How to Avoid “From Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Three Generations.” James E. Hughes Jr. Provides the Answer at the FFI Northern California Event

James E. Hughes Jr.


The FFI NCAL Chapter Formation Team recently hosted the second event of a series that is aimed at raising awareness of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter for the Family Firm Institute. Thanks to the efforts of Susan Ott and Henry Kaiser, who did a fantastic job of organizing the event, we all enjoyed a great learning and networking experience.

This time we had the opportunity to learn from Mr. James E. Hughes, who has more than forty years of experience working with family businesses. Mr. Hughes is also the author of the well-known family business books: “Family Wealth—Keeping it in the Family” and “Family: The Compact Among Generations.”

Mr. Hughes’ views on the issues related to passing wealth to the next generation and the impact that this can have on their lives did take me by surprise. Usually, the next generation are often perceived as being responsible for taking over a well-run family business and running it into the ground; they are also frequently considered to be entitled, dependant and spoilt. Mr. Hughes’ presentation focused more on the root of the problem and looked, in an entirely different light, at some of the issues that impact next generation family members.

During the presentation, all participants were asked to draw a very simple galaxy where one planet represented the “Donor” and was divided into two main areas: the “Land of Mindful Donor” and the “Land of Thoughtless Transfer.”  From this planet a meteor was ejected towards the “Planet Recipient.”  The question that he encouraged us all to ask as we drew the diagram was: “What is in your meteor?”

Mr. Hughes described how Planet Recipient is happily going about its business until the meteor is launched from Planet Donor, travels into its atmosphere and pretty much changes everything in a blink of an eye. If the meteor comes from the Land of Thoughtless Transfer, which in his opinion happens most of the time as the result of the donor feeling guilty about something and following his or her own agenda, the recipient runs the risk of becoming dependent and entitled.

What can the recipient do when the meteor suddenly lands on his/her planet? They have to adapt as quickly as possible, integrating this new alien body into their lives. Mr. Hughes presented the following simple formula:

Adaptation + Resilience = Integration

Adaptation – Resilience = Disintegration

The main element that the recipient needs to survive and thrive once the meteor hits his/her planet, is resilience and the quality of the recipient’s resilience is all that matters. The recipient has already built this resilience by educating himself/herself on who they really are, knowing what they want in life, developing a purpose for themselves and being their own person.

Mr. Hughes argues that the meteor should always comes from the Land of Mindful Donor, in that it should be launched by a donor who carefully thinks about the impact that the transfer is going to have on the recipient’s life. A Mindful Donor is a donor that considers how to enhance the life of the recipient, thinks about his or her intention and invests time developing the recipient as a human being. According to Mr. Hughes, it is crucial that donors make every effort to help the recipient to learn about his/her learning style, vocation and personality, and truly discover the deepest root of who he/she really is. This will ensure that the recipients are prepared for a fulfilled life, with or without the meteor and its content.

What about you? Do you think that this is the best way to end the “from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” cycle?

Written by Carmen Lence, Coach and consultant at www.nextgenfamilybusiness.com

A Successful Woman

A successful woman has died. She did not have an MBA, or run a Fortune 500 company or have a “job,” other than being the heart of a family.  She was a wife, a mother, a mother in law, a grandmother, a sister, a friend… a woman.

In the past I didn’t really consider women that dedicated their entire adult lives to caring for their families as successful. To me success meant having a great career, making good money and being recognized for what you do professionally.

She did not have any of those, but what a great success her life was!

She raised three wonderful men. She taught them the values of hard work, honesty, humility, and achievement. She supported them, even when she did not agree with their decisions.  She raised them to be free, courageous, generous, respectful and she helped them to achieve a fulfilled life. She was proud of her sons’ professional and personal success: their success was her success.

She welcome three daughters-in-law into her family and made them feel loved, accepted and an important part of a close family. She treasured, cared and respected them as if they were her own daughters.

She welcomed five grandchildren and became the most caring and fun grandmother any child could wish for. She was always there if they were hungry or scared or wanted a playmate. She enjoyed watching them as they played, or ran or made a mess of her kitchen; she loved the little ones so much!

