Keeping the Family Cabin… in the Family

Spring is near and thoughts of lazy afternoons at the lake are starting to infiltrate my thoughts!

There really is nothing better than sitting at the end of the pier with a glass of wine watching the sun set at the end of a busy week. Growing up with a family cottage is a blessing. I think back on how much fun we had as a family spending time at the lake when I was a kid – hunting frogs, playing cards, learning to sail and wakeboard – but now when I think of the cabin I am not sure what the future holds.

With my parents looking at retirement and moving to a warmer climate and my siblings getting married and having families of their own, I’m afraid the cabin that I see as an oasis and sanctuary in a busy world is going to be a casualty of poor communication and unspoken expectations. My parents spend less and less time at the lake and the last couple of years have been really tough on their business. They are starting to see the cabin as a money pit requiring endless fixes and renovations. It has lost its luster over the years and it is now less of an asset to them and more of a hindrance.

My older brother has a successful film career in Vancouver and his wife’s family has ocean front property on one of the islands off the coast. He barely makes it back to town for major holidays much less to use the cabin… so the chances of him wanting to pitch into the family cabin’s upkeep are pretty slim! There is also my younger sister who loves the cabin as much as I do but she is married now, chasing around a toddler and expecting her second child shortly. And unfortunately, my brother-in-law is not the easiest person to get along with and doesn’t seem to see the value of having a shared vacation property.

So really… that only leaves me! While I want nothing more than to see the cabin stay in the family, having just started a new career and having just purchased my first home, there is no way I alone, can afford the bills that come with it. When I look around at my friends who also have family lake-properties, I realize that even though we may be at different stages in our lives, these questions are coming up soon for them too.

How can I get my family to see the rough waters ahead without looking like I’m fishing to find out which one of us will be getting the cabin in the will?

Contact ABFI at to order your copy of “Managing Shared Assets: Lessons from the Family Cabin” presented by Lloyd Steier, Gary Coskey, and Philip J. Renaud.

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Making My Own Money Motto

Franco Lombardo presenting the "Money Motto"

What is your emotional relationship with money? Well I know I feel great when I spend it and even better when I make it. There is this kind of ‘high’ when I buy new clothes or a new pair of shoes: I feel like I’m on top of the world… even if it’s just for a few moments. I know that making the ‘sale’ is a thrill which gives me an adrenaline rush. But I also know, through second hand experience what it means to be without money.

Yesterday I attended the second installment of ABFI’s Authors Breakfast Series. I listened to Franco Lombardo, author of “Money Motto – The Path to Authentic Wealth” speak about his theory that everyone has their own money motto and their own personal, emotional relationship with money. In business terms it would be a statement that encompasses your thoughts and feelings about your own relationship with money. Some examples of money mottos according to Lombardo include:

  • More money means more control.
  • Money allows me to fit in.
  • Money makes me feel loved.

But I couldn’t identify with those so I decided to make my own. For me it’s more like ‘money means I’m free’. Free from what? Free from expectation and accountability. Although I thrive on responsibility, I also wish, to be free from it and in my mind and my heart, money seems to be the key.

Lombardo’s presentation was thought provoking and interesting. Specifically targeted towards families with children, Lombardo discussed how children need and crave the passing on of their parents’ value systems – both emotionally and financially.

I’m curious to see his next book, a duo children’s story (written by his own kids!) and parent guide book about how bullying affects one’s relationship with money. “Money Bully” is set to be available on Pink Shirt Day.

ABFI attendees enjoying Franco Lombardo's presentation.

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Darren Entwistle – Canadian Business Leader of the Year Award Recipient

The Canadian Business Leader Awards dinner is the premiere event for the Alberta School of Business held annually at the SHAW conference centre. This year Darren Entwistle, President and Chief Executive Officer of TELUS, was the 30th recipient of the Canadian Business Leader of the Year Award.

Darren joins an impressive list of past recipients, many of which come from family business backgrounds. These recipients include:

1984 – John E. Poole – PCL

1985 – Ronald D. Southern – ATCO

1991 – Laurent Beaudoin – Bombardier

1995 – JR Shaw – SHAW Communications

CBLA recipients are invited to share their stories of success, hardship, and lessons learned to an audience mostly comprised of students, government officials, and business leaders from within the community. This year Darren Entwistle spoke to the value of creating a quality corporate culture, “Competitors can copy your marketing or your products, but they can’t re-create your corporate culture!” TELUS was also recognized as the most philanthropic organization in the world for 2010, donating $20,000 to over 2,000 charities and not-for-profit organizations.

However, the CBLAs are about more than simply recognizing great business leaders; they are about inspiring students to become the next generation of business and community leaders. Many companies purchase tables and donate their tickets to U of A students, giving them the opportunity to interact with the many business and community leaders also attending.

Following the awards dinner, Entwistle paid a visit to the Alberta School of Business to speak with MBA students about his journey becoming the President of TELUS. He spoke with them about topics including philanthropy, corporate culture, competing with Bell and Rogers and whether or not TELUS is positioning itself to buy or partner with a large media group.

Already looking forward to next year’s event!

ABFI's Executive Director Shauna Feth with ABFI Board Chair Grant Lovig and author Gordon Pitts.

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Family Owned Business – A Competitve Advantage

February 17th marked the first installment of ABFI’s 2011 Author’s Breakfast Series. The chilly February morning brought Danny Miller and Isabelle Le Breton-Miller from Montreal to Edmonton to discuss the book they co-wrote, “Managing for the Long Run”. Isabelle did a wonderful job presenting key concepts from the book while a quieter Danny fielded questions that arose during the presentation.

