Family Offices

When a family experiences a liquidity event, such as the sale of the family business, they may feel as if they’re entering an uncertain phase of life.

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Five years after her entrepreneur husband died in 2000, Michele Rollins decided her children needed to be brought in on the family’s financial arrangements.

The late John W. Rollins Sr. had built an empire of companies involved in trucking, environmental services and pest control. He also owned racetracks and hospitality complexes.

“The kids needed to know more,” explains Rollins, the chairman of Rollins Jamaica Ltd., the holding company for the island nation’s Rose Hall Developments Ltd.

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Private equity and strategic buyers aren’t the only suitors pursuing family businesses today.

Family offices, those low-key organizations formed to manage the wealth of ultra-high-net-worth families, are discreetly wooing business families who might be interested in selling a stake.

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There's the American Dream, and then there's the spectacular success achieved by immigrant brothers David and Paul Merage. Born in Iran, they came to the U.S. in the 1960s as students and settled in California. A decade later, they made an astute observation that would change their lives.

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Dan Agnew and his brother-in-law, Dick Lytle, were partners in Mt. Hood Beverage Co., a beer distributor in the Pacific Northwest. Through a series of acquisitions in the 1990s, the business prospered. Dick's two sons were already working in the business, and three of Dan's children would soon be graduating from college. Dan understood that for a family business to succeed over the generations, younger family members had to be prepared to work together as a family and a business. But he didn't have a plan for educating them.

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The decision to sell your business was a difficult one. Yet the timing was right, you found the right steward to buy your company and negotiated an exit that met the needs of your family. Now it's time to look ahead so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor in a way that makes the next chapter of life as rewarding as the prior one.

Redirecting the family's focus from the business to another meaningful pursuit is a high priority for many sellers. Numerous options exist to smooth the transition.

Adjusting to a liquidity event

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When Dave and Julie Power's four children were growing up, the family bonded around the kitchen table while folding J.D. Power and Associates' automobile quality questionnaires.

"You would try to pick the job you liked best: stuffing envelopes, putting on stamps or address labels," recalls Susan Curtin, 43, the youngest of the children. A common job for younger kids was taping quarters (an incentive for people to complete the surveys) to the questionnaires, making sure the "heads" side was facing up.

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Today’s business-owning families will eventually have to make some difficult decisions related to their business transition and family wealth management. The opportunities and threats have never been greater than they currently are. The decision tree for many of these families offers three options:

• Hold on to the company.

• Transition the company.

• Sell the company.

The biggest pitfalls regarding this decision tree that I have seen families encounter are:

• Holding on to the business for too long.

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Of the many challenges facing families and family offices, none is more important than the concept of sustainability to ensure that the family’s resources are both preserved and augmented as the family enterprise passes from one generation to the next.

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