Clarifying the Family’s Legacy and Future Direction

A fifth generation enterprise family had just sold its original business. The family members realized they felt unclear where to focus their future endeavors, but they wanted to think and work together in some way.

Relative Solutions’ Direction:
Relative Solutions met with the family’s task force to define the ways in which we might be helpful. The six people on the task force, who were fifth generation members of the branches of the family, had been responsible for the selection of the consultants and were now charged by the family with defining the next steps.

Together, the family task force and Relative Solutions mapped out a plan that entailed approximately a year’s work. They agreed that the family would meet as generational and branch groupings to discuss their vision and mission for remaining together in the family enterprise. The family also began to define what they thought those enterprises ought to be, including operating companies, investments and/or philanthropy. They planned a kick-off educational seminar to bring the entire family up to date on the current family holdings and at which family trust and other legal matters would be discussed. Work groups evolved from the initiatives defined in the seminar, and these, as well as the family groupings, continued to work with Relative Solutions.

The family decided to act on the results of their work group findings at the next family retreat/seminar. The task force and the family worked together in this format for a full year and defined the family’s core values, vision, mission, and strategic direction.

Strategic Planning

A $50 million partnership was experiencing stagnation. Several attempts to encourage future leaders to initiate new ideas only resulted in lost profits, frustrated managers and disappointed partners. Relative Solutions facilitated a management retreat for senior and middle managers, and partners.

Relative Solutions’ Direction
Prior to the retreat, Relative Solutions and the partnership developed a strategic planning framework that was then taught during the retreat to all participants. With several participants working on specific areas of practice, there was an opportunity to apply the framework to their own practice segments. Ten Action Steps evolved, and group members were assigned to them for operational follow-up. The Action Steps continue to be monitored in monthly Strategic Planning Steering meetings.

Compensation Planning

A closely held regional distributor had successfully weathered stiff competition from larger national competitors. Their employees had supported the company through financial difficulty, and now the owners wanted to reward them, while also taking advantage of the opportunity to refocus on the company’s efforts.

Relative Solutions’ Direction
Through consultation, Relative Solutions reviewed each department’s compensation system in light of the redefined company mission. Working with the distributor, we defined and achieved specific corporate priorities through a strategic planning process.

The firm changed their compensation plan to reward individual, department-wide and corporate strategic goals. Additionally, they made several organizational employee changes to further the corporate objectives.

Talking to Your Children about Money and Wealth

Relative Solutions’ Direction
Relative Solutions decided that, since several families had been asking the same question, it would be useful to hold a small educational seminar to consider this topic. We mapped out central guidelines, which included talking to the child at his/her level, teaching him or her about the responsibilities that go with wealth and some examination of the adults’ values regarding money. After this initial step, the senior generation in all the families decided to meet regularly to work on clarifying their values and how to transmit them. Later work centered on helping the adults to work with their own children.

Loss of Leaders

Within a short period of time and through a series of unexpected accidents and a sudden rapidly terminal illness, a successful family owned publications company lost three individuals who had held high-level decision-making positions. When the president called Relative Solutions, he was struggling to maintain standards and productivity for the company, while simultaneously searching for replacements, and assisting employees as well as family members with their grief over the deaths of these company leaders. Since the deceased individuals included his daughter and two nephews, the president himself was also deeply distressed.

Relative Solutions’ Direction
Relative Solutions consultants coached the president to set up three management teams to address his concerns: HR immediately began to review the qualifications, job descriptions, and functions of those who had died, with the goal of rapidly launching a search for new professionals who could be hired as soon as possible.

At the same time, Relative Solutions worked with another HR team to develop a support program for those who had worked closely with the managers who had died. This program gave employees and family members, including the president, opportunities to talk about the relationships they had had with those people, what they had contributed to the company, what they had learned from them, and how they could create a sense of positive legacy within the company, while also being open to welcoming their replacements.

At the same time Relative Solutions coached the president to work intensively with his COO and CFO to maintain the stability of the company throughout this period of rapid change in high-level leadership. The unexpected losses also provided an opportunity for Relative Solutions to facilitate a company-wide visioning process, in which family members, outside shareholders, and employees re-examined the direction the company had been taking and established new short and long-term goals and objectives.


Due to a downswing in the economy, a family owned travel business was considering the necessity of laying off a significant number of long-term employees. Because many of their employees were also relatives, the owners of the company were deeply distressed about this decision, but knew they had to go ahead with it, if the company were to survive.

Relative Solutions’ Direction
The owners were coached to provide information to all their employees with regard to the financial status of the company, and a clear explanation for the company’s need to cut back. They were also coached to meet individually and in small groups with employees who were to be laid off, outlining the details of their severance packages and providing support services for them as they searched for new jobs. In addition, they met regularly with those who were not laid off to assist them in taking on more responsibilities and organizing their time differently, while also adapting to the loss of co-workers.

