Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle clearly demonstrates what happens when a family narrative starts to break. A prominent next-generation family member marries outside the “establishment”. Soon, the values underpinning the whole family are questioned. Relationships fracture between siblings and with parents. The Royal Family’s central story – which has lasted for centuries – suddenly seems very shaky.
Most families don’t have anything like that level of scrutiny or history, but a shared narrative is still the thing that holds them together. A strong story increases the chances of future success. A weak or vague story heightens the risks to wealth and unity.
Families can derive great meaning from their stories. They can forge trust with one another – and across generations – by exploring their shared history. They can find purpose in the present by building on their collective experiences in the past while also clarifying their vision for their future. When they don’t, factions can develop and create great chasms within and across generations.
This situation exists because families tend to get bigger and more complex over time. New members arrive by marriage and birth, and differing opinions and even competing values and priorities can develop. Successful families tend to amass greater wealth and assets over time too. Thus, stewardship of the family’s estate gets more complicated and new structures like family offices and family foundations are created to preserve and manage the family’s assets.
The Family Charter (or “Family Constitution”) is often used as a written guide to help family members navigate this complexity. The Charter acts as a statement of the family’s heritage, culture, hopes, and aspirations for the future. The Charter usually details the following principles for governing the family:
I’ve had the honor and distinct privilege of counseling and advising numerous successful families over the years. It’s safe to say all of them wanted to be high-performance families and create lasting legacies from one generation to the next.
Not all families are able to achieve this intention though. After all, financial strength alone does not bring happiness to family leaders or their NextGen children.
In fact, family wealth often presents significant challenges for family members and comes with a complicated history and some odds that are often not in your favor. In fact, wealth often breaks down family trust and relationships. In addition, family members who are impressively successful in many aspects of their lives tend to be too busy or simply ill-equipped to celebrate their familial heritage and prioritize their family connections. Whether it’s a parent and child, two siblings, or even a few cousins, these family relationships are often ripe with relational chaos and an emotional distance that ultimately put the family’s significant assets at risk. Up to 90% of all families lose their wealth by their 3rd generation, and nearly 90% of all family businesses also disappear during this timeframe.
So, what does it take to be a high-performance, multi-generation family and not become one of these statistics? I was fortunate enough to speak with Chris Yount, former 3rd-generation President & CEO of his family’s business Fortifiber Corporation, a manufacturer and distributor of waterproofing products for home construction. Here’s what he had to say about the real-life lessons he’s learned on what it takes to become a high-performance, multi-generation family.
According to Yount, there are three main pillars to be a high-performance family.