Today I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Lee Hausner (family psychologist) and Doug Freeman, JD (a leading estate tax attorney with a specialization in philanthropy) talk for 3 hours on family governance and family meetings for multi-generational wealthy families. Their criterion of success is that a family remain intact, happy and productive, as a cohesive group, for 4-5 generations, or 100 years. "Legacy families" they call them. Philanthropy, and indeed compassion, they see as critical aspects of these successful families. Lee and Doug's firm is IFF Advisors. Doug and Lee are about as good as it gets. Either is brilliant, but together they make a wonderful presentation team. Their audience today consisted of financial people, philanthropy people from the foundation world, and members of several wealthy families. The talk was sponsored by Thompson & Knight, a leading law firm here in Dallas. Given the audience response, I suspect that Lee and Doug will garner client families here, as they are around the country.
Comparing Doug and Lee with my friend Tracy Gary of Inspired Legacies, I would use one word, "community." What Tracy would stress is that happy and successful hegemonic families or dynasties are not necessarily the greatest good God created on his green earth. At worst they are happy plutocrats, or a governing elite, an emerging aristocracy, a self-actualizing, self-perpetuating upper crust - as well as lucrative clients. Tracy would put in a plea for the broken families, the busted people and those who have a claim on us as part of a larger "family," the family of humankind. I find her perspective less "realistic" than Doug and Lee, who recognize that clients pay their bills, and yet a necessary corrective to all of us in the professions who sometimes forget that we are citizens as well as professionals. How wealthy families balance their own goals and the needs of society may be the critical issue for democracy in an ownership society, and an era of rising wealth disparity.
What Tracy is reflecting, I think in her intransigent commitment to community is her own upbringing in her own multi-generational family. "As the twig is bent...." In a very real way she honors her parents through her own life of service. Her sense of community responsibility was a key aspect of her own family legacy. When she speaks of her own childhood, many of the strategies that Lee and Doug recommend for raising healthy kids are ones her parents employed at home.
In any case, Lee and Doug seem to be doing very well indeed and making their firm succeed as a "going concern." I learned a great deal.