Family businesses have been around for centuries, and families have been trying hard to perpetuate their wealth for just as long. The business of professionally supporting such families, though, is a much more recent phenomenon, but it has been trying to play catch-up, especially in the past decade.
Let’s look at some of the organizations that have been around for a while and others that have emerged more recently.
CAFE and Family Firm Institute
In the 1980s in Canada, the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise (CAFE) came into being north of the border, while in the U.S. the Family Firm Institute (FFI) was also launched.
CAFE was a group for people who owned family businesses, and they came together to learn from one another, aided and guided by professionals from various fields, such as accounting, law, business and psychology. CAFE continued to exist with chapters across Canada, and it has more recently morphed into Family Enterprise Canada, which now encompasses a number of interesting groups in the family enterprise space here.
The history of Family Enterprise Canada is worthy of a separate article due to its recent amalgamation of the Business Families Foundation and the Canadian chapter of the Family Business Network (FBN), a global group serving family businesses in dozens of countries.
FFI, for its part, was generally a group of professionals who served family firms, and today it has a global presence on six continents. The membership breakdown is roughly 70 per cent practitioners who serve business families, 25 per cent who are academics and researchers who study family business, and a small percentage of members who come from family businesses and join for the sake of those businesses. There is also some overlap, as many of the practitioners and academics hail from business families and became attracted to the space thanks to some lived experience themselves. While some arrive with lots of knowledge on how to do things well, many others are attracted to the field so they can help other family businesses avoid the errors that they lived through in their own families.
FFI also features an education program for professionals that is almost exclusively done online, and there are hundreds of graduates of the Certificate in Family Business Advising (CFBA) and Certificate in Family Wealth Advising (CFWA) programs around the world. A few dozen FFI members are based in Canada and thousands more in dozens of countries globally.
Purposeful Planning Institute and Ultra High Net Worth Institute
The final two groups we’ll look at are also U.S.-based, with a smaller Canadian membership, and they are also much newer and have more of a focus on family wealth, as opposed to family business.
The vocabulary itself has also been in flux lately, as the term “family enterprise” is gaining in popularity with professionals who serve such “enterprising” families. Many families with wealth began with a business, some continue to own and run them. Others have a liquidity event and reinvest in other endeavours, and many end up with a host of different entities that they control including a family office in more and more cases.
The Purposeful Planning Institute has been around for a bit over a decade, and they bring together professionals from more than a dozen fields, with a big focus on collaboration. Complex families of wealth typically require many types of services, and no one person can serve all of a family’s needs.
Vocabulary itself has also been in flux lately, as the term 'family enterprise' is gaining in popularity with professionals who serve such 'enterprising' families.
PPI has estate lawyers and tax professionals, trustees and philanthropy experts, family dynamics specialists and facilitators, and of course a number of financial wealth managers, too. And we’re just scratching the surface.
The annual “Rendez Vous” every July in Denver has been a highlight of many of my summers since I found this “tribe” of mine, although the ’20 and ’21 versions needed to be converted to “RendeZoom” instead. PPI has a few dozen Canadian members and Rendez Vous usually attracts about 15 to 20 of us for the in-person event. A few members come from outside North America, but the lion’s share of the membership is U.S.-based.
The “purpose” in the “Purposeful” is meant to focus on defining the purpose of the family’s wealth, which in turn points to the family and its members, as opposed to the monetary part of wealth.
Finally, an even newer entrant to the space is the Ultra High Net Worth Institute, which came into being only a couple of years ago. I’ve been impressed with some of the work they’ve already done, especially regarding a new model that they developed called the Ten Domains of Family Wealth.
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Those who study family business are all familiar with the Three Circle Model, of Family, Business, and Ownership; I believe that the Ten Domains will end up becoming a staple of the industry for those of us who serve families with complex wealth, who are always trying to find better ways to ensure that they’ll be able to successfully transition their wealth to succeeding generations.
The UHNWI doesn’t directly address family business per se; they are effectively at the other end of the spectrum, as the latest entrant in the space. There continues to be an evolution, much like a family may evolve from running a small business to eventually having a number of enterprises that they control.
Professionals who specialize in serving families with complex wealth can choose from among several organizations that will help them learn and share best practices, all with the goal of better serving their client families.
As someone who is intimately familiar with these groups, I can say that there really is something here for everyone, and I encourage you to look into them further and get involved in moving the industry ahead in service of families.
Steve Legler is a Family Legacy Guide based in Montreal. He grew up in a business family, destined to take over the company his father had founded before he was born. After an unexpected liquidity event while he was still in his 20s, he ended up managing their family office instead. In 2013 he stumbled into the Family Enterprise Advisor (FEA) program, which turned into a career-changing calling for him. Since then, he’s been working with other business families as they face the challenges surrounding their intergenerational transitions. He works with family clients as a facilitator and sometimes as a mediator. He also does individual coaching with family members. He is the author of SHIFT your Family Business (2014) and Interdependent Wealth: How Family Systems Theory Illuminates Successful Intergenerational Wealth Transitions (2019). He is active in many associations for professionals who work with families; as a member of the FEA Council of Family Enterprise Canada (FEC); as head the Wisdom Expedition of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI); and as a member of the faculty of the Family Firm Institute (FFI) global education network (GEN) program.