Several key concepts from the book were presented that successfully portrayed family controlled businesses as positive and strong contributors to the economy. The concepts showed business families as exceptional champions of business ethics because they ensure their family values are present within their business models. Another interesting fact that Isabelle discussed was that over 50% of the world’s largest companies are family owned; a pretty amazing statistic!

Notably, Isabelle used a Grasshopper vs. Ant analogy to illuminate one of the book’s concepts. In this analogy the grasshopper is short-sighted and chasing a quarterly bonus; only looking to the bottom line. However, the ant works slowly guided by family values and a mission to build a foundation that enables future generations to thrive within the business.

I came out of the presentation with a better understanding of how family systems can positively impact the longevity of a business. Often when people think of family businesses they have the impression that they are all mom and pop shops with few organizational systems in place, making them unsophisticated or less educated. Through their book, “Managing for the Long Run” and their ABFI presentation, Danny and Isabelle showed that family controlled businesses do extraordinarily well despite their internal challenges. Business families have the ability to take their unique strengths and transform them into competitive advantages.

For more insight, check out their book on!

The ABFI Author’s Breakfast Series will continue on March 22nd in Edmonton and March 23rd in Calgary with author Franco Lombardo presenting, “The Money Motto”.

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Family Biz and Beyond

The Alberta Business Family Institute held their Family Business and Beyond event this past Valentines day. ABFI director Shauna Feth and Academic Director Lloyd Steier hosted the event that had many students, staff and professional advisors in attendance.

The catered info session took place in the MBA lounge of the Alberta School of Business and started out with some light mingling over catering provided by Upper Crust. At five o’clock Lloyd and Shauna took the floor introducing key faculty in attendance. Danny Miller and Isabelle Le Breton-Miller authors of “Managing for the Long Run” were also in town attending the event from Montreal. Danny and Isabelle will be presenting in the Authors Breakfast Series hosted by ABFI on February 24th in Edmonton and on February 25th in Calgary. You can register for these events here: Edmonton Event or Calgary Event.

One of the key takeaways from the event included the creation of a new major in Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise, the first of its kind in Canada. This major is open to all BCom students and is especially relevant to students pursuing three distinct career paths:

  1. Students intent on creating, owning and or managing a business venture;
  2. Students destined to become the next-generation leaders of an existing family enterprise; and
  3. Students who envision themselves as professional advisors to the entrepreneurial and or family controlled firms in the future.

Courses offered include new venture creation, small business management, managing family enterprise, international family enterprise and advising family business. (For more information on programs contact

The event also acted as a forum for both students and advisors to bring up ideas for new courses and services they would like to see. Executive Professor in Residence Gary Coskey brought up the interesting idea of starting a family business club at the U of A.

What are your thoughts on establishing a NexGen family business club at the U of A?

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Some Day This Business Will All Be Yours – Maybe!!!

As a member of the next generation (“a next gener”), working in the family business, you often feel like Prince Charles awaiting a decision from your mother to ascend the throne.

Most “next geners” have heard the comment from founders—“someday this business will all be yours”. After making the decision to pursue a career in the family business, a clear pathway to achieve this goal is often not obvious.

In my discussions with founders, they often indicate that the “next geners” are fitting into the family business; however they are not demonstrating a desire to take over the reins of the family business.

On the other hand, the “next geners” are indicating that they are uncomfortable raising transitional issues with the founders. They don’t want to give the impression that they are “pushing the founders out”. This impasse is obviously created by the lack of communication from both parties.

In my opinion, the “next geners” must develop a career strategic plan to clearly identify their abilities to prepare themselves for a leadership role in the family business. This strategic plan should include the following:

Education and Experience

  • Ensure that you bring to your first job an appropriate level of education/experience.
  • Learn communication skills through organizations like Toastmasters.
  • Enrol in business courses to improve your business acumen.

Starting Work

  • Ascertain that your new position is meaningful to the business and not a position created for you by the founders.
  • Ensure that you are provided with a detailed job description and how you will be held accountable.
  • Ensure that you are provided with a mentor—–not dad or mom.
  • Gain experience in all areas of the business.

Work Habits

  • Come early and leave late.
  • Be prepared to do whatever is required. Don’t ask anyone to perform a task you wouldn’t do.
  • Build respect from all employees.
  • Ensure you express loyalty to the family business.
  • Do not discuss family matters with other employees.
  • Do not take privileges that are not available to other employees.
  • Take constructive criticism as a learning experience.

Finally, demonstrate to the founders that, although the road to leadership is arduous, you will do whatever it takes to proof you are capable and ready to assume the reins of the business.

Gary Coskey

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Changing pace or changing place?

Companies grow and people join and leave them all the time, but how does that work when it comes to family? Do you have a policy on how family members can join your company? Do you take everyone who needs a job?

When the economy was in full upswing and you needed bodies more than you needed talent, hiring any family member who wanted a job was easy. Nowadays when we have to let go of some of our best people to keep the company afloat it’s much more difficult. Have you taken the time you need to insure that your hiring practices get you the very best you need to make your business successful?
Some thoughts to consider:

  • What is the education requirement for your staff?
  • What experience do you want your staff to have?
  • Should family have worked outside of the business so that they have new  experience and skills to add to the team?
  • Does family start at the bottom and work their way up?
  • Why are you hiring them? Is it in the best interest of the business?
  • Who does the performance evaluations for employed family members?
  • How do you let go of a family member if they are not doing their job?
  • When is the right time for a promotion and who decides that?
  • What is the salary scale and how are increases decided?
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