How We Work with Families

Our principals, Drs. Susan Massenzio and Keith Whitaker, work together on all family engagements. We have one goal for our initial work with any family: we seek to understand--the family's dynamics, its history, the hopes and concerns of the individual members, as well as the outstanding issues of greatest importance. To achieve this understanding, we lead the family through the Family Executive Summary process. This process involves individual interviews with adult family members and key advisors or employees of at least 90 minutes to two hours. Each interview is strictly confidential. We capture anonymous, high-level themes from the interviews and share them with family leaders along with our recommendations. As part of this process, we often ask family members to complete our online Family Balance Sheet. This tool produces a quantitative analysis of the family's qualitative assets: its Human, Intellectual, Social, and Foundational Capitals. Based on this understanding, we are in a good position to work with the family to develop a go-forward plan. As the examples below show, that plan may involve designing and facilitating thoughtful family meetings, providing individual consultation to family leaders, or consulting to the family's leadership team on strategic decisions. Whatever form it takes, we build continual evaluation into the process, so that family members are clear about goals and desired outcomes, and family members feel in control as they take meaningful, measurable steps towards preserving and increasing their family's true wealth.

Communicating about Legacy

An elderly patriarch and matriarch with significant wealth knew that they had not clearly informed their children and grandchildren of the extent of their wealth or their wishes for its disposition. Through consultations with Wise Counsel, they clarified their desired legacy, which informed a revision of their estate plans. We also worked with them to organize a family meeting at which they shared their proposed plans with their adult children for their input. Based on their input, the mother and father completed the revision of their plans and then shared their overall intentions with their entire family at a second family meeting that we helped plan and facilitate.

Engaging the Rising Generation

A close-knit family was concerned about the effect of their significant wealth on their children and grand-children. Wise Counsel worked with their family office to help clarify the family's shared values, family history, and their parents' concerns. In dialogue with parents, we created a development plan for each child. As a result, members of the rising generation engaged much more actively in family meetings, feeling that they truly had a voice.

Dr. Keith Whitaker of Wise Counsel Research Associates is the most impressive new thinker in our space.

— Bruce Weatherill, Chairman, ClearView Financial Media


Selling a Family-Owned Business

The fourth and fifth generations of a family including over ten households owned the majority of a Fortune 500 company. Their family office contacted us because several family members wished to diversify out of this concentrated position. Wise Counsel consulted with family leaders to identify personal and family goals and shared family values; we also helped the family decide on the public relations messages and necessary changes to their family governance that a sale would require. Based on this work, the sale was consummated with the family remaining connected and using their new governance structure to decide together how best to deploy their ten-figure gain.

Establishing a Private Trust Company

A prominent family wanted to transition thousands of family trusts from individual trustees to a family-controlled private trust company. The legal plans were in place, but the family office wanted to make sure that the resulting structure promoted family harmony and individual initiative. Wise Counsel produced a statement of the family's history and values to integrate into the new trust company's founding documents. We also designed an educational program to prepare family members and the trust company's non-family managers to understand the purposes of the new entity and its connections to the family's deepest beliefs.