In this episode Josh talks with Steve Legler, author of “Shift Your Family Business“. They discuss the pitfalls inherent in family businesses and some strategies for dealing with them.

Steve is a proud FEA Designate (IFEA) and holds ACBFA and ACFWA certifications (FFI), in addition to having an MBA (UWO-Ivey) He is also a CFA charterholder (CFA Institute), and the author of Shift your Family Business (Friesen Press, 2014).

Steve helps family businesses with their family dynamics, to create the harmony they need, to support the legacy they want!

In today’s episode you will learn:

  • When do people make the SHIFT from a family business to a business family?
  • When they go from “my wealth” to “our wealth”?
  • What a good legacy would be?
  • The evolution of the field of wealth transitions


Narrator:          Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.

Josh:                  Hey, how are you? This is Josh Patrick and you’re at The Sustainable Business. Today, my guest is Steve Legler. Steve has an interesting site which I highly recommend you go see I met Steve, Gosh, I don’t know five, six, seven years ago at an organization called a Purposeful Planning Institute. That’s where we work together on how to serve high net worth family businesses and families who have interesting planning problems. Today we’re going to talk with Steve about family business because that’s where his expertise is. Instead of me wandering on about family business and things that I can talk about by myself, let’s bring Steve on.

Hey, Steve, how are you today?

Steve:                Very well. Thank you, Josh. Thanks for having me on.

Josh:                  It’s my pleasure. You have something really interesting in our show notes that you put there. You say, when people make the shift from family business to business family, I love that. What do you mean by it?

Steve:                I wrote that book, Shift your Family Business which has a long but important subtitle which is stop working in your family business, start working on your business family. I know a lot of people are familiar with the working in versus working on the business? Then there’s the, is it a family business or are you a business family? That’s the other one. I tried to do two things there.

I wrote this book for people like my father and like my father in law who had both started businesses and grown them significantly and then came to a point in their lives where they realized, “Wait a sec, just making this pie bigger is probably not the best use of my time and efforts” and trying to figure out what’s going to happen with this pie going forward and the people for whom I have built this business, it’s a family business.

I did all this hard work for my family and then trying to shift into that mode of focusing more on the family and the less on the business itself. Some people never get there. They enlightened people do.

Josh:                  I would say most people never get there.

Steve:                I would be inclined to agree with you actually that let’s just say not enough people get there.

Josh:                  Okay. I’ll go with that. [Laughs] I mean there seems to be a shift in the world that 25 years ago nobody would ever talk about families and businesses. It’s always family business. Today, what I’m seeing is a lot of what your father and your father in law did build big businesses. There’s nobody in the family who’s really all that interested in it and then they end up selling the business. They got this pot of cash and what do we do with that pot of cash? What would your recommendation be to people who are in that situation?

Steve:                I agree that today, the rising generation family members have more opportunities than ever. The ones who in the past would have ended up in the family business more or less because it was the path of least resistance and no other better looking opportunity on the horizon. A lot of those people are finding their way into other careers. That’s one part of it. What do people do after they realized none of their kids wants to take over and then they have their big liquidity event?

Now, instead of trying to manage an operating business, they are sitting on a pile of cash. A lot of them don’t realize how they haven’t eliminated the problems. They’ve just changed them. So the kids who are looking at mom and dad have this business and it’s worth $20 million.

Well, maybe I could get a job there. Maybe I’ll inherit it eventually. That’s one set of circumstances, but when mom and dad sell the business and now they’re sitting on an account with $20 million in it, the four kids can look at that and very quickly start to do some division and say $20 million. There’s four of us, “Okay, can I just have my $5 million now?” And then they go and buy their Porsche and their boat and things like that. The business owner who takes that route and thinks, “Well, I’ve solved a problem. Nobody wants to take over the business.”

There are other issues that then end up being very important. You mentioned earlier that we met at PPI, the Purposeful Planning Institute. That’s where a lot of advisors who work with wealthy families are talking about just these problems and ways that they can help their family clients get through these sticky situations.

Josh:                  So what are some of the problems that I’m sure the people are listening to say, “Boy, if I could sell my business for $20 million, all my problems would definitely disappear?” Now we have lots of other episodes which help people figure out how to get to $20 million in value. In this episode, we want to talk about what are some of those problems that appear so what might some be?

