Case Study: Sustaining Engagement in a Cousins Consortium

Three third-generation Family Directors of a large enterprising family were attending a global conference focused on innovation and growth. Their 90-year old family had deep pride and gratitude for the success and leadership of previous generations. However, there were no family members currently working actively in the business, and the family’s only connection to their vast operations — which spanned eight industries and three continents — was limited to these three members of the Board.

One of the final keynote speakers at the conference featured a panel discussion with a large “cousins consortium” who were celebrating their 150th anniversary. They were reflecting on the tremendous change that was taking place in their industry and sharing the various governance structures and activities they put in place over the last quarter-century to secure the unity and commitment of the family to the enterprise across generations.

The Family Directors listened to this live case and reflected on their future. They wondered how their family enterprise would enter its second century — let alone survive long enough to celebrate 150 years of continuity. Several of their new operating companies were growing quickly, but other mature legacy assets were struggling under increased competition and changing consumer tastes. There were currently no shared family activities to hold the family together beyond an annual holiday trip, and some family members were already inquiring about valuation and the process for selling shares. There were also early signs that the wealth generated by the enterprise was beginning to have adverse effects on some of their younger family members, and their parents were growing increasingly concerned.

How might this evolving competitive landscape shape their strategy and portfolio over the next half-century? Who from the family had the interest, capability, and credibility to lead under these complex conditions? Would they remain committed and connected to the enterprise as the family continued to grow and spread out geographically? What about their kids and grandkids, who had no direct connection to the founders and only knew them as smiling portraits on the wall?

After the session, the Family Directors approached the stage, introduced themselves, and asked how this family first began thinking about continuity planning. The panelists shared that they had been working with LGA on and off for over two decades and that this advice had been instrumental to their long-term success. Their collaboration began years ago with a Continuity Audit, during which a team of LGA advisors interviewed each of the family’s 65 adult cousins along with several of their top advisors, with the goal of understanding their unique perspectives about business, ownership, and family. The advisors also analyzed key financial and strategic data as well as estate plans and legal structures to get a systems-level view of their readiness for the future.

Based on LGA’s recommendations, the family designed and launched a new Holding Board and a Family Council to complement their existing corporate governance. Then they invested heavily in shareholder development programming to ensure a strong bench of future leaders and engaged owners who were deeply committed to the enterprise and had the skills and competencies necessary to succeed. Next, they launched a Family Foundation to help coordinate their philanthropic activities and provide a vehicle for younger family members to understand and live the family’s core values. Finally, they inaugurated an annual Family Summit to share important updates about all these activities and celebrate their connection to the enterprise and to each other.

The Family Directors thanked the panelists for their openness and candor and brought these ideas back to their Board for discussion. They were initially resistant to embark on a continuity project — nothing like this had ever been tried before within the family — but there was also a deep desire to sustain the family’s entrepreneurial success and keep the family united and engaged for many decades to come.

The Chair reached out to LGA and met with an advisor who shared some additional context about the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for many family enterprises at their age and stage. The advisor then met with several of the family members who were most interested in learning more about this process. They formed a Steering Committee to explore whether the family was ready to begin a continuity project, as well as address any lingering concerns.

With the blessing of the Board, the Steering Committee worked with LGA to execute a successful Continuity Audit, which provided the family with the data they needed to build excitement and commitment to their shared future together. They emerged from the Audit with an action plan designed to help them enter their next century well-positioned for growth and continued success, including a new Family Council to help organize their growing family, and an inaugural Family Assembly to gather and build excitement for the future. They also launched two development programs for the rising generation — one to recruit interest in building a career within the family business, and another to prepare high-performing members of the family for a role on the Board. Their LGA advisors helped them design and launch all of these critical new structures, policies, and processes and provided ongoing coaching for the family members who were leading these efforts.

Years later, the family has never been more engaged, the business has never been more successful, and ownership continuity has never been more assured. Every so often, the Board and Family Council check-in with their LGA advisors — at moments of succession, generational transition, during governance reviews, or simply to catch up and share updates on the enterprise. In the meantime, their advisory team is always available to answer questions and support their continuity across generations.


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