The concept of stewardship is thousands of years old. In medieval times, domestic stewards oversaw the finances and activities of the household while village stewards represented the lord in towns over which the lord had jurisdiction. It was critical that a steward be honest and trustworthy and to act in his lord's best interest.
More recently, stewardship has taken on a broader meaning and is now defined as “the … responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.”1 A steward may be a teacher entrusted with educating children or an elected official charged with managing a municipality. In the realm of wealth management, serving as a trustee for a family trust exemplifies the concept of stewardship of a different type. Essentially, anyone assigned to caring for and making decisions in the best interests of something or someone outside him‐ or herself is a steward.
Many wealth creators or inheritors of substantial resources come to a point at which they recognize that their wealth is more than they will need or ever spend, and it has the potential to last far beyond their lifetimes. When they arrive at this realization, they may begin to feel and understand the weight of their responsibility and the magnitude of their opportunity as wealth stewards. For these families, wealth can be like a big rock thrown into a pond. The ripple effect the rock creates has the potential to be either positive or negative. Every decision (or non‐decision) comes with implications that can have an impact on every member of the family and other potential constituents of the wealth. Some people choose to embrace their circumstances and others consciously or subconsciously avoid addressing them.
In their book, Family Legacy and Leadership: Preserving True Family Wealth in Challenging Times,2 Mark Haynes Daniell and Sarah S. Hamilton point out two attitudes that are prevalent with regard to family wealth. Some view themselves as inheritors or proprietors, with little or no desire to administer or preserve their assets for future generations. Instead, they are consumers of wealth who use their assets primarily for their own well‐being and to support only current family members or others who are present in their lives at the moment. The second group, in contrast, has a far greater sense of themselves as “stewards,” feeling a strong obligation to manage and sustain the wealth for their current family, their future family members, and important societal causes that have meaning to them. Those who identify as stewards are more likely to work together as a family group while proprietors tend go it alone and are more insular in their decision making.
Both proprietors and stewards usually engage in good tactical financial and estate planning to manage their fortunes prudently, reduce their tax burdens, provide for efficient asset distribution, and create vehicles to manage wealth on behalf of family members and other causes that are important to them. All of these activities are critical, but effective wealth management and stewardship involve much more: understanding the purpose and benefits of shared ownership; identifying individual and shared family values; developing a family mission statement and decision‐making process; identifying and clarifying roles; cultivating future leaders; providing ongoing, generationally specific wealth education for family members; and creating a plan for consistent and cohesive communication.
A stewardship model of multigenerational wealth management harnesses the family's energy, creativity, and capacity to continue shaping the future for themselves, the communities in which they live, and the greater good of the world if they so choose. Effective stewardship enables the family to do the following:
Proprietors, on the other hand, may take conscious or unintended actions that severely curtail the ability to preserve wealth or sustain the family's shared resources, such as the following:
This is not to say that families must either preserve or spend their money; a carefully developed strategic wealth management plan allows for both living well and doing good. Ideally, planning should begin while the wealth creator is still available and continue throughout the succeeding generations.
Raymond Bergmond* grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He was born in 1948 to enterprising parents who were children of the Great Depression. Ray was raised with traditional American values: hard work, perseverance, self‐reliance, and individual independence. His parents owned two small grocery stores and encouraged Ray and his siblings to strive for more. While still a young teenager, Ray came home from school every day to work at the meat counter in one of his parents' stores. During his high school years, there was little time for much more than going to school, laboring at the family business, and completing his homework. It was not an easy life, but it was better than many, and it was the one he knew.
After high school, Ray worked his way through the University of Wisconsin. Upon graduation, he landed a sales job at a large manufacturing company, advancing to sales manager in only two years. He worked hard and found satisfaction in his job, but he was restless and wanted more. He decided that rather than work his whole life for someone else, he would become an entrepreneur and chase the American dream. Using a small loan from his father and another from an uncle, Ray established his fledging business. He named it Bergmond Custom Glass and could not have been more proud the first day he was open for business.
