Family Advising

We are a private advisory firm for enterprise-owning and other high net worth families. Every engagement is unique, but typically we work with our client families to:


Understand their history and assess present state

Co-design their stewardship strategy

Facilitate execution of the strategy

1. Assessment Phase

Our assessment phase rapidly generates depth of insight to begin to scale and scope the engagement, in collaboration with our clients.

Our process begins with the assessment phase, which involves gathering data through empirical observation and psychometric instruments. Empirical observation includes interviews and facilitation with family members and stakeholders, often including spouses, estate professionals, and other members of the enterprise and governance. Psychometric instruments assess the internal and interpersonal experiences of individuals to collect data on facets such as personality, motivation, aptitude, needs, communication and learning preferences, conflict modes, and others as needed. The collected empirical data and the assessment data provide the context to form a working model of the family system as well as how the individuals within that system are nourished and formed by that system. 

2. Co-design Phase

We are guided by the principle that each family knows itself better than we do. 

Therefore, it is imperative to honestly share our findings from the assessment phase with the family clearly and compassionately – their role is to validate what is true based upon their experience and observation.  This begins the second phase of our framework, an extensive collaboration with the family to determine what realistic and achievable objectives make sense for their family at that point in time. The outcome is a design that will build the collective capacity of the family to be a cohesive stewardship group for their family’s wealth and legacy transition.

3. Execution Phase

The last phase is the execution phase, which does not happen ‘to the family’, but rather it is in continued collaboration ‘with the family’.  

It is an explicit and intentional curriculum design, complete with learning objectives, modes of delivery that are optimized for the family and stakeholder groups to include learning sessions and coaching. The learning sessions are scheduled to take place anywhere from 6 – 8 two day family gatherings over a period of 2- 4 years, preferably every quarter so that momentum can be sustained.  Coaching with family members in between sessions fortifies the learning experience and is common, particularly during the first four sessions.

The relationship with us, as family advisors, may or may not continue beyond the end of the engagement, depending on the wishes of the family.  For example, we may be called upon in varying capacities from playing a role each year at a family’s annual Family Meeting,  to occasional requests for assistance during important family circumstances  i.e. a founder’s death; a promotion of a sibling to a C-level position in the family enterprise, to assisting a family with a critical governance issue such as founding a Family Office.  In any case the family can confidently rely upon us to continue to care about them and to always be available as their family coach.

Case Study in Brief #1

SDL partnered with a 4th generation family-owned major international manufacturer in designing and executing a Succession Strategy.

  • To assess the talent of the owner’s children to determine their suitability for succession
  • To support the successors in their leadership development
Case Study in Brief #2

SDL was instrumental in a family-owned manufacturing company’s reinvention to meet their challenges of growth and global expansion.

  • To identify cultural and learning barriers to increased productivity in a manufacturing environment
  • To assess leadership capabilities in leading their manufacturing plant in reinventing itself
  • To increase client satisfaction by providing a long-term leadership development and plant accountability plan

Examples of Family Content

The following family sessions address these key issues by using timely case studies, discussion and experiential activities. Click individual sessions for descriptions

  • Family businesses have some advantages over other business entities because their focus is on the long term, their commitment is to quality (which is often associated with the family name), and there is a measure of care and concern for employees. But family businesses also face a unique set of challenges stemming from the overlap of family, ownership, and business issues. This session explores in detail the unique, interdependent attributes of the family business model including the various stages of ownership, family development, and the business life cycle that affect family relationships and business performance.  Participants you will have the opportunity to use their personal experience and background in discussion activities and the analysis of a family owned business case study.

  • Governance is largely defined by the fiduciary responsibility of the board to represent the shareholder’s interest and performance of management – it is an integral part of good stewardship in any business. Family business is unique in that there are often different needs for the family and shareholders – which require a distinction between business governance and business management. Governance is designed to protect the long-term interests of the family and shareholders by maintaining a healthy, ongoing business as well as welfare and harmony in the family.  This implies an interdependent relationship between the family, shareholders, and board of directors. 

    The board of directors, the family council, and the shareholders’ assembly are the basic governance structures in the family business model.  Each has a distinct set of rights, responsibilities, and privileges that define their respective roles.  This session will examines the family’s current governance structure and explore the essential considerations when forming, operating, and evaluating the type of structure that best suits the needs of family, business, and shareholder groups.

