Dueling Perspectives: How business, family leaders collaborate
Port Blakely, in its fifth generation of family ownership, grows and markets renewable forest products around the globe. The company, acquired by the Eddy family in 1903, is based in Seattle.
Today there are approximately 140 family members, about 85 of whom are company shareholders. In 1999-2000, the family convened a task force to draft a family employment policy. After studying up on family governance, the task force expanded its mission to developing a governance structure and eventually evolved into a provisional family council. In 2002, the Eddy Family Council was formally established. Fourth-generation member René Ancinas was the first family council president.
Ancinas, 52, left the family council in 2005, when he joined Port Blakely. He became COO in 2008 and CEO in 2010; in 2015, he was named chairman and CEO.
Eddy Family Council members are elected to three-year terms and may serve a second term. Each year, three members leave and are replaced by three new members. Ancinas attends family council meetings but does not vote. Port Blakely’s director of human resources attends council meetings to provide coaching and support.
The current president of the Eddy Family Council is Summer Worden, 42, a married-in fourth-generation member. Worden is founder and CEO of Filly Intelligence LLC, a private technology and security firm based in Houston. She has been a council member for three years and is in the second year of her presidency.
We asked Ancinas and Worden: What are the elements of a good working relationship between the business leader and the head of the family council?
René Ancinas, Chairman & CEO, Port Blakely:
“The CEO needs to be able to adapt to what each family council president brings to the table, and maybe even try to seek out what that is, and help them focus on that. I would say there’s a certain amount of coaching, but you can’t coach too much, because there has to be a certain level of independence.
“There has to be a level of trust, so that you can be honest and open. So, for example, the family council president needs to feel that the CEO supports them. They might be thinking, ‘I’m not sure if this is something I should deal with, or if I should hand this over to the CEO.’ They need to feel confident and trusting that they can reach the CEO and say, I’ve got this feedback, and I’m not quite sure what to do with it,’ and that you can work it out.
“Some of our family council presidents have been more driven to task lists and checkboxes, and they forget that there’s also an emotional side to bringing the family along. So you have to coach them to not push too hard. And then, on the other hand, we’ve had family council presidents who were very attuned [to] feelings within the family, but might have needed a little bit more cajoling to be clear about what their priorities were for the year. The ability of a family council president to be coachable and open to feedback, and the ability of the CEO and the HR person to [provide] that and adapt to that person’s style, is really important.
“From a CEO’s [perspective], you’re always trying to figure out, ‘Where should I step in, and where should I not?’ Because you don’t want to micromanage. I would say that it’s very rare that I have to step into a very specific family or personal dynamic.
“I think every company has to go through their own journey of figuring out how this all works. And you don’t just do it and it’s done. You have to keep evolving.”
Summer Worden, President, Eddy Family Council:
“We would not be nearly as effective if the two of us didn’t talk and really make a concerted effort to be on the same sheet of music. Certainly we wouldn’t be as productive. It’s essential that we have a close and unified relationship.
“We have established times for open discussion. Our lives are so busy that if we didn’t have those times specifically set aside, then we probably would miss some of those important [opportunities] to have conversations.
“I want to be meeting the expectations that he has for the family council, and also understand our boundaries — what isn’t within our roles and responsibilities. That’s often a slippery slope, or could be not a very clear line. Understanding those expectations and strategy objectives helps us do our job better.
“One thing that we’ve really focused on doing over the past couple years is to systematize the way that we operate on the council. If we are able to more concretely lay down some of these systems, then regardless of who is rotating on or off, hopefully we can rely on the system to be in place and be a point of consistency and help to alleviate a little bit of chaos, so to speak. And another way that we’ve really tried to reinforce these systems is to deepen our relationship with the director of HR and her staff. She is there year after year after year, and that can serve as a point of continuity for us.
“René is an exceptional example of a CEO. His emotional IQ is very high. He’s constantly seeking feedback. He asks, ‘How is my participation? I don’t want to commandeer the meeting.’ At the end of every [family council] meeting, we give [each other] feedback. That’s very helpful.”
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