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Wealth strategy

Family is business, business is family Add to ...

The following is an excerpt from On the Shoulders of Atlas: A Story about Transitioning a Family-Owned Business.

It tells the story of Victor Banks, entrepreneur, founder and owner of Atlas Plastics, his wife Anne, and his children Anthony, Rose, Caitlin, and Robert. Mr. Banks put in 80-hour weeks and slowly built his company from a small family business into a global powerhouse with sales of more than $200 million. Three of the children work in the business, one doesn't. All are wondering what their father plans to do next. Will he keep the business and grow it? Will he sell it? Livelihoods and careers depend on his decision. But Mr. Banks can't see a clear way forward.

Mr. Banks may be fictional but the issues are commonplace, and the expert advice in the book can be applied to any company. This is the first of three parts that will run today, tomorrow and Wednesday. It's part of Chapter 7 by Linda Betts, president of Heritage Wealth Strategy Group Inc.

The first time I heard of Victor Banks was one uncharacteristically mild February day as I was walking to my office after a meeting nearby. The day had been beautiful, but then a surprise rain shower arrived. I ran for cover, and, of course, my cell phone rang just then. It went to voice mail before I could answer.

The message was from Ron Prehogan. Ron had called me because the family itself seemed directionless amid the massive changes taking place within the family company. Ron had been urging Victor to see how I might help, but Victor kept saying, 'I'm trying to sell a business. I don't need any touchy-feely family therapy stuff.' But Victor did an about-face and wanted me to talk with him and his wife.

Ron filled me in on what he'd learned about the family, and we met with Victor and Anne not too long after I received that message. It was immediately clear that Ron had guessed correctly when he said Anne's influence had probably convinced Victor to hold the meeting.

The first thing Victor said was, "I want to be frank. As I see it, I've got a major company here. I built it, and my main concern recently has been what to do with it. I don't really see why it matters what other people think. In fact, I bet that if you got my family in a room together, you'd get six different ideas of the best way to go. We got a taste of that at the cottage - I assume Ron told you all about that?"

As I nodded, Anne interjected immediately.

"My main concern is our family. In a way, this is no different from how it's always been, is it? You were always involved in the business, and you didn't seem to understand how that affected our family life while the kids were growing up. Now you don't see how your disentanglement from the business may affect our family's future."

"Anne, my family is one thing, and the business is another. End of story."

I'm trying to sell a business. I don't need any touchy-feely family therapy stuff.

I had to come in at this point. "Victor, let's look at what's happened. Ron and Ken helped you figure out your business issues and structure, and helped you decide what to do with your business. Steve and Pearl have been working to come up with the optimal structure for your transaction. Tony has identified potential buyers and investors, and you're pretty close to making a decision. As I understand it, you hope your grandson will run the company one day, which remains one main reason for the direction of your decision. So what will it be worth if your family implodes in the meantime-if, in fact, there isn't a solid commitment from your children and they decide they don't want any part of the plan?"

That must have got Victor to see the very real connection between his business and his family, because suddenly the conversation's tone changed.

"Tell us how you operate."

I started with the result my process is designed to achieve. "My concern when I work with a business family is to preserve and nurture all family assets. Ron may have told you that I used to practise law. I'm not a practising lawyer now, but I use my legal experience in a consulting role as a family wealth strategist to help families address their wealth in its broadest sense."

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