Because many of employees and former employees were members of the same extended family, Relative Solutions facilitated a family retreat during which family members had an opportunity to view their family and work relationships separately, while committing themselves to the long-term viability of the family.

Rebuilding the Business

After a hurricane hit, a number of businesses and families were left to pick up the pieces. A closely held financial services business, which suffered no loss of life, but next to total devastation of the physical aspects of the business including their headquarters, physical assets like computers, and personal belongings of one kind or another. When one of the company’s advisors called us, he said the business was in a state of chaos and there was no plan in place.

Relative Solutions’ Direction
Relative Solutions consultants quickly were able to help leaders assess where their greatest risks were relative to the impact of this natural disaster on their company. Immediate risks identified were lack of a disaster recovery plan, no physical work area within existing structure, “workable” leader and employee uncertainty about the future of the business, and customer and supplier concerns about the ability of the business to “bounce back”.

Once risks were identified, a prioritized “recovery” plan was developed and put in place. The plan included assistance in setting up a temporary headquarters for leaders and employees, coaching for company leaders to help each of them, help their direct employees through their “emotional” recovery processes, and making personal visits to each customer and supplier to alleviate their concerns. In addition, the plan included developing and sending targeted communications to each employee’s family to give spouses and children of employee’s a sense of security that a plan was in place and that the company’s target within three to six months was “full recovery”.

Getting Your House in Order: A Consultation Service for Widows and Divorcees

A 56 year old woman, Elizabeth Brownell, was referred to Relative Solutions by her family lawyer shortly after the sudden death of her husband, Arnold, to whom she had been married for more than thirty years. Throughout their marriage, her husband had managed the family business, family finances, and the establishment of a small family foundation. Although Elizabeth was a college graduate and had been interested in learning about Arnold’s decisions after he made them, her main interests in life had been raising their four children, spending time with their six little grandchildren, and working in a ceramics studio where she created beautiful bowls and pots.

With Arnold’s sudden death, Elizabeth became the sole beneficiary of his estate. He had set up a trust that would be dispersed to their children at the time of Elizabeth’s death, but Elizabeth was responsible for all family business and financial decisions for the rest of her lifetime. She was shocked, grieving, overwhelmed by the complexity of tasks that confronted her, and unable to make decisions about them.

Relative Soultions’ Direction
In collaboration with Arnold’s accountant and estate planning lawyer, Relative Solutions consultants met first with Elizabeth, and then with her and her adult children. As part of our “Widows Service” we were able to help Elizabeth through her initial shock, and then create a plan for supporting her development of competence and confidence in finance and business. Her intelligence and sense of responsibility to her husband’s legacy helped Elizabeth rise to meet the challenges of her situation. We provided support, mentoring, and on-going coaching for her throughout this process.

Developing Qualifications for Entries and Exits

In 1952, a husband and wife team began a printing and shipping business. Over the decades, each of their three children joined the company. Conflict occurred when the daughter wanted her father to hire her husband as an inside counsel. Her brother, who had leadership responsibilities, resented that he was not approached first. Even though he respected his brother-in-law, he did not believe a full-time corporate counsel was needed when outside counsel had always been sufficient.

Relative Solutions’ Direction
The family began by articulating their views about including relatives in the business. Working with Relative Solutions, they defined business needs and clarified family ownership issues. They dealt with the son’s feelings of exclusion in meetings.

Using the Relative Solutions approach, we helped institute a middle management structure and reviewed effective methods for management cooperation with family members. It was decided that in-law participation would be encouraged if any were to join the business in fulfillment of business needs.

We held family meetings to articulate entry and exit policies for family members. Ultimately, the couple felt the support of the family, and the brother-in-law decided to pursue a law firm partnership. All were in clear agreement that if he were not successful or happy, the business would re-examine its need for his involvement at that point.

Resolving Ownership Issues

A successful printing company was threatened by a father-daughter battle over issues of management, ownership and creative control. The conflict was so extreme that the father had fired the daughter at least ten times; finally, she refused to come back. However, she wanted ownership of the divisions she had developed. She hired lawyers and was ready to initiate litigation.

Relative Solutions’ Direction
Through discussion and analysis, it became clear that father and daughter would never work together again. Thus, we focused on developing a solution that she felt was fair, would meet the father’s needs to keep the business intact and would also mend their relationship.

Through our process, a solution emerged. The father established a trust fund for his daughter’s child and provided his daughter with office equipment so she could begin a home-based business. Sessions between the father, mother and daughter helped heal wounds from the years of struggling. Family occasions were again attended by all with a fair degree of comfort.