After nearly forty years of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, Ray was CEO of BCG Manufacturing, a multimillion‐dollar closely held business in which he and his wife, Sara, were the only stockholders. Ray and Sara had three children Ray barely knew. His eldest son, Joe,* the thirty‐four‐year‐old divorced father of Melissa and Raymond II, worked in the family business as vice president of sales and marketing. Ray's younger son, Robert,* was a naval officer often based thousands of miles from home. He and his wife had two pre‐adolescent boys. The third sibling, Jennifer,* married with three young daughters, was a homemaker focused on raising her children. Her husband, Kyle,* worked in the family business as a sales manager reporting to Joe. Robert and Jennifer always had been made to feel somewhat less important or worthy because they did not want to be part of their father's enterprise and be ruled by his rigid standards and heavy hand.
Ray was a my‐way‐or‐the‐highway martinet who had expected all of his children to enter the family business. However, he gave them scant information about the company, and the oldest, Joe, who followed in Dad's footsteps, did so only because that decision had been his father's destiny for him from the day Joe was born.
Once he was part of the corporation, Joe understood that the family was far richer than he had thought, but his father was still closed‐mouthed about his personal wealth. Kyle later joined the company after Ray insisted he build a successful career and support Jennifer and the family in the way Ray deemed appropriate.
When their children were young, Ray and Sara lived a comfortable middle‐class lifestyle, but well below their means because they did not believe in conspicuous consumption and did not want to encourage friendships they perceived to be based on their wealth. In addition, they never shared anything about their resources or wealth planning with the next generation, believing if they did so they would sap their children's initiative and drive. Not wanting the kids to be spoiled, entitled brats, Ray guarded all his company and personal financial information, barely sharing it even with Sara. The children did not know his attorney or his financial advisors.
Several years into his tenure in the family enterprise, Joe's relationship with his father became strained because Ray ruled his company with an iron fist. Joe wanted to test new ideas, new technologies, and new markets, but Ray always resisted. “My leadership and management have been successful in growing this company for forty years,” Ray often told Sara. “I don't need suggestions or advice from someone who's been in my business for just a few years. Joey's still young and inexperienced. He needs to learn from me, not from all the professors at that fancy business school. An MBA is nice, but it's not a substitute for hands‐on experience.”
What Ray didn't realize was that his intransigent attitude and reluctance to share power deprived Joe of the very experience his father valued—and made it more likely that Joe would make mistakes when he took over the business.
A few months shy of his sixty‐ninth birthday, while working late in his office as he normally did, Ray had a fatal heart attack. Sara and the family were shocked at his abrupt passing but not surprised he died at his desk. They had all expected him to go exactly that way. Now they had to manage the future without his guidance, and neither Sara nor the children had any idea about his financial planning. Ray had managed all of their business and personal financial matters. Sara had gone to their attorney and signed documents as she was told to do, but she never really understood them. Ray always let her know that everything was taken care of, and she loved and trusted him. She knew he had built a fantastic business, so she believed he also must have done a fine job of managing the family's wealth for the future.
Ray had spent time with his attorney and accountant structuring his and Sara's estates in the way he believed was best for his family. Nonetheless, at the reading of his will, Robert and Jennifer, who were unaware of the extent of their father's wealth, were stunned by the value of the assets their father had accumulated. It had the potential to be life‐changing for all of them. At the same time, however, they discovered that the wealth was tied up in restrictive legal structures.
All the stock in BCG Manufacturing was transferred to a trust with Sara as the current income beneficiary and the three children as the remaindermen in equal shares. Joe, Sara, and Ray's attorney, John Melvin,* were appointed as co‐trustees. A separate trust was then set up for Sara with financial assets to support her lifestyle. Joe was appointed as trustee of this trust and trustee of two other trusts set up for his brother and sister.
Robert and Jennifer were appalled to discover the trusts were so limiting—and that they had to ask Joe for any distributions from their trusts. Ray never had discussed this strategy with his children, so even Joe was surprised and unprepared for this new role. He had no clue what was required to be a trustee. He also wondered why his father had chosen him for this overwhelming responsibility, and since he was familiar only with autocratic management, he applied it to both his father's company and his dealings with his newly dependent brother and sister. Robert and Jennifer expressed their anger and resentment to Sara, who felt stuck in the middle and only wanted everyone to get along. She was lonely after Ray's death, and it disturbed her that her children were tense with each other and with her.
The two younger siblings were embittered by the way their brother wielded his authority. “My father left me that money,” Jennifer said. “Why should I have to jump through Joe's hoops to receive something that's rightfully mine?”
