Cross Cultures--Review by Christian Stewart

Imagine an ethnic Chinese business founder who arrives in Indonesia with nothing but the “shirt on his back”, who through hard work, intuition and street smarts builds a successful business empire in South East Asia. While the founder had no formal education, as his wealth grew, he invested in the best western educations available for his children, who were encouraged upon graduation to find work in the US. His eldest son finds a job in an investment bank and starts to rise quickly up the ranks. After the son has worked in New York for 5 years, one day he gets the call from his father to return home to Jakarta and help him to run the family conglomerate.

The son hesitates. He knows his father is authoritarian and that the family conglomerate, while successful, is not professionalized and that it will be a long time before the son could put his own mark on the group. To return home will involve giving up the successful career he has started to build. Yet if he refuses his father’s call, he will be disloyal and betraying his proper role in the family. If you were an advisor to the patriarch, what would you do to help in this situation?

Cross Cultures suggest that there is a cultural lens that can be applied to help families like this. The three major cultures around the world today are labeled as Individualist (Western, Anglo-Saxon countries); Collective Harmony (derived from Confucianism); and Honor (found in places as diverse as Latin America, India, the Middle East and Southern Europe) cultures. The book also points out that wealthy successful families also have an economic culture; the origin might be a culture of poverty or middle class wealth, but as the founder becomes successful the family “immigrate” to the economic culture of wealth. The next generation, if born after the family has already successful completed the economic migration are, “Natives to the land of wealth”.

The approach for an advisor in the example is first consider your own national or ethnic culture of origin and whether you bring any of your own biases to the situation. Second, consider the culture of the patriarch – likely Collective Harmony. The dimensions of culture described in the book can be explained to the patriarch and the patriarch can be asked to rate himself so that his own unique culture map can be created. Then what about the culture of the son? Has he picked up elements of Western Individualist culture? If so, then the potential conflict described between father and son can be reframed as a cultural conflict and not as a result of the personalities involved. The role of the advisor is to respectfully point out to the patriarch that the son is thinking and acting in a way consistent with the first class western education and work experience that his father provided for him; that the son has a legitimate perspective. If the advisor is able, his or her role then becomes that of a cultural mediator, helping father and son explore whether there are solutions that can be negotiated that satisfy both the needs of the patriarch and the family orientation, with the individual needs of the son. The book outlines the steps in this negotiation process and the role of cultural mediator.

Cross Cultures is written primarily for advisors (including bankers, trustees and family office executives) working with families from a different culture, or helping families where the family itself is facing strains as a result of being exposed to a new culture (most likely Individualistic). Advisors are asked to go further than just promote communication within families; advisors must be either willing to step up to help in the cross cultural negotiation required – or encourage the engagement of other advisors who can play that role. Advisors are warned against taking the approach of failing to respectfully pointing out to the patriarch the legitimate interests of the next generation of the family.

The co-authors conclude the key to long term success as a family enterprise is adaptation. In terms of economic culture this means consciously deciding which aspects of the family’s economic culture of origin to retain, and which aspects of the culture of wealth need to be adopted. Likewise in terms of ethnic culture, successful families from all three of the main cultures are facing scenarios like that described above or are otherwise being exposed to the other cultures as the world becomes more global, including through the widespread use of Western Individualistic practices in business. Cross Cultures predicts that successful families will also be required to select which aspects of their ethnic culture they will retain and which aspects of Individualist (or other) culture they should choose to adopt. They point to a global cultural convergence – to “ambiculturalism”. Cross Cultures provides both the vocabulary and the process for a family to make such conscious choices. 

Cross Cultures: How Global Families Negotiate Change Across Generations is written by Dennis T. Jaffe Phd and James Grubman Phd.

This review was originally published online at Tharawat Magazine

Three Constitutions

Creating a written family constitution has become accepted as a best practice for family enterprises, especially those involved in a transition. But what kind of family constitution are you going to create?

A new white paper by Wise Counsel Research's Christian Stewart proposes that there are three main “archetypes” or common patterns of family constitutions and that each of these three archetypes has their advantages and disadvantages. 

Just naming and exploring these archetypes can help a family to be more conscious of their choices.  And Christian outlines the characteristics of a “Wise Constitution” as well.


