Keys to setting up a successful family office

The owners of the Biltmore House

FEC co-founder Steve Miller, Diana “Dini” Pickering and her brother, Bill Cecil Jr.

“Family meetings represent a reliable forum for the education of family members—particularly those not active in the management of the business—about the state of the business, its financial performance, its strategy and the competitive dynamics it faces.  Family meetings also offer a safe haven in which to teach family members about the various rights and responsibilities that accompany being a business owner and manager.”  – Ernesto Poza, Family Business

No one knows this to be truer than Diana “Dini” Cecil Pickering, Family Office Director and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Biltmore Company.  As the leadership of Biltmore transitioned to its sixth generation, Dini saw the importance of establishing a family council.  Despite hesitant acceptance by prior leadership, Dini persevered.  Today, the family office is as crucial as to Biltmore as is the 250 room chateau.

Dini shared some her family’s lessons learned from developing a family council, holding family meetings, authoring policies, learning to work together effectively, and ultimately developing an enduring trust.  She shared these lessons so that other families can benefit from her family’s experience:

Find a family leader who is willing to drive the process ahead.

As you begin the process of working together as a family, encourage a family leader who is willing to drive the process ahead—who is fully committed to developing the process by which the family will come together on specific issues.

Use consultants.

Don’t feel like you must go it alone, particularly when addressing difficult issues.

Make time for fun.

When planning family meetings, make sure to leave time for unplanned fun—don’t be too organized about this aspect of the meeting—allow for spontaneity and the natural flow of relationship building.

Compromise.

Compromise is important in developing family policies—be open to everyone’s point of view and find the common ground from which to build.

It’s about the journey.

It’s all about the journey—and in this case, it is not so much the end results that matter the most. It’s not about the specific policies that are developed or the educational programs that are presented,” says Dini. “It’s about the process of learning to work together as a family, to communicate effectively, to support one another,and to develop and enduring trust.”

By Hudson Shelby (MBA ’12)

The Family Enterprise Center prepares next generation family business students for leadership and ownership in family firms.