1. As a rising generation family member, you got involved with your family office when you were 18. Tell us more about that experience.
I grew up with the awareness that my family owned a business, and loosely, I knew that my great-grandfather and his three brothers started that company. I was also aware that the business was no longer family owned, yet my extended family still “worked” together. The summer I turned 18, my cousins over the age of 16 and I gathered as a group and learned more details of our family office and family history. That was when I learned that our family invested money together to benefit the larger group. I was immediately fascinated with the idea and wanted to both know more and be more involved. I was lucky to have already had a strong relationship with my extended family, and as a group, we decided to bypass the traditional learning paths and instead formed our own investment company, which we called 5/4ths. 5/4ths became the early mechanism for my involvement in the family office. On the surface, it taught me about investing. Underneath, it taught me the value of working with family, governance, identifying and properly using others’ skill sets and, eventually, emerging as a leader in my generation.
2. Why is understanding family values and history so important in influencing the next generation?
One of the big fears families have is that their kids will not want to be involved in the family enterprise. The more children know and understand of their history, the more likely they are to relate to their past and want to continue the legacy. Similarly, values are taught and refined over a lifetime. When the family values are communicated and actions match words, children learn the true meaning of their family connection. This is particularly important when communicating about money, an often taboo topic. If children know the history of how the money was made and understand how this has affected the family legacy, they will be more well-rounded and interested in becoming involved.
3. Many families want to know when they should talk to their children about their inheritance. How do you answer that question?
Typically, I would say when they are ready. Readiness can happen at many different ages, but there are a few things that I would consider. First, maturity. Does your child understand the value of a dollar? What about $100, or $1 million? If your child is too young to understand the true value of money, he or she is too young to be told about his or her inheritance. Second, does your child know how the family money was made? Is he or she well versed in the family history, both good and bad? Does your child understand what the family values most? If not, take the time to teach him or her. And third, financial literacy. I firmly believe all kids can learn basic skills, such as budgeting and reading basic financial reports. They do not need to be an expert, but the conversation will go more smoothly if they can comprehend the information.
4. Tell us about your family’s Day of Caring tradition. How can philanthropy be a useful tool in legacy planning?
Our family started the Day of Caring, an annual volunteer day during our family retreat, in response to a difference in skill sets. As in most families, not all of my cousins were financially savvy. However, a few are excellent activity planners. Though we have always been a philanthropic family – the family foundation was started in 1964, long before our family office – we had never volunteered together. In an effort to allow new skill sets to shine, a few of my cousins started planning our annual Day of Caring. This allowed us to showcase the skills of someone who otherwise would have been left out while at the same time reaffirming our family value of giving back to our community.
Philanthropy is one of the best tools to affirm family values, but it is also a great way to allow kids to learn. Utilizing the family foundation as a mechanism to teach or enhance financial literacy and leadership is a great way to get kids of all ages involved. Being able to see how wealth can benefit the underserved is extremely powerful.
5. What advice would you give your younger self?
I often feel so lucky to have been born into such a wonderful family – and have since I was young. However, one of the hardest things I have had to balance is the idea of independence from the family wealth, as well as utilizing the opportunities that I have been afforded because of it. Although in the long run I have done a good job of finding that balance, I do wish I had found it sooner. Leaning on advisors can be difficult when you are taught to be independent, but I am glad that I have learned to utilize the people who are available to me on a regular basis.
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