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Family Business Advisory

Working with family businesses requires both the hard skills of clarifying governance structures, and the soft skills of managing personal relationships in the family. Robert brings both.

Case Study 


Robert was approached by the family of a famous artist. The artist’s children had been managing the estate. But the children themselves were now approaching retirement, and wished to pass the management on to the grandchildren of the next generation. They sought help in how best to do this.


Even among the children, there were differences in view. Some wished to sell up rather than hand the business on. There was also unresolved interpersonal friction from the past. Meanwhile, the artist’s reputation was growing, and with it the value of the estate. In other words, the stakes were increasing.


Robert worked closely with the family to create a transition plan. That was the easy part. The hard part was bringing the various family members together, and facilitating conversations in such a way that they were constructive, and that any conflicts of interest could be dealt with in a way that didn’t lead to communication breakdown.


The management of the estate was successfully passed on to the next generation. The reputation of the artist continues to grow.

 for a free brief introduction to Ethics 

1. You will see your situation objectively rather than getting mired in family dynamics.


2. In confidence you will be able to think through questions that are not easily aired in public. Taboos can be dealt with frankly and constructively.


3. You can discuss both the practical and the human side of your family business, rather than focussing on one at the expense of the other.


Benefits for family businesses of working with Robert

On the question of trust in family businesses

In principle, levels of trust in a family business ought to be higher than those in a business made up of people who are not related. In practice, it’s more complicated.


One of the main reasons why family businesses are established in the first place is that a family business promises to spare those involved from the question of how far they can trust those outside the family. Being bonded at the level of blood appears to offer some guarantee of trust. In this sense, a family business represents a short cut: you don’t have to work at the trust-building that is necessary with outsiders, which takes time and doesn’t always succeed.


Put simply, trusting strangers contains an intrinsic difficulty. Strangers are almost defined by the fact that trust is not automatic, but has to be gained.


And yet something similar applies in a family business. It might be easier to trust a family member than a stranger, but once a family member becomes a colleague, some distance or formality is created. With this distance comes a certain estrangement effect. In other words, the family member has to become a tiny bit like a stranger once they become a colleague, because ‘business’ involves lines of demarcation that we also use to mark ourselves apart from the stranger.


With these lines of demarcation drawn, family members who are also colleagues look at each other with the kind of scrutiny that is in fact necessary in a business to ensure standards. And scrutiny, to put it bluntly, involves suspending trust.


Which is to say a family business can only become professional if it deploys the same levels of scrutiny and holding to account that are required in non-family businesses. Trust becomes something that it’s important not to indulge in too much, in case it weakens those levels of scrutiny that in turn would undermine the family business.

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