“Dad's trying to rule us from the grave through Joe,” Robert added. “Why did he give Joe veto power over something I might want to do for my own family? I should be grieving my dad, and instead I'm mad at him. I'm mad at my brother, too, because I have to go to him hat in hand for something Dad left for me and my family. He's as tough as Dad, and I have to justify everything to get a penny. I've dealt with tough captains and admirals, but they don't hold a candle to Joe.”
Jennifer and Robert formed an alliance against their brother's trusteeship, hiring lawyers to try to break the trusts and free up the funds. After a long battle, Joe resigned as trustee because he was overwhelmed with running the company and dealing with his family.
In the midst of the legal actions, Joe struggled to keep his father's business running smoothly. Kyle ultimately left BCG due to the fractured relationship between his wife and her brother. Joe was working sixty hours a week trying to replace his father and maintain the company. After a period of adjustment and several costly missteps, he was angry, tired, and overwhelmed. He realized he needed to sell the company to keep it from being destroyed from within. Ultimately, he sold to Standard Glass Company for a low valuation because a quick sale was required to retain the remaining customers.
Due to the legal battles and the forced sale of the company, Ray's family is still at odds. Sara spends her time with her grandchildren, trying to be the glue that holds the Bergmond family together. With her coaxing, the children are trying to repair their relationship, but it is slow going because their trust in each other has been damaged, perhaps irreparably.
Ray's business was absorbed by Standard and the legacy of its name, which was so important to Ray, is gone forever. Joe is still recovering from the trauma of selling the company and trying to find meaning in his life. In the meantime, though there will be sufficient money for this generation of Ray's family, it's a toss‐up as to whether the seven grandchildren will profit from Ray's entrepreneurial success.
Patterson (Pat) Kaufman's* grandfather Jacob* amassed a fortune in real estate development throughout the United States. His son, Charles,* Pat's father, was prepared from adolescence to take over Kaufman Properties,* becoming a vice president at twenty‐five, senior vice president at twenty‐nine, and executive vice president at thirty‐one. Upon his father's retirement, Charles became president and CEO at the age of forty‐six. An able leader and businessman, Charles increased the value of the company stock and took a hefty and well‐deserved salary for his exceptional stewardship of the asset his father had entrusted to him. At fifty, his net worth was more than $200 million.
As they grew up, it would have been hard for Pat and his sister, Meghan,* not to have known they were extremely wealthy. Their home was among the largest in Atlanta, employing a house manager, cook, housekeeper, and gardener. Their mother, Lydia,* was known for her lavish parties and involvement in several charities. The children attended the best private schools and were showered with money, cars, travel, and expensive gifts for holidays and birthdays. The only financial lessons they received from their parents, however, were warnings about scam artists and charlatans. As a result, it was hard for them to build trusting relationships as they grew up. Although eventually things turned out well for both children, they experienced some bumps in the road due to the confusing dynamics money created in their lives.
Pat often was embarrassed by his family's wealth and felt isolated. Because buildings had neither perceptions nor opinions, he discovered a passion for architecture and historic preservation when he was still in high school. Following his graduation from Cornell, he chose to attend the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.
Although he did not yet have a lot of practical experience, Pat convinced Charles he would be a valuable asset to the firm—and that new development didn't always mean new buildings. Once Charles felt that Pat had paid his dues, he gave his son the opportunity to develop a project outside Nashville, Tennessee. Using his intelligence and passion, Pat saved the area from the company's wrecking ball by transforming a collection of decrepit industrial buildings into a vibrant, walkable community with a farmers' market, local shops and restaurants, a centrally located park and playground, and affordable houses that were perfect for Millennials who chose not to make long commutes from the suburbs. The old eyesore became the place for young people to live, work, shop, eat, and enjoy life.
Although the new neighborhood was a company project, Pat also financed part of it with his own money, which he had received at the end of his graduate education. He continued to underwrite improvements that were important to his concept, eventually persuading his father to add a portfolio of preservation ventures to the company's development efforts.
As time passed, Charles groomed Pat to become president and CEO of the company at the age of forty. However, at about the same time, a well‐known nonprofit preservation foundation became aware of Pat's efforts in the South and asked him to become its executive director. Taking that opportunity would require Pat to relocate to Chicago, and the salary was smaller than he would make with his father. Nonetheless, the job aligned perfectly with Pat's interests and passion. Pat was independently wealthy and could live well even if he didn't earn the huge salary, stock, and bonuses his father promised. The new job was his dream and he felt he was born to do it, even if his father thought differently.
