Convention Center and other downtown locations, with amazing shows.

One chorus, The Beijing Queer Choir made its debut at this festival. For this courageous and ground breaking group, joining a welcoming and supportive family of singers was very important. You see, in China, their lives as gay and lesbian people has to remain in the shadows. Family ostracization, lack of community support, and pressure from the government to marry and have children keep their identities concealed when they are performing on stage.

The members did not want to obtain individual visas for fear that “coming out” would led to harassment and imprisonment.  Although being gay is legal, it is not tolerated. Finally, three weeks before the festival in Denver began, the group was given permission to leave China and travel on a group visa, keeping their individual information protected.

Once visas were secured, plane tickets had to be purchased. As you can imagine, the cost of airline tickets this close to departure, was very high. After many conversations with various airlines, and ten days before the start of the festival, tickets were secured.

When performing in China, this eight-year-old choir performs with masks on so they cannot be individually identified. When they stepped on the Denver stage each had a mask on to cover their faces to keep their identities secret while they performed. As the interpreter talked about the great welcome and support they were experiencing in Denver, the singers, one by one, removed their masks. It was a powerful moment for the audience to watch these performers one after another, remove their masks, and reveal, for an audience, their faces, for the first time. And one singer kept their mask on to highlight the fear of retribution gay and lesbian people in Beijing have in “coming out.”

As you can imagine, the audience erupted in howling applause, tears and standing ovation for this chorus armed with courage, purpose, tenacity and commitment.

It was powerful to witness and experience the Beijing Queer Choir as they made their debut in Denver, unmasked.

Leave me a comment on how you have used courage and strength to identify and become who you are.

The Experience that Connected the Family Beyond the Photos Was Worth So Much

Knowing she was dying, Anne wanted to make sure her children knew who all the people in the pictures were. So, together, they went through five albums and hundreds of loose photos that reminded Anne of her past, her heritage, the things she did, and the people to whom she was connected by blood, but knew little about.


The first time I stopped by, I was shown where the photo albums and most of the loose pictures were located but Anna did not open the albums.  The second time I came over, Anne instructed two of her adult children to show me the pictures on the guest room wall and explain who everyone was in those photos. But her children were unsure of who these people were. Yes, they had listened as their Mom went over the pictures with them, but they quickly forgot the information as these people did not mean anything to them. The photos were merely pictures of the past without anything more to connect with them.


So when I returned to the room where Anne had set up her daily life, I asked her to step back, in her mind, to a time of her life, when she was a little girl, 10 or younger, I could see her expression change as she remembered that time in her life. I then asked her to conjure up someone, perhaps a school teacher, a religious teacher, a sports coach, a friend’s parent, an after school organizational leader, someone who had a tremendous positive impact on her. Without hesitation, she exclaimed that she was thinking of her friend, Lisa. I asked Anne to describe Lisa which Anne did, a smile growing on her face, her eyes sparkling with joy and contentment. I then asked what one stood out as being a powerful trait that Lisa had. Again, without hesitation, Anne gazed into my eyes and boldly stated: “Acceptance. Lisa showed me then, as she always has, the power and possibility of acceptance.” Delving into the importance of acceptance to Anne became a powerful point of Anne’s story. Tears welled up in her eyes as she talked about the power and beauty acceptance has had in her own life.


I, who has known Anne for ten years, felt a shock wave confirming my own experience of how important acceptance has been to Anne. Anne confirmed this by saying acceptance is one of the most important principles and traits to her. She smiled. I looked over at her adult children, who had witnessed this conversation and their eyes expressed a sense of shock as they just learned something about their mother they had never known. It was a profound moment of great bonding.


As her children witnessed a greater sense of their Mother, tears came to their eyes. They said: “We have gotten to know our mother more powerfully in this conversation and in ways we will never forget and in ways that we can carry forward and nurture. We wish we knew the people in the photographs like that. This is where the connection is, not in the scene they are in or the pose they have struck.”

The Family Mission Becomes the Family’s Valuable Compass

By drafting a family mission statement, you are providing your family a compass to guide it on its journey as a cohesive unit through the years, through individual successes and challenges as a cohesive unit This mission becomes the family’s compass to guide it as a unified unit while also building independent and productive individual lives.

Today it is common to find a break in connection within two generations of a family. Siblings grow up, form their own families and meet up again only on social media and occasional family gatherings. Without a common and shared bigger purpose their connections weaken with the growth of their own lives and families.

Having a common purpose that is actively developed and supported by all members creates bonds of trust and a community of companions that stays connected. Their compass becomes their trusted anchor and guide. It remains steadfast through their lives.

It does not take that much to create a family mission statement. Here is a simple checklist to consider as you guide your family or your clients’ families to staying connected for generations.

  • As a family, identify and talk about your individual as well as your collective values. This provides an opportunity to ask yourself both as an individual and as a family: “What matters most to us?”
  • Determine together the mission of your family. This is the opportunity to ask yourselves, as a family:” What do we stand for?”
  • Create your shared mission statement that, as a unified body, you want to develop with your strong foundation of unified values. This becomes your community compass
  • Discuss how each individual can add meaning to the family’s shared purpose and mission with their strengths and values and actions that strengthen the mission and their bond.


Having a family mission sets roots for a family’s heritage and legacy to develop for years and generations to come. It is a rich compass for a family to nurture and perpetuate.  

Leave me a comment with your thoughts on building a family compass by finding its mission. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic