Relationships: General

I have heard from several clients that they never really get a chance to talk with their father, but they do get to talk with the owner of the company (who happens to be their father) every day. Another client told me that although he knew the volume of stocks that his brother traded, he only recently learned that his brother had had a cancer scare.

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Many of my colleagues express frustration that their clients are resisting or delaying implementation of expertly (and expensively!) crafted strategies. Our best-laid plans are only as good as our clients' willingness to follow them, and when clients drag their feet in acting on good advice, they can seem downright irrational. Most of the time, when there appears to be no rational basis for a client's inaction, the client knows something the adviser doesn't, and the adviser must dig deeper to uncover the impediment.

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Savannah's Candy Kitchen has been part of Rhett Strickland's life for as long as he can remember. "Every day when I came home from school, we'd come down to the candy store" where his parents, Stan and Tonya Strickland were working, says Rhett, now 22 and the production manager for the family business in Savannah, Ga. "I had to literally sleep under the table while they packed packages at Christmastime."

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Ever wonder if there might be a secret sauce that, if poured on family members, would make them easier to get along with? Or maybe a specially formulated epoxy that could repair broken family relationships? Many families are searching for something akin to great-great-grandma's secret lasagna recipe—the one that had the ability to bring everyone together from near and far, even if only for one joyous evening.

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Last year, my wife and I decided to buy an iPod as a Christmas present to be shared by our two youngest children. Although we knew the "sharing" part might not come easily, we thought the experience would help develop their life skills. They found the iPod wrapped with both of their names on the tag; even so, my son took it and unwrapped it. "Awesome," he said. "Thanks for getting me this." How quickly he forgot that his sister's name was also on the tag and that we'd said the gift was for both of them to share.

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Should every challenging family business relationship or dynamic be repaired? Some family disputes are not fixable. However, even if an educated guess says they are, could it be that in some circumstances attempts to resolve the underlying issues might actually be detrimental to the family and business?

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Although I am not a fan of reality TV shows, my son Tom coaxed me into watching a favorite of his—Pawn Stars, a hugely popular American reality show on the History Channel. Pawn Stars, which takes place in Las Vegas, stars the Harrison family, who run the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. It basically is a 24-hour family business led by patriarch Richard Harrison; it has been operating for 24 years.

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When a potential leveraged buyout of a third-generation manufacturing business failed to close, a long-simmering conflict boiled over. Two family shareholders not involved in day-to-day operations wanted higher annual dividends and resented what they saw as elaborate compensation for the two family members running the company as chief executive and chief financial officer.

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One Monday afternoon, Henry Pullman found himself embroiled in a heated argument with his brother George, co-chair of the board of their family business, about compensation for their non-family CEO. George wanted to reverse a decision they had affirmed the week before. He said it went against the family’s values. Henry was mystified. They had worked through a transparent and rigorous process to come to the decision, and he and his brother had been in agreement every step of the way. Where was this coming from?

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Building a family enterprise that enriches the lives of each member while growing the core capital assets can be an incredibly rewarding journey, despite the challenges. While there are many factors at play in determining how a family enterprise continues to thrive (or not) from generation to generation, we believe that one of the most fundamental is the quality of the family relationships.

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