Enamored by the opportunity to make a difference doing work he loved, Pat took the job. His heartbroken father disowned him, citing his son's disloyalty to the family business and legacy. Shortly thereafter, with Pat gone and Meghan unprepared to take over, Charles sold Kaufman Properties to Seaver Development* and retired at the age of sixty‐eight.
“What Dad didn't understand,” Pat said, “was that he had implanted in me a very strong concept of stewardship. He took my grandfather's business further than his father could ever have imagined. He employed hundreds of people. He kept the business together during hard times. I learned from him. It's just that my stewardship took a different direction. I prefer to be the steward of the country's architectural and historic heritage. My dad and I are more alike than he thought, but he couldn't see it.”
Meghan's story was different. When she was a senior in college, she listened to her sorority sisters' plans for postgraduate education and jobs, but realized she had no interest in or need to consider those options and now had little in common with her friends.
Meghan also was struggling with the fact that she would inherit several million dollars on the day of commencement. The responsibility was overwhelming to her. She became more and more anxious as her graduation approached. “What had I ever done to have so much when many others have so little? It didn't make sense to me.”
Following her college years, Meghan was adrift and had difficulty finding herself. After graduation, she bought a luxury penthouse, a new wardrobe, and an expensive car, but she didn't know what else to do with her money—or her life. She was asked to serve on a few charitable boards, but soon figured out that in nearly every case her invitation was based on whether she was willing to make large contributions to the charities. She remembered her parents' earlier cautions about people who might take advantage of her. Feeling personally devalued and used, she resigned from each organization shortly after she joined.
Meghan became distrustful and had difficulty forming relationships, especially with men. She broke off her engagement when it seemed to her that her fiancé showed much more interest in her money than he did in her. Her social life was nearly nonexistent because she had almost nothing to share with other women her age. Her wealth both insulated and isolated her. She was lonely and felt she could trust no one but her brother.
Lost and bewildered, Meghan finally happened upon an organization that intrigued her: a small foundation that provided shelter for homeless women and children. She dug in and discovered that homeless children usually didn't go to school because they moved so often, from shelter to shelter or living for a brief time with relatives or friends before moving on again. Their nomadic existence meant that even the brightest children typically were far behind their chronological peers in school.
Meghan saw this organization as a chance to use her wealth in a way that could produce concrete results for people who had so much less than she. Finally, and maybe for the first time in her life, she found true satisfaction in using her wealth to do something that had meaning for her. Meeting like‐minded people, she enjoyed an uptick in her social life and found she didn't need to be suspicious of her new friends.
Using the clout her name and inheritance provided, Meghan conferred with the governmental group that oversaw all community shelters in the area. She then worked with local school officials and others to develop a comprehensive education plan for homeless children. It included online options, certified teachers and classrooms within the shelters, enrichment activities such as trips to local science centers and museums, extensive libraries, and more. Although the project received some grants for materials, Meghan self‐funded the addition of classroom trailers at three shelters, transportation to outside educational venues, and the purchase of a wonderful selection of volumes for the libraries. She paid for the technology improvements required for online classes and for all of the texts and workbooks. She was working more than fifty hours a week and enjoying every second of it.
As she felt more and more empowered by the wealth that had once threatened to engulf her, Meghan also began to support similar initiatives for women. They, too, were provided with educational opportunities and vocational training so they could leave the streets and shelters and live independently. “It was by far the most rewarding thing I could have done with my money,” she said. “It was fortunate I wasn't expected to go into the family business, and my parents were proud of what I was doing. It broke my heart that they couldn't see the value of Pat's contributions once he left the company.”
Once Meghan had found her place, she became far more interested in the stewardship of her fortune, investing in the future of children, and working to end homelessness. She turned to her father's advisors to learn how to sustain the money and increase her assets while carrying out the work that had become so important to her. After her father sold his company, she also sought his advice, bringing him an idea for affordable housing that would allow women and children to rent a modest home and get back on their feet. Charles was enthusiastic about the concept, helping Meghan navigate the politics, procedures, and permissions required for her small housing development. Meghan, like her brother, used her private wealth to accomplish the project, paying for the construction of ten small houses.
