Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Heir Apparent

When my grandfather died, it was clear who was the heir apparent. Heck, even before he passed, Granny was the de jure leader of the pack. She lived on Dengue Street, and we referred to her as the Duchess of Dengue. It was our little family joke, but that respect carried over into all matters fiscal and emotional. When she died, well, there was no obvious leader except for the eldest. But the idea of simply putting someone in charge because they're the eldest, doesn't really work if the eldest is ill-suited to the role. No offense, but that was the case with us.

Rising to the role of matriach/patriach/CEO in a family shouldn't be accidental - by which I mean an accident of birth order. Nor should it be a matter of attrition (you're last in the house so, tag you're it). The role is far too important and there is far too much at stake, for birth order or attrition to be the criterion upon which suitability is determined.

Usually it's families with serious money that require the children learn the family business before they take the reins, but don't families with limited resources need to be just as sure that the right person is being put in charge? In the absence of a formal succession plan, some kind of conversation needs to be had about who will take on what role should the current family CEO be 'called to higher service' as they say.

Sometimes, as happened in my family, someone emerges  who has a vision that seems to work. Sometimes a battle has to be waged. These battles are, unfortunately, not pretty and there is likely to be carnage. Even if there's no carnage, there will be casualties, some will be badly wounded. Much of the distress and turbulence can be avoided, I think, if you just start talking early and often about the future. And please don't let folk sidetrack you with  nonsense and guilt trips (oh, I've been through it all).

Here's what I've learned in hindsight:
  1. Seek the guidance of someone who has a vision, even if the vision is simply: We need to DO something. Sometimes leading is about seeing that something needs to be done and then finding the people who understand your goals and can help you achieve them. By posing the important questions frequently ("What are we going to do when/if xyz happens?"), you can (i) be that voice in your family and (ii) hopefully move people to a place where they agree that something has to be done. You may then enlist their help with number 2 below.......
  2. Establish a team of professionals who can do the needful for your family. In our case, we have attorneys (one in each country); bankers; a stock broker and an accountant. Line these services up in advance of the need for them because if you have done the right things in your planning, you'll need every last one of them and a few more. The last thing you want is to be in need and have nowhere to turn.
I keep saying this but it bears repeating, this is not about having oodles and oodles of money, it's about having enough to meet your needs and being able to manage your affairs in an orderly manner. Minimizing the chaos is the goal. And hey, if doing something makes you oodles of dollars then more power to ya!

I don't know if there are professionals working in this area - of building family wealth, (though there really should be!) - but there are risk management/insurance people who can sell you various products to mitigate risk. If that's all there is out there, then that's what you need to get while you quietly figure out the rest. [see This one's for YOU (Part 2), item 4.]

The most important thing I've learned has to do with communication. Figure out what your family communication style is and use it to everyone's advantage. If you meet folk where they're comfortable, you have half a chance of them meeting you. Be aware though, that feathers may well be ruffled, folk may get angry and offended at your taking the lead (I could write a book on this), relationships may be tested, in spite of your best efforts to limit distress. But if you go in to the battle knowing where the traps are, you might be able to avoid a few of them. I had no road map so I fell into every single one. I'm plenty bruised, but apparently not broken. Unbreakable, that's me.

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