Preparing the Next Generation

Preparing the Next Generation

by Leslie Dashew

Adding Value to the Next Generation

One of the greatest concerns in families who own businesses and families of wealth is how to assure that their assets will add value to their children’s lives–not hurt them. One of the particular challenges in parenting is how to give our children the right opportunities. Too often, we equate giving with gifts, setting things up for our kids, or making opportunities for them. However, these kinds of gifts may, in fact, be taking away opportunities for their growth, not adding to them.

When children don’t learn to use their own muscles (to talk, walk, or work) these muscles atrophy in the same way other “muscles” atrophy when children don’t learn to use them on their own. For example, if children don’t gain the motivation to do for themselves, they have little practice in developing their own competence (and thus their self-esteem), and then they lack a sense of responsibility for themselves or others. So preparing our offspring includes giving them the opportunity to do as much as they can for themselves, with coaching along the way. For many families with whom we work, there is a desire to perpetuate a family legacy.

Sometimes this legacy includes an asset such as a family business that has been in the family for a long time, or a ranch or a farm that ancestors cultivated, or a philosophy which has defined the family for several generations. So the question arises, “How do we perpetuate our legacy and our assets in future generations?” The following are a few considerations in so doing.

Components Of Education

Preparing the younger generation includes three areas of learning: The family’s spiritual legacy, the asset legacy and stewardship skills.

The spiritual legacy includes the values which characterize the family and which many in the family believe contribute to the well-being of the family and success in the business. This philosophy is often manifested in stories which the family hears over and over again (the oral history of the family) during one’s growing up years. Often the stories describe how hard work and perseverance (two common values) helped an ancestor overcome the odds to lay the foundation for the family fortune. Faith is another common feature of these stories. Documenting and sharing the family values and history is an important component of the education of the next generation.

The spiritual history describes how the family has lived, and the asset legacy describes what the family has built. This may include family business(es), financial assets outside of a business, real estate holdings, artwork, homes, boats, etc. As children are growing up, gradually it is important for them to learn about just what the family has and the responsibilities for managing the legacy.

Which brings us to the third aspect of education: stewardship skills. This category includes how one develops the capacity to be a diligent steward of his or her assets so as not to lose them or have them destroy one’s life. The topics which should be addressed here include asset and financial management, teamwork and leadership skills and self-management.

The education of the next generation starts when the children are very young: five or six years of age. At that point, children can begin to take in the family stories which begin to establish an interest and appreciation of family history. Youngsters of this age can also begin to receive an allowance and begin to learn about “budgeting” that money to spend on fun, some for savings and even tithing.

At each stage of life from that point on, the content and nature of learning varies, but the lessons should help these successors to learn about what they have physically and spiritually and what it takes to manage ones life and assets responsibly.

This article appeared in the Aspen Family Business Group’s Spring, 2000 Newsletter.