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

Advertisements