Aspen current thinking column


Spring 2013

April 2020 Current Thinking Column

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

We All Have a Story:
A Pathway to Purpose and Resiliency During COVID19

Donnel Nunes, PhD
Aspen Family Business Group

A Hero Story from My Family

When I was a young boy, my father told me a very impactful story about my great grandfather, Joseph Nunes. The story my father shared took place during the early 1940s, another moment in history where so many faced particular uncertainty, fear, and daily loss of life. During this time, WWII was raging. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the incarceration of nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from across the country. More than three quarters of those incarcerated were second generation, American-born citizens of the United States.

During the time of WWII, my great grandfather was a farmer in Sunnyvale, California. In the months that followed FDR’s order, he watched as many of his Japanese American neighbors were forced into selling their farms after being ordered into camps. While others capitalized on the opportunity to purchase farmlands at pennies on the dollar, he stood by his values which included looking for ways that he could help. Along with a few other farmers in his community, he decided on another path. As the story goes, when one of his Japanese American neighbors came to his door and asked if he would buy his farm, my great grandfather said, “I will not buy your farm, but I will farm it for you until you return.” My grandfather made an agreement to use the proceeds from farming their property to maintain it while they were gone. When his neighbors returned from the internment camp, they found their farm in good health and quickly settled back into their lives. In a time where he could have expanded his personal wealth, my great grandfather chose to prioritize caring for others.

To this day, my eyes often water and I feel a deep sense of pride when I share this story with others. While this wasn’t the only story I’ve heard about my ancestors over the years, this particular one grabbed me by the heart and has remained a proverbial “light in the window” at different times in my life. It has been particularly present in my thoughts during this current crisis at times where I have found myself weary. It has also prompted me to ask myself: “What is the story I want to be told about me when future generations talk about what I did in these times?”

A Call to Action in Crisis

As we find ourselves, our families, our global community in the grip of the COVID19 pandemic, I believe we must stay focused on a view of leadership that was put forth by scholar Bernard Bass. He said that leadership was defined by our capacity to influence positive change. From this vantage, anyone can step up to lead at any moment. And in this moment, creativity, self-development, and holding fast to our very best selves are not only essential for our own health and the health of others, they are consequential to the manner and speed with which we will emerge. By engaging in hope instead of fear we commit to a search for solutions and personal responsibility to both ourselves and to one another.

If you find yourself searching for comfort and a way to anchor yourself while we traverse this or other difficult times, I propose that the path to solace is intricately tied to being intentional about your legacy and seeking out your family narratives so that you can connect to, or rediscover, the stories of strength and resilience that have carried your family for generations.

The Perspective Offered by Legacy and the Power of Family History

When faced with a crisis, being intentional about legacy can be the light that guides you forward. Not only does this facilitate higher order thinking, but it also reveals the places in your life where you still have influence and control. In times of crisis, military commanders are indoctrinated to think about their decisions in the context of history and legacy. One of the reasons for this training is because it forces them to think about how their actions impact others which, in turn, connects them to something bigger than themselves.

While to some, the concept of pursuing legacy may seem lofty, frivolous, or unattainable, I believe it can be pragmatic, essential, and within the grasp of all of us. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that family legacy can have a lasting impact on the resiliency of future generations.

In the late 1990s, positive psychology scholars Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush of Emory University made an important discovery about familial factors that influence resiliency. They found that children who knew a lot about their ancestral history, tended to be more resilient than those who did not. To explore this further, they developed a questionnaire called the “Do You Know?” scale which was composed of 20 questions about family history. When they administered this, along with other psychological measures, to several dozen families in 2001 they found a strong correlation between knowledge of family history and overall resiliency in children. Specifically, the children who knew more had higher self-esteem, a stronger sense that they could positively influence the factors that determine success or failure, and a generalized belief that their families were successful.

In the months following 9/11, Duke and Fivush reach back out to the families who had participated in their earlier study. Upon reevaluating these families, once again, they found the ones who knew more about their families, were more adaptive and capable of dealing with the situational stress than their counterparts. Duke and Fivush referred to these family members as having a strong “intergenerational self” which helped them to, like the mentioned military officers, to feel as if they were part of something bigger than themselves.

The key to knowing family history lies in uncovering and sharing your family narrative. In their research, Duke and Fivush found that every family has a narrative. The only difference between the families in their study, was the form of their narratives. Specifically, their stories tended to follow one of three themes. The first is the ascending narrative in which the family tells a tale of starting with nothing, working hard, and findings success. The second, the descending narrative, speaks of having it all only to lose it all. The third, and most beneficial, is the oscillating narrative. In this account, families present a view of their family history that includes both highs and lows. The power of the oscillating narrative is that it helps family members to understand that their ancestors had the strength and resiliency to overcome adversity and hardship.

Also common to family narratives is the emergence of a hero figure. This is the tale of someone like my great grandfather. The presence of such a figure helps members to believe that they are special and capable of being heroic. In a world so transfixed on external cues for personal validation, the discovery of a family hero can be transformative. While there is value in having heroes from outside of your family, there is something entirely different when you know that their same blood pumps through your veins. Additionally, these narratives also have the power to surface core values and traditions.

Taking Action on Legacy and Your Family Narrative

First, begin to work on your family narrative. A good starting point is answering the questions from the “Do You Know?” scale (see below). After you have completed the scale make a plan to find out what you don’t know and invite others, including younger family members to join you on your quest. Come up with other questions. Share the stories that you uncover with family and ask people outside your family to tell you theirs. If you find yourself short on hope these days, I assure you, the communal sharing of these stories will lead you to fertile soil where it will grow anew.

Second, connect to a legacy that represents what you really stand for by asking yourself: “What is the story that I want to be told about me to future generations when they speak of who I was during these times?” I encourage you to not only think about this on a grand scale, but to also ask this question throughout your day when you are interacting with others. This question has the power to help you stay connected to your values and to help you to intentionally weave the threads of your legacy into the ancestral tapestry of your family.

For those who are truly ambitious, you can take a third step and begin to explore the oscillating narratives of your community, your country, and our world.

On a recent night, my 8-year-old son said to me he “had a thought” that made his stomach hurt. When I asked him to share more, he told me he was thinking about what it would be like when he died and, more importantly, if I died before him. Instead of telling him, “don’t worry, it will be alright” I chose a different path. I told him that he came from a family that had lived through many challenges and had always found a way to both care for others and persevere. I explained that when he saw his mother and me working hard, looking out for our friends and neighbors, and talking about what we needed to do, we were discussing what we’ve learned from other hard times and figuring out the way for us to best manage and thrive in this time. Instead of just offering passing sympathy, I chose to console my son with a family narrative of empowerment. My hope in doing this was that I would implant a source of strength for him to draw upon, not just that night, but for all the other nights that lay ahead of him and for the times when he must find consolation from inside himself. When the time is right, I will also tell him the story of his great-great grandfather.

