Lead with questions instead of solutions. 

Years ago, one of our clients said, "In the past, our advisors were convinced that they had all the answers about what we should do with our planning. But you guys are different.  You really believe that WE have the answers, and that it’s your job to help us find out what they are."

We help uncover the solutions that we know are already in our clients' hearts and minds.  

It’s hard to see the message from inside the bottle.  

One of Einstein’s maxims speaks to this powerful problem.  Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” In other words, it’s often almost impossible to solve problems without outside input.

Being independent allows us to bring new perspectives and fresh ideas, ones we know have worked for other families.

Our clients appreciate our independence, that we speak from experience, yet also from outside their “systems.”  

Building trust keeps capital together.  

If a larger pool of capital creates higher returns, why do some business families break apart their capital? Usually, it’s because they’ve stopped trusting each other. In that position, some family members would rather forego profit than remain in their current arrangement. What they don’t realize is that this trade-off is not the only option. Seeing trust as a skill and developing it is much more cost-effective for everyone involved.

Most of us see trust as some kind of phenomena: it’s either there or it isn’t. And if we lose it, we don’t really know how we get it back. What is clear, however, is that it’s difficult for relationships to survive in its absence.

This is especially true for business families, whose relationships do the double duty of being both professional and personal.

Luckily, trust is not really mysterious or elusive. It’s a skill, like any other. It can be taught. Many business families have achieved and maintained it with the proper coaching.

Clear exit rules are the key to ownership engagement  — and confidence.  

Every business needs a clearly defined exit strategy for owners.  We call this set of standards and agreements “The Family Rule Book.” When it’s finally written down, it serves as a guidebook for how we behave as a family of owners - one of our clients even calls it their “Family Bible.”

There’s an old wives' tale about cats.  They can’t calm down until they know where the exits are.  We think humans are the same.  Until they know how they can “get out,” how the exits work, they aren’t truly able to engage.

Equal isn’t the same as fair.  

No parent wants to favour one child over another.  Every parent wants to treat each of their children “equally.” Does that mean sharing the business equally?  Does that mean sharing roles and responsibilities equally?

We help families decide for themselves what’s fair (and what should be equal) in their particular circumstances.  And then we help them communicate the decision in a way where everyone feels the process has been fair.

Future ownership plans for business families need to be documented – and shared openly.

One of our clients has built a very successful manufacturing company from scratch. There are four children in the family. Two are business-capable, one is a teacher, and the fourth has a cognitive disability.  

When we first met with the company’s long-time accountant, who was the founder’s key estate and tax advisor, we asked an innocent question: “Will one-quarter of the company be left to the child with a cognitive disability? If so, how will that work?  Can he sign legal documents?”  The accountant replied, somewhat shocked, “I don’t know. I’ve never really asked.” He considered the question too personal.  As a result, no one knew – for certain – who would own the company (and be responsible for it’s thousands of employees) after the founder was gone.

Difficult questions of future ownership need to be asked, answered, and documented to ensure continuity of family capital.