The Family Champion

Joshua Nacht

Joshua Nacht, a member of the 100 Year Families research team, recently completed an innovative dissertation on the subject of the "family champion." This often-overlooked figure emerges from within the family to advance efforts towards growth while addressing family concerns, such as about entitlement or dependency. Joshua's work recognizes new possibilities for helping families develop their own resources while at the same time highlighting the insights and ideas coming from the 100 Year Family Project. For a synopsis of Joshua's research, click here.

Vanderbilt Family Trusts Course


Wise Counsel's Hartley Goldstone and I had a wonderful experience this week teaching the first course on Family Trusts at Vanderbilt University. Along with guest speakers John A Warnick of the Purposeful Planning Institute and Steve Weinstein of Altair Advisors, we covered introductions to the "players" in the "trustscape," choices about trusts, adding purpose to trusts, and a new model for organizing the trustscape. The overall lesson was that, despite trust's sometimes feeling disempowering, those of us who form the trust relationships are the trust, and the success (or failure) of the trust will depend on the quality of those relationships. For a copy of the agenda, click here.

Family Business Continuity

Interested in continuity in family business? Not sure how to start that conversation with clients? The Institute of Family Enterprise Advisors has issued a thoughtful new guide on exactly these points. In just a few pages it offers "quick tips" as well as more in depth advice from some of the leading consultants in the field. Wise Counsel's Dennis Jaffe and Keith Whitaker are honored to be included. 

JP Morgan Asian Family Enterprise Study

Dennis Jaffe

JP Morgan, in collaboration with Wise Counsel's Dennis Jaffe, has just published a fascinating study of Asian family enterprises. Some of the headlines from this analysis of 140 large, multi-generational families include the families' top concerns (#1: fairness to the rising generation), their top leadership values, overall preparedness (or rather unpreparedness) with regard to transition and family employment policies, and practices concerning board composition, talent development, and exit strategies. All students of family governance will find in this study an invaluable glimpses into succession principles and practices. It also includes a great section on the practicalities of family meetings by Christian Stewart of Family Legacy Asia.

Keith Whitaker wins Award for Outstanding Contribution to Thought Leadership

Dr Keith Whitaker, president of Wise Counsel Research, one of North America’s foremost think-tanks and consultancies, has been awarded ‘Outstanding Contribution to Wealth Management Thought Leadership’ at the 2nd Family Wealth Report Awards 2015.

One of five individuals to be shortlisted in the thought leadership category, the triumph is yet another milestone in Wise Counsel Research’s drive to be recognized as one of the pre-eminent players in the competitive wealth space. ClearView Financial Media’s Chairman, Bruce Weatherill, announced that the prestigious panel of judges considered Dr Whitaker, “the most impressive new thinker in our space.”

Showcasing ‘best of breed’ providers in the global private banking, wealth management and trusted advisor communities, the awards were designed to recognise companies, teams and individuals deemed to have ‘demonstrated innovation and excellence during 2015’.

Commenting on the Dr Whitaker’s triumph, Dr Susan Massenzio, CEO, Wise Counsel Research said: “We are delighted that Keith was voted the winner of this prestigious award by so many of the industry’s great and good.  It is a great honour to be recognised in these awards, and a testament to Keith’s leadership in our firm and in the field as a whole.”

ClearView Financial Media’s CEO, and Publisher of Family Wealth Report, Stephen Harris, was first to extend his congratulations to all the winners.  He said: “The firms and individuals who triumphed in these awards are all worthy winners, and I would like to extend my heartiest congratulations. These awards were judged solely on the basis of entrants’ submissions and their response to a number of specific questions, which had to be answered focusing on the client experience, not quantitative performance metrics.  That is a unique, and I believe, compelling feature.  These awards recognise the very best practitioners in the private client industry, with ‘independence’, ‘integrity’ and ‘genuine insight’ the watchwords of the judging process - such that the awards reflect true excellence.”

Communication as Risk Management

Wise Counsel's Hartley Goldstone has posted a new article at Trusts & Estates, arguing that the most effective form of trust risk management could be, of all things ... communication. If it seems an odd idea, that's only because so many trustees forget that a trust is not a portfolio or a database of transactions or even a document but rather a relationship between human beings. Just as doctors have learned that asking a few questions and showing some interest in patients can reduce malpractice suits, trustees may learn, with Hartley's guidance, that the best defence against potential trust litigation may be a good conversation.