The “Do You Know” Scale

In order to get started with learning more about your family narrative, the following 10 questions are drawn from the “Do you know?” scale developed by the pioneers in this research, Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush of Emory University (For the complete scale, visit:

  1. Do you know how your parents met?
  2. Do you know where your mother grew up?
  3. Do you know where your father grew up?
  4. Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?
  5. Do you know where some of your grandparents met?
  6. Do you know what went on when you were being born?
  7. Do you know the source of your name?
  8. Do you know which person in your family you look most like?
  9. Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?
  10. Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she didn’t smile enough?



March 2020 Current Thinking Column

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Gift of Time
Looking for the positive for your family business in the midst of a pandemic

Shelley Taylor
Aspen Family Business Group

Across the country non-essential businesses, or non-lifesaving businesses, have been told to close their physical operations. While you are undoubtedly focused on the current and future economic implications for your business, and concerned for your team members, depending on your industry it is possible you may also have a bit more time in your schedule. What a gift that can be. Up until two weeks ago, the answer to the question, “How are you?” was almost always, “Busy.”

In our family, we use “the gift of time” to refer to special experiences we can share together. Life is usually so busy, and we feel we have enough “stuff,” so my husband and I like to share a nice meal or a trip together as a welcomed gift of time. Things have changed a lot in the last couple weeks, and for many of us, so has our relationship with time.

Although we are now living in a very stressed and uncertain climate, most of us have been given the gift of time. Those of us who are working from home are pretty much not leaving the house. We are not rushing out the door in the morning. We are not traveling. We are spending time in the kitchen preparing meals. We are taking walks and enjoying the first signs of spring. We are reaching out to each other more.

This time can also be used to have important conversations or engage in projects with our family members that we can’t seem to find time for in our normally busy lives. And those conversations and projects can offer a welcome distraction during this very stressful time. Even if you don’t you have the bandwidth right now to tackle any new projects – and that is understandable – at least take a moment to realize that life has indeed slowed down. Below are some suggestions for conversations and projects big and small, appropriate for family business members across the generations.

Maybe you have time for that (virtual) family meeting you have been wanting to schedule. It is always important to keep communication open and information flowing, possibly even more so during this stressful time. Family members who are not involved in the day to day operations may be wondering how the business is doing, but do not want to impose. Consider sending around the beginning of an agenda, and encourage others to add items they would like to discuss. Agenda items will certainly vary by family and what the business is dealing with right now. The meeting content should be kept simple or can be more robust depending on your family’s and business’s situations and needs right now.

Some agenda ideas:

  • Re-connect and see how everyone is doing
  • Update on the business and measures you’re taking
  • Update on employees, including communications you’ve sent out
  • Contingency plans and “what-if” scenarios for the business relating to
    • finances
    • key staff positions

In the normal course of events it is a good idea to revisit your estate planning documents approximately every 3 years. Many of us find it uncomfortable to talk about our own death or the passing of our loved ones. This can be a hard topic to address even in the best of times and admittedly even more so during this severe health crisis. Changes in your family (births, marriages, divorces, deaths) or changes in your personal or business financial situation might necessitate a fresh look at your plans. Additionally, periodic tax law changes can affect the strategies you have in place. Maybe your schedule has a little flexibility now so you can devote time to this important project, even though it might be challenging.

Similarly, it is important to share your end-of-life plans with your family members. This includes plans beyond those for your business and other assets. Health care proxies, advanced directives, and living wills spell out your wishes for treatment in the case of severe illness as well as end-of-life care. Now could be an ideal time to gather (virtually, for those not in the same household) to ensure a common understanding and provide an opportunity for questions and clarification if necessary. Although it is unpleasant and scary to contemplate and discuss “what-if” scenarios, it is much harder for everyone to share and process information when someone is critically ill.

These unprecedented times provide a great learning opportunity for rising generation family members in the business. This can be a time for leaders to include other family employees in meetings (where appropriate) or otherwise let them in on their thinking as they navigate uncharted waters. Business leaders are making decisions daily and sometimes hourly in response to the pandemic. This is an unprecedented opportunity for those who are less experienced to witness real-time decision making and have a window into how to balance competing priorities.

Do you have high school or college-aged children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren? What kind of education and learning opportunities can you create for next generation family members beyond traditional internships? Sitting down together (virtually) to come up with ideas could be a welcome distraction for everyone. Maybe you have friends or business colleagues in related industries who would be willing to hop on a group video call to talk about their businesses. Or maybe you and colleagues in other family businesses can gather to share ideas about learning opportunities for the next generation. Some of the best learning in family business comes from other family businesses.

School-aged children are at home, so parents of young children have their time consumed with home schooling and entertaining those children. Are there family histories or stories to explore or share? You can talk about how the business was founded, what it was like in the early years – whether that was 10, 30 or 50 years ago, or more. What was going on in the world then? How has the business changed over the years? In addition to business stories, you can share family and personal stories from your childhood or young adult years. Take advantage of FaceTime or another video platform to reach out to other relatives so they can share stories. It will be a welcome diversion for them too.

How about a family history project that your children organize? You can help them develop questions they can use to interview you and other relatives. Are there photos, newspaper clippings or artifacts they want to include? What other items might be significant? After conducting the interviews, they can compile the information and get creative with technology to portray the stories along with the photos and other relevant finds. Maybe they could incorporate a family or business timeline. The complexity of the finished product will depend on the age of the children. Regardless of the sophistication, you will have a marvelous keepsake for the family.

Businesses are struggling with lost revenue, a new work landscape, stressed employees and a changing world economy. Our businesses and our families will increasingly need to find ways to adjust to our new reality as we settle in for this extended ride. If you have the time, reach out to your family and tackle some of the suggested projects. Hopefully you can make progress on some of these initiatives and strengthen bonds during this unprecedented time.



January 2020 Current Thinking Column

Friday, January 17, 2020

Safety In Families

Leslie Dashew
Aspen Family Business Group


I recently had meetings with several families where it became very clear that members of the family did not feel psychologically (or even physically) safe. As I reflected on these situations, I realized that the concept of “safety” is not one that we have discussed, but is essential to comfort and collaboration in families, especially business-owning families. In one family, there was fear that because of differences in lifestyle and gender identity, that the family’s support of organizations that opposed his way of being would lead to more discrimination and even physical harm. The response was to defend by harassing those family members leading to them feeling unsafe as well. There was a sense throughout the family of disrespect, misunderstanding and fear. Distrust of each other’s’ actions, beliefs and self-control lead to a lack of safety.

In another family, the lack of safety was more emotional. Earlier life experience of feeling neglected, experience of family conflict, judgement and psychological abuse left younger family members feeling unsafe psychologically. It was hard for them to be open, close to family members and even to “show up” because of fear.