  • All parents at one time or another struggle with how to best teach their children values about money.  Raising children in an age of affluence and instilling responsible behaviors is a challenge for parents across a wide range of incomes.  However, in a successful family business, especially in the second generation and beyond, affluence will likely be associated with high net worth.  Parents raising children in this environment are tasked with two interdependent roles.  First, as stewards for the business a key concern is long term sustainability.  Second, as parents the goal is to raise happy, responsible children and create a strong family unit.  With these two roles come the task of providing the knowledge and tools children need to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors toward wealth and the perquisites it affords them throughout their lives.  Most important is for parents to develop a consistent, ongoing, comfortable dialogue with their children about the family business and money.

    The goal is to provide participants with the knowledge and tools to begin to help their children develop those healthy, responsible attitudes and behaviors around managing money by learning some simple, age appropriate ways to share this information with their children.

  • Both formal and informal family activities are a wonderful platform for teaching young people about the business and about the business of wealth management.  The following three sessions provide active learning opportunities for children from high net worth families to explore together the values associated with money and success in the context of the family business.  Children and young adults in the three groups will participate in a series of fun, instructive, and age-appropriate activities and discussions. 

    Even at a young age children have questions about money and status.  Especially as they reach school age they begin to compare themselves and what they have to those around them.  This session will address some of the most common questions that children in this age group have about money, savings, and philanthropy.  A variety of hands-on activities customized specifically for the children are used to facilitate participation, discussion, and learning.

    At this age children are becoming more autonomous, exploring who they are, and beginning to frame their role in the family business.  This session will use the fundamentals of entrepreneurship to promote their basic understanding of and skills around money management, business concepts, and financial literacy.  Here they are encouraged to frame their dreams, and current interests into future moneymaking and career options. A variety of methods including customized discussion, experiential activities, and case studies are used throughout the session to enhance their confidence, creativity, self -esteem, and self-reliance.

    By the time children become young adults they generally have experienced what it means to be part of a family business.  While this understanding may be unique to each child in a family, the most common question for young adults is, “Am I going to join the business?”  This session provides your children with tools that can help them make this decision. A variety of experiential activities customized specifically for this age group will be used to facilitate open discussion and learning.

  • Just as a leader has a defined skill set, effective managers also possess a comprehensive set of business skills. Oftentimes family members functioning in management roles in a family business learn “on-the-job” without the benefit of formal management training.  While their experience is invaluable, as a business grows and becomes more successful, managing the day-to-day operation becomes increasingly complex.  It is important to understand the basic management competencies that individual in management roles will need to perform at their highest potential.  We assess their personal skill levels with the intention of identifying the appropriate training or other developmental activities that will help increase effective performance in the business.  

    • Goal Setting
    • Strategic Planning
    • Hiring and Managing Talent
    • Delegating
    • Time Management
    • Coaching
    • Crisis Management
  • A successful “Family-Controlled Business” is a joint effort by the owner(s), family members, and the management team to create and implement strategy, structure, and governance that can ensure continuity for the family and the business.  In order for this to occur there must be a clearly communicated vision that results in an explicit plan of action.  This session explores three key activities that should be addressed as part of the planning process: (1) crafting a common vision for the business; (2) creating continuity plans that specify how the family will structure ownership of the enterprise, govern and/or manage it, and distribute the benefits of ownership among family members; and (3) outlining and implementing a strategic plan that builds a clear market and financial position and meets the company’s human and financial resource requirements.  A family can begin a guided discussion around planning considerations and some tools that can streamline the planning process and result in more effective outcomes.

  • Succession Planning is the single most important activity necessary to ensure the future of a family business.  Yet less than 60 % of all family-owned enterprises have plans in place.  This session raises some of the key issues and implications around succession planning for your family and provides a clear approach to succession management and authority in the family using SDL’s proprietary tool – the Success Print™.

  • Creating, building, and sustaining a family business is a fundamental American dream.  However, while continuity is a shared value in most family-owned businesses it remains a key challenge. Because only 33% of family businesses make it past the first generation, 15% past the second, and only 3% past the third it is essential that families identify and encourage their children’s interest and participation from an early age.  If it is your intention to keep the business in the family’s hands there are steps you can take to attract future generations.  This session provides a methodology and structure that make this possible for families.

  • There is a growing trend in family-owned businesses – especially those in the second generation and beyond – toward establishing an Office of the Chairman (also called Office of the President, and business leadership team, etc.).  While this is a relatively new concept, this structure reflects the broader world of corporate thinking favoring collaboration and the team approach to leadership in business.  This structure offers owners some unique opportunities for managing the business; yet, there are a variety of considerations in adopting this management model – most importantly, how decisions will be made.  In addition, the size of the company, the organization’s culture and values, the complexity of the business, the timing and length of the change, and the relationships between family members are just a few of the considerations involved in this type of change.  This session uses case studies and guided discussion to explore the benefits, structures, and best practices of this model and provides some guidelines for owners looking to re-structure their leadership in the near future.