By Stephen Hecht
Co-Founder & Chief Executive Peacemaker
When I was 20 years old, my uncle died.
It was sudden, a heart attack during a visit to our stores on the west coast. As the president of our family business, and my personal mentor, we were in deep shock but the time to grieve would have to wait as the burning and ultimately divisive question of who would take up the reins as head of the business had set in. The successor seemed obvious; one of my uncle’s three brothers (my father included), all of whom were significant shareholders and long-time employees. But what happened the next day, the reading of my uncle’s will, launched my family into a conflict that would haunt me for years to come. Ahead of my father, my uncles, my siblings and my ten cousins, my uncle had bequeathed his controlling shares of the business to me – a 2nd year undergrad student at McGill.
Surrounded by sudden and tremendous responsibility as well as resentful family members who felt that they deserved to be in my place, I became reserved, tight-lipped, and forceful. I carried my hurt, anger, and frustration with me for years. I carried these burdens into two marriages – both ending in divorce, surprise, surprise – into my relationships with my kids, and, eventually, into the sale of the 75-year-old family business. And trust me, the conflict and resentment did not end there.
Thirty years later, I have somehow found myself happily married, the father of four kids, three-step kids and two dogs, and the founder Million Peacemakers, a non-profit that trains family businesses in our conflict resolution model, Nonflict. It is because of Nonflict that I have been able to transform my relationships and transform my life. Where before I could only shout or shut down, I now have a method for turning a conflict into an opportunity for a better relationship. Nonflict is proof that families do not need to choose between family values and business values. With an approach that provides safety and structure, everyone can be heard, respected, and understood. Nonflict allows parties in conflict to see solutions that are good for the family and good for the business.
How did I get there? In 2012, while serving as Education Chair for YPO Gold’s Canadian chapters, we decided that Conflict Resolution was an important topic for our members. From experts and authors who favoured an academic approach, these complicated conflict resolution theories had little use to me. We needed something more practical, something that could be used day to day. That was when I met Dr. Amir Kfir, an organizational consultant with extensive experience bringing together business groups from backgrounds whose conflicts could only be described as, well, volatile: Greeks and Turks, Turks and Armenians, Arabs and Israelis. Dr. Kfir’s approach fit on a business card, a handy tool anyone could literally keep in their pocket. In May of that year, we shared Dr. Kfir’s methodology, the Nonflict way, with over 700 YPO members across Canada. Our event was so successful that it won YPO’s top leadership development award worldwide.
Seeing people transform their relationships through the Nonflict way eventually led Dr. Kfir, impact investor Fred Latreille, and I to co-found Million Peacemakers. Coming to this decision wasn’t easy. I had a full-time job in real estate to consider, but seeing the impact of Nonflict on people’s lives validates my decision every single day.
In our Nonflict workshops, participants often share how rare it is that we actually listen to the other person — especially during a conflict. With Nonflict, you develop the tools to listen without attacking or getting defensive, in order to truly understand. Only once both people get on the same page can they, together, discover a shared vision for the future of the relationship or of the business. Taking families and businesses through this process provides a method for both to succeed. After taking our workshop, one CEO marvelled how Nonflict transformed, not only his relationship with his union leader and employees, but also the relationship between his wife and 14-year-old daughter.
Today, over 140,000 people worldwide are trained in Nonflict. This includes over 2,100 CEO’s and their families. We still have a long way to go to reach a million peacemakers, but I am driven by Nonflict’s power to continue transforming lives to co-create a world where families and businesses can prosper.
Stephen Hecht has over 30 years of private and public family business experience.
Winner of the Canada Award for Business Excellence, he has an MBA from Ivey Business School and a B.Comm from McGill. For more info – [email protected]