The feeling of “safety” in relationships means one can relax, be one’s true, authentic self and feel, understood, valued and connected in a meaningful way. When the relationship is safe, we feel free to take risks with being open, assertively communicate and to deepen the relationship. We trust that when differences arise (as they do in all relationships), they can be worked through in a constructive manner. Differences in perspective are valued and explored. There is a sense that the relationship is one of caring, compassion and mutual support.

Safety is essential for families to have close relationships and to sustain them through the stages of life where differentiation requires looking at, we as individuals, where exploration make take members on different paths and where new partners may change the nature of relationships. Safety is even more important in families with shared assets or businesses that require many decisions to be made and overlapping roles to be sorted out. Without a base of safety and trust, these additional layers of complexity can pull a family apart.

Types of Safety

While we may be focused on the emotional sense of safety, it is important to distinguish the types of safety and how safety is differentiated in my thinking from trust. For the purposes of this discussion, I look at trust as the “verb” that leads to the outcome of “safety.” If I don’t extend trust for one reason or another, I am unlikely to feel safe. Similarly, if I feel unsafe, I am unlikely to trust. As I have discussed elsewhere, (cite past blog on trust) trust is not unidimensional: e.g. I may trust you to take care of my money, but not trust you to take care of my child.

There are at least 4 types of safety:

  1. Physical: free from fear of physical harm
  2. Emotional: ability to be ourselves comfortably (vs. fear of potential criticism, blaming, shaming, or rejection)
  3. Social: assurance that there is respect, understanding, caring, compassion and direct, authentic communication
  4. Moral: an environment that are free from cruelty, violence, dishonesty, injustice, hypocrisy, discrimination and/or ignorance.

Obviously, these are often overlapping and when found together contribute to great comfort. When all are absent, it is likely that there is great anxiety, avoidance and a range of psychological mechanisms to try to protect oneself. Developing healthy interpersonal boundaries is an important, constructive tool to maintaining our own safety and allowing us to stay in connection while preserving our integrity and well-being in a range of situations.

Fostering Safety in Families

For many years, when helping people to understand the type of communication that is demonstrated in good leadership, I conduct an exercise called a “trust walk.” In this exercise, we go for a walk in pairs: one partner is the blindfolded-follower, while the other is the sighted- leader. The blindfolded partner depends on his or her leader to feel safe: physically and emotionally. What each follower needs in order to feel safe differs from person to person. Some people need a continual stream of words describing the situation, what is coming up, what others are doing, etc. Others, like the quiet and the ability to listen for the sounds of footsteps of other pairs. Still others like a gentle guidance of the leader’s hand signaling how to move safely in the right direction. The ability of the leader to understand what his partner needs to feel safe demonstrates the compassion, commitment and caring that are essential to trust and the feeling of safety.

There are a range of behaviors and attitudes that contribute to the sense of safety in families.

They include:

  1. Demonstrate understanding: one of the greatest sources of safety is to demonstrate that you understand how another feels and his/her perspective. This shows that you care about how they feel and are not simply projecting your own needs and ideas. When someone strives to understand us, that gives us the hope that they will also strive to meet our needs. The best way to demonstrate that you understand is, of course, to paraphrase what it is that you understand. Showing your respect for each other is a great source of safety.
  2. Understand and appreciate differences: it is easy to understand points of view that are close to ours! What is more difficult is to understand and appreciate differences. In families that require everyone to think, feel and act the same in order to be safe, it is difficult to differentiate, and to value your own unique qualities. When we can demonstrate that our family is stronger as we consider a range of points of view and honor our differences, we foster safety. This does not necessarily mean that we embrace the difference as right for ourselves. I often use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator as a tool to help families understand the differences we have in our individual sources of energy, how we gather information, how we come to decisions and how we like to organize our lives. Having diversity in these 4 dimensions creates a stronger team to cope with whatever challenges or decisions come our way.
  3. Tell the truth and keep agreements: We feel safest when we know that we can count on family members to tell the truth and to keep agreements. This mutual accountability and openness assure that there is a level of predictability and honoring of our relationships. These trust-building actions yield safety.
  4. Address distrust and safety issues: A practice which helps maintain safety is to quickly address issues that lead us to question the trustworthiness of a relationship. Misunderstandings, poor choices or emotional reactions in the family can undermine our trust and sense of safety. This is particularly true when there is a history of feeling unsafe in the family. Thus, it is essential to constructively raise the issue and seek to clarify and understand the other’s behavior or attitude. This practice requires courage on our part as well as commitment to the overall well-being of the family. It also leads to greater intimacy and well-being in the family.
  5. Demonstrate vulnerability and openness: There is nothing that contributes to trust more than openness. When we are being ourselves and “visible,” others are more likely to take the risk to be open as well. Our vulnerability adds to the sense of safety much more than our guardedness or defensiveness. Further, for us to be seen and known, we must make ourselves visible and know-able.

In Conclusion

Often in my work, I am creating a safe “container” for open and respectful dialogue. Once the members of the family see that they are being respected and understood, their guardedness reduces, and they can connect more comfortably to one another. In the first situation I mentioned, the family was able to directly discuss their assumptions about each other and correct their misunderstandings. They genuinely cared for one another and wanted everyone to feel respected and safe. They had unnecessary fears about each other and once it was safe to share these unfounded assumptions, they could clear the air and commit to supporting each other. They now give each other the benefit of the doubt and work to clear up potential sources of distrust more rapidly. They are safer with each other.

The second situation will take longer. While they are all showing up and participating (which is an indication of some safety), they are still very sensitive to feeling judged, dismissed and/or disrespected. The process of rebuilding safety is both an internal process to each person as well as an interpersonal process within the family. We each have our own pace and work to do as well as the work of the family. Patience and persistence are required to rebuild trust and safety.

And the process is very worthwhile. To have the blessings of a family that is mutually supportive, available to us for celebrations, collective stewardship and fun is a result that is worth the work.



December 2019 Current Thinking Column

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Buy Sell Often Misplaced Document

Bill Roberts
Aspen Family Business Group

Misplaced is often a substitute in business owner lexicon for “I have not reviewed my buy sell since it was written”. In one case a motorcycle dealer we interviewed had lost two of his fellow shareholders in one afternoon in a tragic bicycling accident and could not find his buy sell agreement nor could his attorney. Relying on memory when dealing with grieving spouses, girlfriends and children is not a recommended business practice.

Where is your buy sell, is it buried in your operating agreement for your LLC, or is it in a file in a drawer not opened in years. For those of you who are up to date with your agreement, the above scenarios would seem unthinkable. However, years of experience in asking business owners “ How long has it been since you reviewed your buy sell agreement with your partners?” only to be met with a vacant look has taught me this is too often a “misplaced document”.

