What Happened to What Was Once the West’s Greatest Industrial Power? Dr. Henry M. Kaiser shares his family story and what he learned from it

It is a cloudy Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco. I’m having lunch at the Embarcadero with Dr. Henry M. Kaiser. I met Dr. Kaiser a couple of years ago when I joined his lead in creating the FFI Northern California Chapter. Our shared passion for family business has made for a few interesting conversations in the past. Today is not an exception.

I’m listening to Dr. Kaiser’s explanation about what motivated him to write his book “Inheritance Lost, Heritage Transformed,” where he relates his life and the events that lead a Fortune 500 family-owned company to enter voluntary liquidation just seven years after the passing of its founder and his grandfather, iconic industrialist Henry J. Kaiser.

While I’m listening to Dr. Kaiser’s story, I cannot help but notice his candor, strong curiosity, drive to be better and his fight to be relevant and make a difference. I can almost feel his passion about helping others to avoid the pain, powerlessness and disappointment that he experienced when the family empire dissipated in front of his eyes. Within Dr. Kaiser’s story there are certainly some important lessons to share that may inspire others to take the actions needed to achieve a more positive outcome with their own family companies.

In this short interview, Dr. Henry M. Kaiser, former director of Kaiser Hospitals and Health Plans, explains the events that led to the voluntary liquidation of the family business and shares some words of wisdom about what he believes he, and those around him, could have been done better.

Written by Carmen Lence, Executive Coach at NextGen Consulting & Coaching LLC. Contact Carmen  at carmen@nextgenfamilybusiness.com


The Art of Coaching with Heart and Soul


It is a warm Saturday afternoon in the Seaborg room at Berkeley Faculty Club.  I’m standing in front of a group of CEOs, managers and a few coaches that I just met a couple of hours ago. Next to me is Dr. Mark Rittenberg who is feeding me lines that I have to complete for everybody to hear: “What I want you to know about me is…” and words start coming out of my mouth, without filter, while Mark encourages me to speak slower and louder, urging me to look my audience in the eye. Next line… and I reveal another piece of my soul, next line… and another piece, next line … and tears start pooling my eyes while my words expose, for everyone to see, my soul stark naked.

You may wonder if I am a bit nuts and this was some kind of group therapy… not exactly. I was on the first day of my training to become a certified executive coach at the Executive Coaching Institute at UC Berkeley. I was one of the 24 participants that, every year, come from all over the world to take part in this transformative experience where, after 10 days of intense emotional, physical and mental immersion in the extraordinary world created by Dr. Mark Rittenberg and his team, you not only become a better coach, CEO or leader, but, quite simply, a better human being.

Mark, Arina, Lucy, Ivan, Jenny and the personal coaches assigned to each one of us (Ingrid, Tom, Reva, Susan, Siobhane, Thomas, Winston and Doy) pushed us everyday to take one more “baby step” out of our comfort zone. Mark would engage us in impossible-to-follow number games, that prompted us to be fully present, and think on our feet. Arina would encourage us to reflect on our life by helping us to find the defining moments that made us who we are today and assisting us to become comfortable with both the good ones and the bad ones. Lucy would teach us how to focus through the art of meditation. Ivan revealed to us the amazing power of our voice and taught us how to use it, not only to communicate, but to COMMUNICATE. And, of course, we learned coaching skills and had the chance to practice them with executives of leading companies from Silicon Valley and San Francisco. What a treat!!!

Pat Kiely, former CEO of AA Ireland, was one of the participants and my partner in one crazy theater piece we had to perform in from of the rest of the class. He told me that he had come to ECI to “get refreshed” after a rough couple of years. He attained his goal and transformed, in front of all of us, from a gentle Irishman that felt most comfortable blending into the background, to an outstanding, outrageous, funny Mr. Edison from the theater piece “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.” The performance left Pat feeling that he had more energy than the sun itself and everybody else with a smile on their face and a collective sense of achievement. Because, by then, it was clear that it wasn’t just the program leaders and coaches that were the source of our transformation, but that we all played an undeniable role in each other’s successes.

I’m flying back from the FFI Global congress at Brussels were I had the chance to test my own transformation.  After the ECI experience I decided to throw my MBA-like presentation style out of the window and I presented  “My story, Coaching and Coaching in Family Business” from my heart, fueled by my passion for coaching and family business. After the presentation quite a few people came over to congratulate me and they told me how my presentation and story reminded them of their own journey and that I had inspired them to continue walking the road less traveled or at least to start considering that path. My objective with this presentation was to educate my audience about coaching and about how coaching can help family business. Inspiring others to be better was an unexpected added bonus that has made all the difference to me.

Thanks, ECI community.  Let’s add one more little success to our list.

By Carmen Lence, Executive Coach at NextGen Consulting & Coaching LLC

Contact Carmen at carmen@nextgenfamilybusiness.com

How Coaching Enables you to CHANGE

We all know that change is difficult. In fact, change is so difficult that our brain is actually wired in a way that provokes sensations of physiological discomfort as soon as we face the slightest threat of change. As such, many of us do whatever it takes to avoid it.

Neuroscience (the study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain) has, in conjunction with magnetic resonance imaging, provided insights into why change is so difficult. When we want to make a conscious change, we use an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is where our working memory is placed. This area of the brain uses up a lot of energy and its use quickly generates a sense of discomfort, or even anger, because is linked to the amygdale, which controls our fight-or-flight response.

In order to avoid this discomfort and stress, our brains favor the use of the basal ganglia, which is the part of the brain that controls habit-based behavior. Have you ever locked your front door and then completely forgotten that you have done so? Such events are the result of your use of the basal ganglia, which can complete any familiar activity without conscious thought, all the while using much less energy than the prefrontal cortex.

On top of this, many people seriously resist being told what to do because this fires the prefrontal cortex’s connection to the amygdale. This provokes a defensive reaction and an inclination to find as many reasons as possible not to obey the instruction. This is especially true when the emotional aspects of new plans for change have not been explicitly addressed.

Finally, because the brain is programmed by experiences that are unique to each individual, everybody thinks in a different way. As a result of this, solutions provided by others are not as meaningful to us as the solutions that we reached by ourselves, using our own experiences and opinions.

Coaching your way through change

Coaching involves helping clients to think about possibilities, encourages them to arrive at their own answers and solutions, energizes them and motivates them to take action. Coaching is an ideal tool for bypassing the prefrontal cortex’s defenses and driving people to implement changes.

Research has shown that when we find our own answers to problems, our brains undergo high levels of activity as they build new connections. Studies into neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change structurally and functionally) show that if we focus our attention on positive things that is where we are going to be making and reinforcing connections. As an example, a study of brain patterns in Buddhist monks revealed that the part of their brain associated with happiness (left prefrontal cortex) was highly developed. This indicates that, they do possess the capacity to educate themselves to be happy!

The coaching process reinforces the motivation to implement changes by making the client design their own solutions and actively plan the steps that need to be taken. This entails that they devise their own action plan and retain accountability for its implementation. David Rock and Jeffery Schwazrt in their article “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” point out that those reinforcing moments of insight can make changes in the brain that can lead to new behaviors.

Coaching is a process that releases people’s potential and both accelerates change and keeps it sustainable, long after the coaching engagement is complete.

By Carmen Lence Coach and Consultant at NextGen Consulting & Coaching LLC

If you want to learn more about coaching and coaching for Family Business, I’ll be presenting “Coaching, Next Generation and Sustainable Change in Family Business” together with Christin McClave and Dennis Jaffe at the FFI international congress in Brussels on October 19th. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!