Steve:                There’s a few interesting ways we could go with this. One of them is typically people who build a big business and end up with a very valuable business. They probably did it for reasons of passion and it’s something that they did well and somehow they got rich along the way. They didn’t necessarily set out to create something that was worth multiple millions of dollars.

They end up somehow in a situation that they really weren’t working towards, but now they’re in and yes a lot of them will think that, “Well, now I can solve all my problems.” Likewise, a lot of those people once they’ve achieved a certain level of wealth they kind of feel like, “Well, I’ve made this big enough pile of money. I guess my legacy will be assured because I have so much money.”

One of the other people that we both know through PPI, Tim Belber, he likes to say there’s an equation for a legacy and its people plus assets equals legacy.

I’ve talked about that a lot in blogs that I’ve written where I talked about the fact that I don’t care how big that pile of money is that you’ve built up in the wealth of your business. If you don’t have people in your family, that are willing to keep that going after you’re gone to tend to that wealth to steward that wealth, the legacy is not going to last very long.

And so when people make the switch to stop thinking about their business, it’s usually they’re getting to a point in age where that thought about their legacy and how will they be remembered comes up. The mistake that a lot of people make is they assume that just the number of zeros before the decimal place that the bigger the number, the more assured they are of maintaining a legacy. That’s a myth.

Josh:                  Can you give us a definition or your definition of what a good legacy would be?

Steve:                What a good legacy would be? Well, I’ve heard definitions around legacy itself about what do people think of, what do people remember when they hear your name? I mean, I want to be remembered as a good guy and honest guy, a hard working guy, a successful guy. I mean everyone has their own twist on that. If you have kids that can get a little more focused as to who you want to be remembered that way by I would like my kids to remember me as a good father and eventually my grandchildren to remember me as a good grandfather. It’s how you want to be remembered.

Now, some people will donate a lot of money to a cause to get their name on a building, or a scholarship at a school. Those are all worthwhile things and assuming that they make those choices that go along with their values and the values that they would like their children and grandchildren to also espouse. Those are all great ways, parts of the ways to ensure your legacy.

Josh:                  So somebody who has built a significant amount of wealth and then sells their business because their kids are not interested in their business. How often do you find that the kids are interested in a business just not the one their parents built and they would like to build their own business?

Steve:                I don’t see it as often as I would like to, but I’m seeing it more than I used to. In fact, in the last few years there has been at least in Canada here a little bit of a move towards entrepreneurialism. They’re trying to convince business owners who have kids who don’t want to come exactly the situation you described.

They don’t want to come into that business, but they do want to go into a business and rather than dad setting them up in the garage and giving them some money to get started, they actually encouraged them to kind of move into a corner of the business place and use some of the resources, borrow the CFO, borrow some of the usefulness of the other resources that the business has to try and launch a new part of the business that can be typically very much unrelated to what the business is doing or slightly related, but to help get the next generation interested and involved in business because yeah, that business that mama dad or grandpa grandma started, it may not be interesting to the younger people today. Technology is moving so fast that even the life cycle of any business to remain the same kind of business over a number of decades is less and less calm.

Josh:                  You know something? Yes, a really interesting strategy you just came out with, I love that. If you don’t mind, just going to take a second because most of the folks who are listening to this podcast don’t have businesses worth $20 million nor will they ever have businesses worth $20 million. Everybody listen to this, you have corners in your business that you could let your kids use if they decide they want to be in business. It’s just a different type of business. Frankly, I think that is a really, really interesting idea.

Steve:                When I first heard it so the business families foundation up here in Montreal had come up with a few years ago this entrepreneurialism program. They’ve had a few cohorts of people come through it in Montreal, I believe they’ve also launched it now in Toronto and they’ve had some very Interesting success especially with family businesses because a lot of them face exactly the problem you’re talking about. The kids want to do something, but they want to do something different. Rather than making them start from scratch on their own somewhere else, there are ways to kind of give them a leg up and get them started. The idea is that in some cases that new business that you’ve planted this new seed over here that could grow into the biggest business that the family owns a few decades down the road and would not be a cool way to keep the family business alive.

Well, Jr. started this new thing and then 20 years later that’s the main thing and the thing that grandpa started as sort of gone by the wayside, but who cares. Let’s stay with what works in the marketplace and let’s stay with what keeps the kids excited and challenged and motivated.