What is a buy sell agreement and when is it used? In many cases it is the second most important document for a business owner second only to wills and trusts. Why you may ask? Because if designed correctly, it defines triggering events such as death, incapacitation, disagreement or divorce, what is going to happen to stock or interest in an entity, how much will be paid for the interest being transferred, the conditions of the payout, when it will occur and the funding vehicles that are in place. All very important pieces of information to a grieving widow or for the widow’s attorney.

Now, knowing what a buy sell does, doesn’t it make sense to review this document at least annually to answer three questions: does this document still meet current objectives and is the value assigned to the interest it represents a fair representation of its true value? The third question is if one of the triggering events occurred today, are the funding vehicles in place adequate to avoid the payout from disrupting the growth of the business?

Buy sells are often almost an after thought during the formation of a new business. Too often they are standard documents without much thought or customization. The following story displays the importance of thinking through the situations being addressed and working with an attorney and planning advisors to customize the buy sell document.

A client who owned a very successful plastics pipe manufacturing operation which was owned 70% by the founder, and 10% each by two sons and a non-family key employee. One son and the non-family key employee were single and the older son was married to an attorney. The company was valued at 15 million based on years of steady seven figure earnings.

The majority owner father wanted to establish a buy sell agreement triggered by the younger single son joining the business. During the lengthy process of creating their agreement, the father insisted that there be a clause in the contract requiring all minority owners to have a pre or post-nuptial agreement that stated that the spouse was giving up all rights to the stock in the company. His thinking was driven by a worry about the life style of his younger son and the choices he was making, and his desire to protect the company from predatory demands. If no pre or post nuptial agreement was on file with the company, that party would be forced to sell their stock back to the company at a discount.

The buy sell was eventually signed by all parties. The married son and his spouse engaged in a process with her attorney to assure their agreement would withstand any legal challenges. There was some back and forth negotiations, but she understood that her father-in-law was protecting the business he had created, and the post-nuptial was executed and put on file.

Two years later I received a call from the father requesting a breakfast meeting the next day. At breakfast he revealed that son number two had announced his engagement and intention to marry. Dad, acting on a hunch, hired a private investigator who discovered that she was employed at a local bar as a stripper. He expressed his suspicions that she might not be marrying just for love. He asked if the pre-nuptial requirement was still a part of the buy sell agreement. I assured him it was and showed him the wording.

This was a Thursday morning, and he had a meeting scheduled with his son and his fiancée later that day. He intended to inform them of the pre-nuptial requirement which he intended to enforce and that he wanted a signed pre-nuptial by the close of business the next Monday. If not he would purchase the stock back from his son at a heavily discounted value. Dad eventually relaxed the time frame, but within a couple of weeks there was a signed pre-nuptial agreement that would stand up to any legal challenge.

The father’s suspicions proved to be true as it was discovered the new wife was bringing $38,000 of credit card debt into the marriage, not disclosed prior, and continued to be a “ wild child spendthrift”. Things went from bad to worst, and after two very difficult years they divorced. The pre-nuptial was questioned but not challenged in the divorce proceedings.

The son had turned to serious drug use during the marriage. The family essentially rescued him from his dark place and brought him home. Attempts at rehabilitation from his depression were met with spotty results and tragically a year later he took his own life further devastating his mother and father.

This is a sad story on so many levels, the premature loss of a family member was heart breaking, but the fact that the father insisted that the buy sell be customized with pre and post nuptial requirements likely saved him and the company from difficult and expensive litigation during the divorce settlement which would have likely been a further distraction. Ultimately it may have saved the company.

Buy sell agreements can be powerful planning instruments to implement a family’s wishes regarding the preservation of their business and seeing their family’s shared vision realized. The question all business owners should ask themselves: “Is my buy sell agreement a ‘misplaced document’”?



October 2019 Current Thinking Column

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Leaving Your Comfort Zone: Adding Independent Directors to your Board

by Burak Kocer, PhD

International Associate, Aspen Family Business Group

The Board of Directors is where the will of owners turns into action. It is also one of the most challenging steps to take for a business owner as they may be advised to do things differently. To be more specific, in almost all family business governance assignments that I have been involved globally, the top of actionable items list has been to add independent directors to the board. Yet only a small portion of business owners easily adopt this idea to change the board composition.

In general terms, an independent director is someone who has no other roles, which might potentially pose a conflict of interest with their duties towards your company. In my experience, inviting independent directors to join the board has always been the number one subject that stands clearly outside the comfort zone of the owner.

Why to take this difficult step

We often tell our clients that adding independent directors to the board is the best way to bring objectivity to their business. In the words of our senior partner Joe Paul, “if we could recommend one action to all our clients regardless of the presented problem, it would be for them to engage three strong independent directors. They would bring the wisdom and knowledge required to manage the necessary changes in the family and/or business.” In fact, our theoretical knowledge and practical expertise confirm that sharing the decision-making authority with qualified people around the table is in the best interest of the owner. Then what is it that keeps the owner from developing a strong independent board? How can a business owner prepare to leave his/her comfort zone?

A business owner who is reluctant to change the board composition:

  • is not convinced that it is in their best interest; or
  • even if they are convinced to the benefit, they suspect that they cannot manage the process successfully; or
  • even if they have no issue with a) and b) above, the outcome is not important to them, i.e., they are not motivated by the benefit offered.

Is it in Your Best Interest?

You may start thinking about what exactly the ultimate duty of a board of directors is. The board exists to increase shareholder value, in other words, to make your company worth more. This is where you think about the future of your business and this strategic thinking allows you to move your focus from daily operations to the roadmap that will lead your business to its full potential.

Independent directors will help you define what you want your business to become in the future and the path that will take you there from where you are today. The best independent directors bring the ability to think about your business as an enterprise in the business environment in which you operate, rather than diving into the day-to-day operations. They can bring a context of how other businesses develop and what are best practices.

A strong board will also contribute to your succession plan by creating a platform for your successors to learn how to lead a business. It constitutes an invaluable resource as part of a transition plan for the development of the next generation, which usually takes a minimum of 10 years until you would comfortably delegate and finally handover the authority to your heir. Many times, independent directors can provide advice and coaching to potential successors and help to make the difficult decision of what leadership is needed by the company and who has the potential to provide that type of leadership.

Can You Plan an Effective Selection and Induction?

As the first step, think about the profile of people that would complement your skills. You can develop a Board Skills Matrix and list the qualities, qualifications, and talents which are needed to implement your strategic roadmap. People that you know and trust within your business community are a great resource. You can first look there to identify ideal candidates. You can also work with an executive search firm to propose people who will add value to your business.