She was the heart of the family, keeping us together around delicious food, great wine and fun company. She loved all of us and made every one of us feel so special.

One day she got sick and we all held our breath hoping for the best. Sadly, the best did not happen.

I still want to have a great career and be recognized for my work. But now I know what is truly going to make me feel successful and let me go in peace when my time comes. Thanks for a great lesson on what is truly important in life.

In memory of Martha, a successful woman. You will always be in my heart.

Written by Carmen Lence

Is Women Power Enough to Break the Glass Ceiling?

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I just got off the phone with my friend Michio, back in Japan. She was so fustrated about her job situation that she really needed a friendly ear to vent to. After five years working for the same company she just had enough of waiting for an “opportunity” and she decided to look for it elsewhere. “I’m one of the few women in my office that is not working as an ‘office lady,’ and still they are reluctant to promote me; they believe that sooner or later I’ll leave my job to get married and have kids,” she said. Michio’s profile, a single woman in her early thirties with a university degree, several years’ work experience and frustrated with the difficulties in getting ahead in her career, is not unique to Japanese society, but especially common in Japan, where less than one percent of corporate directors are women.

Family businesses are not an exception.

Apart from interesting cases like the “ryokans” (Japanese traditional inn) in Japan, where women rule generation after generation, most women in family businesses get leadership positions when there are no men in the family to go around. Still, succeeding dad in the family business is one of the fastest ways for a woman to break into top management.

Women power does make a difference


Global leaders like IBM and P&G are promoting their “gender diversity” programs as they have figured out that having more women in management will help them to better understand the needs of a big percentage of their customers, women.

Also, a study conducted by Catalyst, a research company specializing in gender issues, shows that the leading companies in their sample had women accounting for 20 percent of their top managers, while the bottom companies had less than 2 percent.

If this is not enough proof of women managers positive impact on company performance, look at the UK’s Cranfield School of Management study, which found that 69 firms in the FTSE 100 with at least one women director scored an average return of equity of 13.8 percent compared with 9.9 percent of the other 39 companies with no women directors at all.

Why are there still so few women in top management?


Many go the easy way and blame women themselves, arguing that they are not as ambitious and committed as men to making the hard climb to top management and that they are too eager to leave their careers when they get married or have children. As a woman, I find this argument quite cynical.

I’ve meet many expatriate’s wives throughout the years living in different countries. Most of them have great education and work experience but left their careers and well paid jobs when their husbands were offered job opportunities abroad. Why? Simply because they could not compete with their husbands higher salaries and better career prospects.

This is also a choice that many women are compelled to take when they have children. If the couple doesn’t make money enough to pay baby care, the woman’s job is the first to go, as she  normally earns less than her husband. Statistics show that women in general have fewer offers to managerial positions and generally lower salaries for the same positions.

Society is not so supportive to career women.

Women are blamed for the low birth rate in the industrialized world, picturing working women that remain childless as selfish and self-centred. Needless to say, working mothers don’t get much better press either, making many mothers feel guilty about wanting to have a career.

Interestingly enough, statistics show that the countries that have the lowest levels of fertility are those with relatively low levels of female labour force participation while the countries with higher fertility levels tend to have relatively high female labour force participation rates.  So, it seems that supporting women to have careers actually makes them more willing to be mothers as they feel more confidence in being able to provide a better life for their families.

In my opinion, companies and governments have to make an effort to help women combine family and career. Women will have no incentive to return to work after maternity leave if they are not offered the possibility to rise to management-level positions and the flexibility that a working mother requires. Who wants to go back to a dead-end job that costs you money because you have to pay someone to look after your child?

Women power is not enough to break the glass ceiling; companies should offer true equality of opportunity– equal pay to men and women for the same positions, and flexible hours and child care facilities for working parents. Governments should help with tax incentives and positive discrimination establishing minimum quotas of women in management. Basically, women power needs people power to really make a difference.

Written by Carmen Lence, Executive Coach specialized in working with Family business and women entrepreneur.

For more information about Carmen Lence click on www.nextgenfamilybusiness.com