Josh:                  So what we’re doing is we’re actually talking about business legacy, but the legacy doesn’t have to be the business. The legacy could be the skill set for starting a business and running a business.

Steve:                Right. Another thing that people in our field are talking more about is the human capital and treating the old, let’s just make all this money and then the kids will never have to work. And so many of the inheritors of large family fortunes are unfulfilled because they’ve kind of been treated like, “Oh, we’ll take care of you.” That’s not necessarily the recipe for a very fulfilling life, but let’s figure out what you like to do what you do best.

Let’s find a way for you to add value based on your skill set to what the family has and what the family’s doing. The smarter families are going that route and trying to make sure that they’re getting the most out of all of the intellectual capital and the human capital of the members of the family because that’s the win-win that gives them a fulfilling life. It helps create the bond that the family needs and it helps keep the wealth together.

Josh:                  Yeah, makes a lot of sense. The truth is most of the business owners I’ve talked to my life don’t have a big interest in making their kids rich. They have a huge interest in having their kids become business owners themselves.

Steve:                That’s certainly typical. Yes, so the ones who get rich like I was talking about a few minutes ago that sometimes when they happen to catch lightning in a bottle and all of a sudden they have not just 20 million, but $200 million and now they’re worried about “screwing up their kids” and rightly so if you’re not parenting them properly.

You’re going to keep them entitled and make up for the fact that you were never home because you were building your business so now you give them whatever they want so that they love you. That can cause a whole slew of other problems. We know people through PPI that deal specifically with those problems of kids who didn’t launch because they actually had way too much wealth in the family. I know everyone thinks, “Oh, I’d love to have that problem.” I don’t think you do.

Josh:                  Well, like everything else in the world. There are some problems that appear at different stages along the financial path. They’re often things that were not prepared for.

Steve:                They’re not prepared for they’re not expected. They had no idea this was going to come up and then the people with the problem don’t know who to reach out to help them or they’re reluctant to ask for help. That’s another problem that I’m sure you see as well as people think they’re the only ones who ever had this problem.

Josh:                  [Laughs] We know that’s not true.

Steve:                Oh, no, everyone thinks they’re the only ones and then when they meet other people that have the same problem, it’s like a big “uh-huh” moment.

Josh:                  What are some of your suggestions? You’re a business owner. Let’s say you’re a founder and you’ve built your business not $200 million dollars, but to 10, 20, maybe even just $5 million in value. What would you recommend they be doing to make sure their kids are not entitled, but they are useful members of society?

Steve:                I think the biggest thing is the kids will learn from what they see, not necessarily from what you tell them. If you live a frugal lifestyle or a reasonable lifestyle, if you make good choices with money and are not frivolous, if you go and do volunteer work and they see all that those are things that they will learn from.

If you fly off and business class or take the corporate jet everywhere and you just write a check here for some charity because that’s the only way that you give and they see that they’re very likely to emulate those aspects of life and typically make them worse by another order of magnitude.

The children learn from watching what their parents do more than anything else. You’re making me think that when you hear about children or offspring that are like in their 20s and they haven’t launched yet. I always say that’s not really a family business problem. That’s a parenting problem that was noticed too late. And so the earlier you start to act the way you would like your kids to act rather than act the way you want and tell them how you want them to act, the better off you’ll be.

Josh:                  That makes sense to me. We want to do what I’m hearing here as we wanted to start off if you have children who you would like to see become business owners when they’re at the appropriate age, you should start doing age appropriate things with your kids to help them get ready for that day when it comes.

Steve:                Absolutely.

Josh:                  So what might be some of those age appropriate things that parents could do?

Steve:                I typically talk about the fact that you shouldn’t make your kids come and work in your business against their will. Then I realized that there’s actually a very important exception to that. That’s when they are young. So if you want to start bringing your kids if they can come in as young teenagers and come and work after school once in a while or during the summers and teach them about work about business, teach them a work ethic.

That’s great. Right up until hopefully they graduate from college, but then I would hope that they would want to go and get a job somewhere else first and not automatically come and work for the parents. There’s a lot of things from the age of 13, 14. I started working I think at 14 in my dad’s shop and that’s where I worked every summer.