While working on identifying candidates, it is also wise to consider what information they need to know about your business to be able to add real value in your board process. The position of your business as of today, competition, and future trends in the market are key information to help them understand your company and where you are heading. Creating a Board Prospectus is a useful tool to collect the information, which you can share with prospective board members or those who may share candidates with you.

Is it Important for You?

A strong board of directors can help guide the direction your business should go and what actions should be taken to get there. This is indispensable regardless if you would like to sell your business or transfer it to the next generation. If the mechanism that knows how to keep your business profitable is “you” instead of a board of directors, then you are also limiting the value proposition of your business -- anyone who is interested in buying your business, should actually buy “you” and not the business. However, your board of directors will help your business incorporate your valuable competitive knowledge, which is the key to sustainability of the distinguishing performance that you have achieved.


In summary, many family business owners hesitate to build a board of directors with independent members because of their fear of outside control or advice that conflicts with their way of operating. We have found, however, that the voices of independent directors supplement those close to the business and provide an objectivity that typically no one in the family or in the business can provide. In addition, the presence of a board increases the value of the business both of current owners and for potential buyers should that be the ultimate goal.

For more information on developing your board please click here to see a previous posting by Leslie Dashew called “Steps to Setting up a Fiduciary Board”.



August 2019 Current Thinking Column

Sunday, August 11, 2019


by Joe Paul
Aspen Family Business Group

When I shared my draft on Values with the Aspen Family Business Group, I discovered there is genuine interest in the topic and appreciated my colleague’s suggestions and input. I have integrated some of them into this article and hope that you too find them useful as a starting point for discussion in your own families and businesses.

I was reminded by AFBG Partner Leslie Dashew, that Ann Dapice, creator of the “Values Unfolding Instrument” defines a value as “that which is important to us.”

Leaders of family businesses often presume that their personal values for both the business and the family have been clearly spelled out for all of the other stakeholders to see. Unfortunately, that assumption is often incorrect, because family businesses differ widely from other families in the frequency and consequences of the decisions they make.

From an anthropological perspective, values have evolved in societies to manage the behavior of individuals in their own group, as well as among groups. Values manage the tension between self-interest and the collective interests of the group. Sometimes they give the individual or the group a competitive advantage.

Values vary from culture to culture, from group to group within a culture, and from individual to individual within the group. Variables such as history, geography, a leader’s clarity of purpose, mobility, intelligence, and the degree of trust across psychological and group boundaries can all have an influence on an individual’s and group’s values.

As our Turkish colleague and AFBG Associate, Burak Kocer, offered, “Values are intangible and invisible like an iceberg, but their artifacts are tangible and visible. We can observe the values wide spread in an organization with those artifacts like in the names of meeting rooms, paintings on the walls, or furniture. We can observe how owners’ values influence a workspace.”

Values guide one’s behavior, shaping one’s preference, and can develop and change through our lives. For example, one source of values is called “Deprivation values”. If one grows up without financial security, it can influence what values drive us forward. And once it is no longer an issue some other value may replace it becoming more important, like spending time with loved ones or philanthropy.

It can also sometimes lead to destructive entitlement. Values can be harmful leading one to doing things they might not otherwise have done or what we call thinking errors.

Values can be divided into categories.

  • Personal standards of behavior, or principles by which a person makes choices in life is one category. For instance, the statement, “Trust is more important than love in family relationships,” is an example of this type.
  • The monetary worth of something is another kind of value.

It is interesting to consider the interplay between sources of values, such as internal, family, peers, media, social institutions, community, etc., and their influence in the development of our values.

Some of these ideas have “come home to roost” for me. I have enjoyed an avocation as a whitewater rafting guide for many years. It has taken me to some remote places on earth and it is something I have been able to share with my family and children. A few years back we had a very adventurous trip in South America where I became ill the last day and which also happened to coincide with my eldest son’s birthday. It was with some trepidation I decided it was time to pass on the mantle and gave my son my river knife in acknowledgement that it was now his turn to start leading our family trips. Since then he and my youngest son and their wives have jointly taken on the responsibility of organizing and leading our annual river trips. It was partly necessitated by my Parkinson’s diagnosis but also the recognition that in spite of the bittersweet feelings for me of letting go, it was time for them to move into positions of leaders.

This year prior to our trip the kids (all in their thirties) created a river support covenant that recognized mine, my wife, and, their needs, to feel safe and comfortable on the river. At first, I thought it was a clash of our values because I was looking for personal freedom and they wanted to feel that I was safe. Upon reflection I realized their document came from a place of deep love and respect with a true desire to allow me the opportunity to enjoy time with them without a lot of unnecessary tension.

The covenant is almost two pages long, but I’d like to share an excerpt that feels like a good example of what I’ve talked about earlier. If anyone is interested in reading more of it, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Dad/Joe River Support Covenant June 2019

  • We all want the same thing—to enjoy the river together safely, with Dad/Joe as full participant within his abilities—so meeting each other where we’re at to communicate respectfully about any concerns that arise is key
  • Emotion is involved for everyone, both in terms of fear and anxiety and in terms of frustration and annoyance, but no one wants to be controlling or angry. When suggestions are made we can always talk about the suggestion versus the tone of voice as separate issues that we can improve to facilitate communication
  • In the words of Dad/Joe, which Silas and Chris remember from their childhood, “if we are yelling at each other on the river, it is not from anger but is our attempt to communicate (urgency or volume)”
  • Dad feels like he’s a burden on everyone and that it would be easier for him to withdraw
  • We should respond to the emotion he has about this rather than the behavior: “we know you want us to not feel like you’re a burden, so remember this conversation and do these things to not be a burden”
  • We can say: “You want to give your family the gift of feeling safe and good about you. One way to take care of your family is to not put yourself in a situation that causes us anxiety.”
  • Dad’s interior goal is to take care of his family. Our goal is to help Dad keep his circle big.
  • Respond to our emotion too: worry/anxiety/concern comes from a place of love and wanting Dad to be involved yet safe
  • Putting himself at risk is felt by everyone
  • Things that don’t feel like risk to Dad still feel like risk to others around him
  • Dad likes adventure and therefore doesn’t see it as a “risk”
  • Bottom line: Dad/Joe is not a burden. It is our pleasure to help keep these experiences possible for everyone to do together by putting some extra thought and work into our support of Dad/Joe.

Our family’s new mantra is “Thoughtful Risk”.

I’ve included some thoughts and exercises you can share with your family.

