I speak regularly at conferences and seminars, and am available as a keynote speaker, about family dynamics, culture, effective communication and conflict management.

In addition to the seminars listed below, I have run a number of in-house seminars for law firms, private banks and trust companies which are not listed for reasons of confidentiality.
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Seminar handouts (42)

Governance structures are important, but are they enough?

Keynote speech, European Family Office Winter Symposium, Opal Financial Group, London 11 February 2013
There are no papers for this seminar at which I argued that:

  • All families have governance.  It may bear more resemblance to the UK constitution (unwritten, largely based on custom, etc) than on the US.  It may be based on inherited dictatorship with the first born son taking all, or have other features that some outsiders may disapprove of.  It may, indeed, not produce the results that the family itself aspires to.  But each family does have its own way of doing things, its own culture, and that culture has evolved over time and has deep emotional roots.  Whatever the family may write down, in my experience their behaviour will only change if the issues are addressed at that level, ie through empathic, contingent communication.
  • Numbers of governance projects are driven entirely by the senior generation.  They are explained to the next generation, but that generation has no substantive part in the development process.  In my experience, people who do not feel they have had a voice in a process, and been heard (generally they don't need get their own way), do not feel bound by its product.  They may comply for a time, but only because they have (or feel they have) no power.  When they do, they revolt.
  • Many governance arrangements focus almost exclusively on enforceable rights and obligations.  Of course, in the business and ownership circles that may be both appropriate and necessary but, in my view, it does not really work in the family circle.  In my experience, focusing on rights and legal enforceability leaves some stakeholders (typically those who feel disadvantaged) thinking that all they need is a better lawyer, or more money to spend on lawyers, or more time to commit to litigation, and the rules won't apply to them.  
  • The biggest curse of structured governance is that families go through the exercise, sign the documents and put them in a draw believing that now they have "proper rules" all will be well.  Family business is like marriage, the hard work does not finish at the altar, it starts there.  If we don't work on our relationships every day, entropy will do its work, and complacency is its closest ally.
  • Against that, perhaps the greatest strength of the governance project is that, done well, it offers a tangible outcome which families can see benefit in, and it provides a structure, a forum, within which difficult conversations can be had, and to which professional advice and assistance can be brought without embarrassment.