I learned things about his business. I think we could rewind the clock. If he could have done more just teaching about business in general rather than the specific business. I think that’s kind of a better attitude that parents might take is to kind of make the assumption that the child will be in business somewhere else, but on their own and not working for me so you don’t have to learn the details of my business, but I want to teach them about business and why I’m making certain decisions based on general business principles not necessarily focusing on the specifics of that business.

Josh:                  You know, the challenge with that and I think you’re right. The challenge with that I see is that most people who own businesses really only know about their business. They’re not really tuned into general business principles. That’s where the challenge comes in. But you said something which I think is really, really important. That thing that you said was when you graduate from college, you don’t go into the family business. You work someplace else first.

Steve:                I live that. So back in the 80s, I was doing my Bachelor of Commerce degree at McGill. My dad, he had joined an organization called CAFE at the time was called Canadian Association of Family Enterprise. It’s now merged with something else and called family enterprise exchange up here in Canada, but they would organize events and have speakers come in and I guess some guy like me came along back then and said, “You should shouldn’t hire your kids right out of school.” 

I still remember I was not at that event, but my dad told me about it and he said, “You know, these people at CAFE they say you shouldn’t hire kids right out of school” and I looked at him kind of with this inquisitive look and he then patronizingly patted me on the shoulder and said, but we’re not going to do that. I still look back today and wonder if I had the cajones is to stand up to my father and at least ask the question, “Well, why don’t we?”

Here I was doing an undergraduate business degree, 99% of my friends were all going interviews and their last year and coming dressed up they’re wearing a suit because they have to go and do an interview here and there.

I was always just kind of, “Oh, well, I’ve already got a job. I already got a job. I got the easy way.” In retrospect, if I could rewind back to my 20th birthday I probably could have and should have and would have been better off saying, “You know what, I think I should go work somewhere else for a couple years and learn something and learn what it’s like to work somewhere else.”

I can learn things that I can bring back to the business, but most importantly, I can learn that I’m able to go and get a job based on what I know and not the fact that my last name is the same as the guy who’s signing the checks. That is something that people don’t necessarily talk about it but anyone who’s lived it understands that kind of, it’s always there with you this kind of imposter syndrome as maybe I’m only here because I have the right last name.

Josh:                  That often is, in fact, I was just having a conversation with the rising generation member last week about that very issue. It is an issue and frankly the way that particular business handles family members coming in is that you have to work outside the business. You can’t join the business at a level any higher than the job you had on the outside. If you’re a janitor on the outside, you want to join the family business well be as a janitor not as a sales manager or even a sales person which I find is a really good strategy.

Steve:                Families that have been around long enough and figured that out are always like way ahead of the others. I’ve heard of you can’t come in until at least two years, at least five years, at least three years. There’s different ones. You can’t come in until you’ve had at least two promotions on another job. There’s all kinds of different things.

The people who have gone through that and come back and then work for the family business after are always like perceived as so much more valuable and proven compared to Little Johnny Jr who’s been coming there since he was the older employees. Remember when the kid came in and they’ve never seen him go somewhere else and do something and prove himself to come back at a higher level.

Josh:                  Yeah, absolutely.

Steve:                And that’s unfortunate.

Josh:                  Hey, Steve, unfortunately, we are out of time.

Steve:                Oh, well.

Josh:                  Oh, well it goes by fast. So I’m going to bet that there are people listening to this episode who would love to get in touch with you. How would they do so?

Steve:                Okay, so my website as I think you mentioned is which is the name of my first book. As I said to you off air before my name is Steve Legler. It’s not a common name. If you google Steve Legler and family business or something like that I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to find me pretty easily.

Hit me up on LinkedIn. Send me an email through the site. I gladly jump on a zoom call and chat with anybody about their family business for a while and see if I could be a resource for them.

Josh:                  Sounds great. I also have a request for you more than offers that we’ve been doing this podcast for about four and a half years now. I really never focused on building our audience. What I would like you to do, if you like this podcast, tell your friends about it. Go to iTunes, or go to Stitcher and leave a review and honest review and let me know what you think. If you want to send me an email at That’s the number two with a question. I’m sure we’ll get it answered on a future podcast. This is Josh Patrick. You’re with Steve Legler. You’re at The Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.

Narrator:          You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at, or you can send Josh an email at

Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.

Topics: sustainable business podcast, Sustainable Business, family business, steve legler, legacy, wealth, business legacy, business family, wealth transitions

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