  • There is sometimes a gap between one’s stated values and the values that are expressed in actual behavior. Consider the definition of integrity is to live according to one’s values.
  • One’s values are often only marginally conscious. The articulation of one or another’s personal values along with the consideration of their priorities often clarifies one’s thinking.
  • An individual’s most important values may vary across separate roles and sets of responsibilities associated with those roles. For instance, one may actually have differing value priorities (perhaps even a different list of values) as a manager, owner and family member.
  • The expression of one’s values can range from active, to reactive, to responsive, to proactive, to interactive, to inspirational, depending on the psychological state.
  • Sometimes the expression of one’s values is done aggressively and designed to capture “mind space” in another person.
  • The stability of one’s values across contexts, and across roles, may be a measure of the ethical development of the individual.
  • The stability and degree of convergence of values across individuals in a group effects the functioning of the group.
  • Understanding the primary values of others in one’s group facilitates communication. For instance, when two or more people share ownership, management responsibilities and kinship it is important to have a good understanding of each other’s values.

Here is an exercise you can use to begin a family discussion. You can use the 'List of Values' chart in several ways to help understand each other’s values, and to clarify the values of the group.

For instance, you can have sub groups of the family meet. During a family retreat you can break into two groups, one for the successor generation and another group for their elders. It is important for the two groups to meet separately. Each of the groups could be directed to look at the list of values and highlight the top 5 values they want the business to be known for in the community. Once everyone has picked their preferred 5 traits they could share their individual lists. Then they could negotiate with each other to select the final 5 values. Both of the groups could then share their negotiated lists and negotiate the final 5 values.

Another use of the list of values would be for the family business leader to pick values you would want to be known for as the leader of the family business. Then pick 5 values you would like to be known for as a parent. You could then look at the results to see any differences in the 2 lists that could cause you problems in either of those roles.

Consider a third exercise, that might be appropriate to a specific issue you and your family are facing. Much as our family did with our river trip covenant, go through the list of varying values of each person and any conflict or stress that is surrounding this issue might be lessened or eliminated once each person understands why people are doing what they do.

CHART: List of Values
View/Download the aforementioned chart with the list of values




June 2019 Current Thinking Column

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Communication within Family Businesses

by Jonathan Magidovitch
Aspen Family Business Group

In his first post since becoming an associate of the Aspen Family Business Group, Jonathan Magidovitch writes about improving our communication skills, especially the listening part. For more on Jonathan check out his biography.

Communication Rule One: Be like my friend.

She does something with her communication that no one else I know does. And, she’s pretty insistent that I do likewise when we’re talking. For her, speaking, listening and thinking are three completely distinct activities. It’s noticeable but not too awkward. Among the results is that when she is listening to you, she is really listening. It’s something that you can feel. I appreciate it.

Most of us, even while the other person is speaking, we are already working on our next point. And, more or less consciously, when we hear someone, we anticipate possible next words they might say and then judge their words against our expectations. We ask ourselves tactical questions, “Are we going to respond? How? Are we going to deal with the cognitive or the emotional, with the brain or with the heart? If one, then do we dismiss the other? etc.” This happens so fast, so automatically that we believe we really had only one way to respond to what we heard; we respond on autopilot.

If there’s any old stuff that keeps going around the family meeting table, autopiloting communication will only fan it along. Like my friend, then, Rule One, make a line separating thinking….speaking...&....listening.

Communication Rule Two: Hear & Respond to everything being said.

But first, this metaphor which is a true story. In 2010, the Musical Instrument Museum opened in Phoenix, AZ. Our best visits there are when our composer son joins us. He KNOWS music and he is passionate about it. On our first visit to the MIM, he was still an adolescent male who enjoyed the gross stuff of life more than his middle-aged dad did. This brings us to Tuvan Throat Singing. It sounds gross, until you’re brought to that well often enough, and then the beauty of it shows up.

What happens in throat singing is that the performer creates a fundamental tone, and using his mouth and throat, shapes a specific harmonic of it - My son gave me that language. Key point is that we’re hearing two notes come out of one throat.

And, this brings us to any meeting of any family business. A person opens their mouth and sound comes out. Habitually, we receive it as one thing. But, (at least) two things come out. There’s the verbal. And, there’s the emotional. We want to work with both.

But, instead of hearing everything that’s being said, what we really do is pick out only one thing and hear that. For example, in a meeting of the Family Business, Cousin “X” just reported on progress in hiring a new operations manager. However, others at the table have instead heard Cousin “X” disparage their skills. This seems like a miscommunication, and it is but not in how we normally think of it. When “X” spoke, information was delivered along with emotion. For the listeners, the information was lost in emotion, Cousin “X”’s and their own. If emotion is not acknowledged and dealt with, it will disrupt whatever process is before it.

Here’s a tool that can help. For example, and the following all happens quickly, when someone says something that feels highly emotional to me, I hear it. I pause. I feel what it feels like in my chest and shoulders. I imagine that what they said is written as if in an email in front of me. No body language. No tone. Just the words. Then, I look at those words. And, I try to find the most neutral way of taking those words. And, then, I speak. I might say something about how I feel and then I respond to that “email,” as simply and honestly as I can. This takes practice.

Responding to the cognitive part of communication has its own complexity. It also takes practice. And, there is a lot of preparation required here on the part of the individual and the family.

Every family in business has its way of knowing what it knows, its own epistemology. Knowledge could be for some a hunch, for others a market analysis. Every family also has its means of engaging its members with that knowledge. That base of knowledge is the foundation on which communication is built. It’s common ground on which grows common language. It’s like people talking about winter who have only lived in either St. Petersburg, Florida or St. Petersburg, Russia, not a lot of common ground.

To understand this better, let’s take this example: the family that was hiring a new operations manager had just built an addition to their factory. In deciding to do that, the family managed the information flow of market analysis, local zoning, financing, and more. And, they interfaced with a bevy of new professional service providers on top of those regularly engaged. Doing this well requires mastery of a large body of information. And, it calls for clarity in goals, values and roles.

Being a contributing member of the family business requires commitment to the family, to its vision and to doing the work to fulfill our role. It means getting educated in the family’s ways. The aforementioned clarity and commitment define the engagement of each member of the family business. And this engagement is best when built consciously by the family and offered to its members at times and in ways appropriate to their development as members of the family business.

Specifically, family needs common ground to effectively run their business and the family has to build that common ground. These points are key to building that common ground:

  • Mapping the business including personnel and roles and what knowledge is owned, where is it and who has access. Similarly, physical and financial assets are included in the mapping.
  • History, values and vision. These are the road markers for the family business. They require codifying and regular recitation to maintain their influence on the day to day activity of the family business. They also require regular review and update to ensure their relevance. Here, creativity is especially encouraged in making family events and rituals to mark the passing along of history, values and vision.
  • Skills acquisition. The family in business continually acquires skills that enable change as desired or required. They decide whether to invest those skills in family members or to bring them in from the outside.
  • Execution. This is governance, the description of how you operate; boards, tenures, shares and their ownership, and more.

These functions are the backbone of the business. And, while they have emotional vestments, they are cognitive. So, continuing our example, when Cousin “X” reported on hiring a new manager, everyone got lost in emotion. But, after a regroup where they reviewed how the manager decision was made and got a handle on the feelings around that process, they were able to continue with their business.

