Perspectives from ISB

In family businesses, family assets are the unique and often intangible contributions that only families can bring to their firms and are essential to their identities. Long-lived family firms always need to identify and develop those unique family assets that have been sustained and enhanced by each generation of the family.

However, as these firms develop and grow over time, family assets can be lost on the growing number of family members and stakeholders, especially if no long-term planning of this special type of asset management has been initiated by the founders or developed by second- or third-generation owner-managers. To develop long-term planning, owner-managers can focus on three key variables:

  • Identify the critical family assets and how these can be exploited in the current business environment.
  • Understand the extent to which family assets are transferable to the next generation, to outside managers or to new owners.
  • Organise the leadership and management of the firm in such a way that family assets add value to the business strategy.

One firm that exemplifies how these variables can work in practice is C. Hoare & Co, the oldest private bank in the United Kingdom (founded in 1672). Currently, eleventh generation Alexander S. Hoare is one of the bank’s eight partners. At any given point in time, about 12 family members ranging in age from 20 to 80 are employed by the bank, but only a few of them are promoted to the level of the boardroom. Usually, however, family members are ordinary members of staff. The current CEO is David Green, a non-family professional, who joined the firm in 2003. The current chairman of C. Hoare & Co is also a non-family professional, Sir Nicholas Macpherson.

However, shares in the bank are all owned by the eight partners of the firm who are family members. With approximately 2,000 Hoare cousins in the extended family, the bank does not distribute dividends to all of them. Dividends are only distributed to the eight partners, and the dividend has not changed since 1928.

As an unlimited-liability company, each of the eight partners carries unlimited liability for the bank’s business activities. “This influences our behaviour,” said Alexander. “It forces the eight partners to manage and mitigate any risks the bank could have.”

By staying focused, families can optimise and enlarge the long-term value of their assets. Moreover, family control is most valuable when the family assets are strong.

Source: Bennedsen, Morten. & Henry, Brian., February 16, 2018;

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