When I was 16 years old, I didn’t learn to drive stick shift from my father. Although I knew my father could drive a manual transmission, it was one of my friends whom I asked to teach me, whom I knew wouldn’t get upset with me for grinding the gears at first or increase the pressure with what is already a stressful experience and can be a difficult skill to learn. When I consider the many family businesses I have supported as an executive coach and family advisor over the years, it’s no different!
Successful Baby Boomer business owners don’t achieve their success simply by teaching others what to do. They achieve that success by being driven, results-oriented leaders striving to accomplish more than those before them. This strong character trait, however, often presents itself through a more dominant and autocratic leadership style – one that may work for the chief executive of a family business or the principal of a family office, but likely doesn’t work as well when you want to groom your next generation child to assume huge responsibilities as your successor. This is very likely why I’m regularly hired by NextGen children to facilitate their transitions rather than the Baby Boomers themselves.
One of the other key challenges with the father/son relationship is the long history these individuals have together. While I may have learned to drive stick shift from my friend, that doesn’t mean I was a responsible teenage driver. I earned at least a couple speeding tickets in my first year of driving, and even got into a couple minor fender benders. Now imagine if my father ran a multi-generation family business and allowed me to work for him. How do you think he would feel about his somewhat irresponsible and overly adventurous son taking the reins? My guess is he wouldn’t have given me the keys to the kingdom before I could demonstrate I had matured – and rightfully so!
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.