This example depicts a family that has considered itself and its business in a comprehensive way. They have created a structure where listening to each other is possible. Engaged family members acknowledge emotion and they honor the shared facts that give substance to their business. This prepares them for Rule Two: Hear & respond to everything being said, both the emotional and the cognitive.

Communication Rule Three: There are many more rules.

However, communication in each family business has its own life, so rules about communication are best when custom tailored.

Our work with your family business includes checking, and if necessary, reshaping communication.

Thank you for your reading. Please be in touch with thoughts or questions.

For more on emotion in Family Business, I recommend this article: Brunden & Hartel, 2014
For more on Language Processing, I recommend a resource for this column: Rayner and Clifton, 2009




April 2019 Current Thinking Column

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Mentoring in Family Business: Key Areas of Need

by Shelley M. Taylor & Donnel Nunes, PhD
Aspen Family Business Group

As Bill mentioned in our last thinking column, the foundation to a successful plan in family business transitions is having a shared vision of where you want to go. Once we have this, we can begin to map out an “array of paths to our desired point.” A succession plan that addresses the seven dimensions of succession is one that encompasses the transition of not only leadership, ownership and management, but also authority, values, knowledge, and relationships.

Over the last year, we have been conducting interviews with leaders from successful family businesses across the country to better understand how mentoring relationships play a role in these generational transitions. Through this research we are exploring and assessing the mentoring needs in family businesses. The goal of our research is to address these family business mentoring needs with programs and tools that will improve and support family business outcomes.

This month, we are going to share some of our findings about the three key areas of need for mentoring in family business: legacy, operations, and human systems.

The legacy of a family business can be a challenging area of knowledge to capture. Family and business history, values, and stories are all part of the legacy that gets passed down from one generation to the next. As a business matures and becomes multi-generational, the family tends to view the business itself as an heirloom, something they are merely taking care of and then passing along to future generations. The more that next generation family members know and understand about the family business’s culture and history, the better positioned they are to help it grow and prosper in future generations, and they in turn can then help perpetuate the legacy.

The operational mentoring needs in a family business are similar to mentoring needs in other business environments, and should be familiar to most. These include focusing on specific knowledge and skill gaps for one’s current position and for future roles. Another operational focus of a mentoring relationship is working on one’s personal and professional growth. In a family business environment a next generation family member will work with his mentor on readiness for leadership, and charting a career development path -- these are both appropriate for the operational mentoring relationship.

Human systems mentoring includes providing a safe place for rising generations to be vulnerable as mentees and learners, and supporting the development of family members into mature and confident individuals who understand where they fit in the family business system. This is also a place where a mentee can learn about and discuss the unique challenges of coming into a business as a member of the owning family.

Up to this point, we’ve been talking about the mentoring needs of family businesses, rather than the mentors. Through our research we’ve discovered that mentors can come from several categories, and there may be some overlap among functions and persons. For instance, the legacy mentor is most likely going to be a family member, and that family member may also serve as an operational mentor. In another family the operational mentor could be a non-family member from within the business or from another business. Depending on an individual’s needs, and the experience and characteristics of others in the family, there will not necessarily be a one-for-one match of a mentor for each of the three areas of need.

While there are numerous factors that contribute towards a well-executed succession plan, the learning relationships in your family business are foundational. Ensuring that the mentoring needs across all three areas are met will contribute greatly to next generation learning and development. Intentional and thoughtful planning are key to helping you and your family realize your goals for your family, your business, and successful transitions.

As part of our ongoing research we will be implementing a survey to learn more about the challenges family businesses face when it comes to mentoring including: establishing new programs, questions about existing programs, and finding mentors. The data we collect will help inform the programs and tools we develop. This survey will be distributed to hundreds of family businesses across the United States - contact us if you want to receive the survey. We will share our full report with participating businesses.




January 2019 Current Thinking Column

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

In the following blog entry, Bill Roberts starts the year in the right “direction.” As he notes, having clarity about your destination is a key to your destiny. In a family, a shared vision is critical to harmony and prosperity.

A Shared Vision: A Powerful Family Business Planning Strategy

by Bill Roberts, CLU. ChFC
Aspen Family Business Group

We often meet with families who have embarked on a transition plan that has proven not to be the destination they intended. Whether it was a plan that was not well thought through or family issues created obstacles that later proved insurmountable, the ultimate effect is adding another negative number to the already poor family business transition statistics.

This journey might be likened to embarking on a vacation with no particular destination in mind, just a vague idea like saying “I want to go to Europe” vs the more definitive and well thought out “I want to go to Italy, particularly spending 3 days in Rome where I want to explore the historic artifacts of the city.” Add the fact that the family does not agree on the destination, and battles ensue.

One of our fellow advisors likens it to an experience almost everyone has seen in opening the MapQuest app. As we all know, after the map populates, the next icon we see is a little blue blinking spot, identifying our location. Only then can we enter our destination and see an array of paths to get to our desired point. It is foundational to a successful plan: in planning a family business transition the family must first agrees on its “location” and its destination.

What do I mean by location? Advisors often begin their discovery process by asking the family to identify the problems they wish to solve. You will be asked for your objectives in the process, “where you would like to be at the end of the process?”. All of these are good questions and certainly are ones that need to be addressed, but is this the line of questioning that leads to successfully identifying the family’s vision of the future for the family as well as the business?

As the client is describing their situation and desired solution, we as advisors are thinking about “how” we can solve the issues for the family. What solutions from our experience will magically solve all the client problems? How might we minimize taxes, maximize value to the client, move assets to the next generation all commensurate with the client’s objectives? The clients, and we as advisors, are frustrated when our clients do not follow through with our brilliant strategy or arrive at the closing table to sell the business. Instead, they push back from the table and walk away from the sale.

Maybe it was an across-the-bedroom conversation between the client and spouse the night before signing documents or closing a sale where the statement by one or the other is made....”I am not signing those documents, that is not my vision of the future!”

What clients and advisors have fallen victim to is what has been described as “below- the-line” planning. If you would, imagine a blank sheet of paper, across the middle draw a horizontal line. Below the line write the word “How”. Above the line, write the word “Why”. Advisors are trained to think in the “How”, it is why we go to solutions as an answer to our client’s issues. But study after study has shown that the “How” is not where most of us make our decisions. The “How” tends to be unemotional, fact based, but most of us make the big decisions in our life in and from our emotions. The phrase “Emotion is the Master and Logic is its Servant” has proven to be true over and over again. Our emotions and our values.

The natural question must then be, where does “the Why” come from? What really motivates you our clients to move forward and implement the strategies presented to you? What could possibly align all the disparate parts of the family and business into an agreed upon path?

