Family Business

Establishing an advisor relationship with a business family


3 min




Listen to Kathryn McCarthy, a Family Business Advisor and Family Office Expert, explain her view of how a professional advisor can develop and nurture a meaningful relationship with a business family. When dealing with a family business, it is important for an advisor to understand the history of the family as well as develop a relationship based on trust.


Kathryn McCarthy



« Back to Catalogue


You really start by knowing the family and you have to get some family history. I have learned that people drag that baggage with them even if they are working through it, it is there. So it always helps to know some of the history. A good friend of mine said, “You never start at the beginning, you always start in the middle.” So you are in the middle of something, and then you need to know the circumstances behind that something, either the death, the transition, some family dispute.

You start by talking to people. It is a lot of conversation. It has to do with just getting people to open up, to trust, to be honest. Generally speaking people are polite, and polished, and educated, and you have to kind of cut through all that. And then you have to draw people out, I mean ... View More there are people that get left behind, so you sort of have to figure out the pecking order that is how you start. And then from there, talk to advisors, talk to people who have worked with them before.

The thing that really drives the interest both from the family stand point and from the advisor stand point is trust. And once you establish that trust then there is responsibility. If you are around long enough working with people, it is sort of a real eye opener as to what the impact of your advice is and even your presence around certain issues. So I have come full cycle with a lot of people, I have buried clients. And once you bury clients you really get a sense of how important knowing the individual is or the family and how important certain things are like missions and governance.

I really try to set out some level of governance, and governance in my view is just decision making. How do you make decisions? How do you include people? How do you solve problems? And if you take it from the problem solving continuity sort of a business-y type of bent, you can sometimes get the entrepreneurs to pay attention and then they will listen.

Sometimes you need to pick your spot to give the advice. I am not saying you are giving bad advice or half advice but you kind of hold back. It is important to shade your advice to the circumstance, but you got to be true to yourself because if nothing else they will see it. You know, these are people, they instinctively if they are paying attention know when they are getting somebody who is really just kind of squealing through and not giving them the real story. And one of the reasons why I really like working with the business owning families is there is a pragmatism and a reality generally in those families, so they just cut through it. But they know you are giving them what you think, and they want you to do that.