My partners in the Aspen Family Business Group have found in their practice that at the heart of the alignment process are the family’s core values, those values that have been passed down from generation to generation before them. In their studies, the family values are the way a family assesses its issues and makes decisions when faced with monumental tasks like the transition of the family business.

A not so surprising discovery is that husbands and wives often come from a different set of values. They come from different families each with their own set of values. Without clarifying these differences, it can lead to a halt in the planning process or one or the other killing the solution proposed. Therefore, it is essential to understand and explore both spouses’ core values and how they differ early in the planning process.

An example might be helpful. My wife is an “equal” person. By equal, I mean in the legal sense of the word. As our two boys were growing up, leading up to Christmas morning, she kept a very detailed list of what she had spent on each of them. I can promise you that on Christmas morning we would have spent within pennies of the same amount on each. Fast forward 20+ years later, we have a son who is successful in our business, while our other son has taken a completely different path and is a pastor of a church in Sheffield, England. Two completely different situations financially and other ways.

Recently we were contemplating an update to our estate plan. We were driving to Aspen for a weekend with friends. As we started up I-70 west of Denver, we started a discussion of our estate plan update. My wife started the conversation with a “shot across the bow”, “you just don’t agree with me on how we should pass our assets to our two boys and their families.” Coming from my world, I knew we were in for at least a three-hour discussion!! Why, because she is an “equal” person, and I am an “equitable’ person. Three hours later, driving into Aspen we had come to an agreement that both of us could live with because we have a shared vision of what we want for our future generations’ legacy. But it was an arduous journey!!

Now, let’s play that out in a family business situation. Second generation business, four children, only one of whom is involved with the family business. G-2 is planning a transition for the business to the next generation. He comes from a core value that only children working in the business at a management level should own stock in the business. His wife, however, comes from my wife’s perspective, that every asset should be divided equally including the stock in the family business. Clearly if this value difference is not identified early in the process, one or the other will not have commitment to solutions that do not recognize the two sets of values. The advisors’ job is then to bring alternative solutions that satisfy both of the core values of mom and dad and bring alignment to their planning.

Hopefully you are seeing a pattern, core values are the filter that family businesses use for decision making. If they are aware of the core values, they can address their “why”. So often we observe different perspectives and different views of the future with different family members. Knowing and understanding the “why” is an important factor in helping families overcome these differences.

We have found that the key to bringing alignment is developing a “Shared Vision” arising from the shared values of the family members. The Shared Vision might be “we want the family business to remain within family ownership for at least the next two generations” or it might be “the next generation needs to pursue their individual passions but will be backed by the resources of the family.” These are two completely different visions for the future of the family and its assets. Having identified and creating their Shared Vision gives the family an excellent chance to accomplish their goal.

I liken the Shared Vision to “a lighthouse on a hill”. Once the family has identified where it is located and where it would like to be, they can begin to identify the winding path to the destination. More importantly, the family can identify the potential obstacles in their path. Such things as an estate transfer tax that could destroy the capital needed by the business to grow, or an addiction afflicting a key successor that could create mistrust among siblings, or a coming economic downturn or change in technology that could destroy the value of the business. All the obstacles become more apparent once the Share Vision is identified. Once identified, the family can begin to address strategies to deal with the obstacles.

A question that families ask us is “how do we identify our family’s core values?” We have worked with a company in Massachusetts that has done the research to develop a questionnaire that identifies the core values. The Legacy Group, led by Todd Fithian has been a valued partner in our work towards honing families in on their values and value differences. The company has questionnaires that are addressed to husband and wife, children of family businesses, questionnaires that can be used by partners in business, all focused on the subject of their core values around transition planning.

One further powerful use of the Shared Vision is to communicate the Vision to all members of the family’s planning team, attorney, CPA, financial planner, insurance professional etc., all benefit by knowing exactly where the family envisions itself 20, 30 or 40 years into the future. In our experience, it keeps the advisors focused on strategies that lend themselves to accomplishing the family’s Vision rather than strategies that represent the “how. “This saves time, professional fees and ultimately frustration with the planning process.

If your family has taken the time to identify your family’s core values and used them to craft a Shared Vision of the future, you are well on your way to a successful transition. By clarifying your “why” and forming it into a Shared Vision you have the tools to identify the obstacles in your path and using your creativity to overcome them. The result is having a plan and a path to your Shared Future. If, however, this process has not been identified in your transition planning, please reach out to us for further clarification and assistance. We would be happy to assist.




October 2018 Current Thinking Column

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Matter Into Mind Into Matter

by Joe Paul
Aspen Family Business Group

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.

I remembered these words from Hermann Hesse about change when I was thinking about the last stages of my career and the last chapter of my life.

I was thinking of these issues because my partners and I are developing a plan for the continuation of our practice when we’re gone. Not surprisingly my own part of this journey takes me to many of the same issues our clients experience when thinking about succession. I find that I am revisiting ideas that have shaped my thinking in my practice.

My partners and I have created an ecology of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Each partner has a cadre of ideas that have co-evolved over decades of work. These four aspects form most of our intellectual capital providing effective tools for us working with our clients.

Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.  - Hermann Hesse

I’d like to share with you a concept that forms the core of my beliefs. Human beings evolved for the purpose of creating consciousness.

The evolution of consciousness happened in similar ways as the evolution of biology. Ideas compete for mind space the same way animal species compete for territory. We’ve evolved to eat matter to feed and nourish our mind and then once satiated in turn create new or different forms of matter. Matter expressed is both poetic and practical, like bees cross-pollinating we help our clients develop new ways of thinking.

My clients tell me that helping them articulate the purpose of their life in one sentence is the most beneficial outcome of my work with them. The purpose I define for myself is to create experiences that bring people and ideas together in ways that serves the common good.

Futurist Ray Kurziwell points out that technological evolution was almost flat from the Stone age to the Industrial age. Since the Industrial age began, technology has evolved exponentially. In 2029 the pace of the evolution of technology will, according to Kurziwell, be vertical, the problem is we don’t really know what that means. For ourselves or for our clients.

In a conversation I once had with a client we spoke about the future of his company, "The technology your organization depends on is going to change in ways you can't reliably anticipate, what are you going to do to prepare your company for the coming profound changes? He said, I'll just pick the people now who are smart enough to figure it out."

We're at a similar juncture in our desire to pass on what we know to our associates. In ten years we might be living in a world that is only science fiction now, and our clients who lead their companies are going to need help dealing with that world. It will become incumbent upon all of us to grasp and understand the changes that are happening. The social, political, technical and scientific evolution will take us places we've never been before. We must bear this in mind when we're offering to pass on what we know along with so much of what we don't know. Survival of our species will depend on what we learn and how we practice.

Entropy is about the dissolution of mind and matter. Evolution is about increasing complexity and growth. The choices we make will influence the form that takes. Which of these become our reality.





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