Children of immense privilege, Pat and Meghan saw the family fortune as a means to accomplish great things, not as an end in itself. Although the breach between father and son still is not fully repaired, they are trying to understand one another. Neither Pat nor Meghan has married yet. Even if they do, what they have learned from their own experiences has convinced them that a large portion of their wealth will support charities and organizations that will carry on their personal legacies of community stewardship.
Like Ray, Alicia McMillian,* born in 1955, lived in the Midwest. Alicia's mother was a secretary and her dad owned an auto body shop. Although the family was not impoverished, money was always tight. Alicia's parents budgeted carefully and made every dollar count. She followed their examples of both industry and thrift. These lessons would serve her well in the future.
During her teen years, Alicia worked summers as a service writer in her father's shop, saving her salary to go to college. Eventually, she took over the bookkeeping and banking for her father's business. Well‐liked by customers for her charming personality, she also was exceptionally bright and graduated as valedictorian of her high school class.
Due to her intelligence and hard work in high school, Alicia was accepted by several of the best universities in the country. She had a strong sense of adventure, so she decided to head across the country to attend Stanford University. While at Stanford, she studied hard, did well, and built a terrific business network through her aggressive pursuit of internships and special programs that introduced her to well‐known executives.
After graduation, she joined Crestrock Partners,* a venture capital firm in Palo Alto that focused on investing in early‐stage technology startups. With clients including the biggest names in the high‐tech industry, the partners jumped into the ultra‐high‐net‐worth category in short order. After about ten years, Alicia was named managing partner of the firm.
During her term as a partner for Crestrock, Alicia met and eventually married Matthew Farcus,* a lawyer who handled initial public offerings and mergers and acquisitions. Three years after their marriage, Alicia and Matthew became parents to twin girls, Gwen* and Stephanie.* For the first few years after the girls were born, Alicia continued working, tending to her growing family with the help of a nanny and a housekeeper. As the family's wealth grew from the success of Crestrock, she cut back on her constant involvement with the business, promoting trusted associates into positions of authority as she strove for some life balance. She remained managing partner and the face of the company, but left much of the daily operations to other members of the Crestrock team.
After long conversations with her husband, Alicia decided that she would leave Crestrock to pursue other interests, such as her family, proactive management of the family's wealth, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy. As a part of her new focus, Alicia decided to return some of her good fortune to the community that had made her a multimillionaire by making impact investments that would create a financial as well as a social return. Together with Matthew, she established the McMillian Farcus Family Investment Partnership, an investment holding company that provided seed capital for innovative ideas generated by female entrepreneurs.
Alicia and Matt talked a great deal about their hopes and concerns regarding their daughters and the effect their wealth could have on them. Being in the venture capital and legal worlds, they had seen how wealth could destroy a family if not handled carefully. With this in mind, they sought advice on how to manage both the strategic and tactical issues of wealth management, so both the assets and the family would grow in positive ways.
They hired Willson & Moyers Wealth Management Advisors* to help them lay out and implement a plan for long‐term wealth stewardship. James Moyers* worked with them to develop a program that included semiannual family meetings, a defined wealth education program for the girls, and an investment model based on the specific purposes for their wealth.
When their daughters were old enough, Alicia and Matt invited Gwen and Stephanie to family meetings. They always had included the girls in informal dinner table conversations about the family's future, but now the daughters were an important part of the meetings with the wealth advisory group. During these family meetings, Alicia and Matt shared current projects for the girls' input, allowing them to read and make comments on the funding proposals submitted to the company. Gwen and Stephanie were as involved as they wanted to be, and their parents paid attention to their ideas and their feedback.
The girls asked lots of questions and learned a great deal over the years. They had a voice but no vote until they were of legal age; by the time they became voting members of the board, they were conversant with the qualities of good proposals and how new businesses were sustained. They were kept abreast of the investments and the results of investment decisions. They also gained an understanding and an opportunity to provide input on the vision for the McMillian Farcus Family Investment Partnership.
During these meetings with James and other advisors, Matt and Alicia made sure their daughters understood the nature of the inheritance they would someday receive. The discussions were age‐appropriate and included not only information about money, but also about the family's values. Both girls understood from an early age that their parents would leave them a relatively small amount of direct wealth. Instead, they planned to distribute the majority of their assets to a family foundation of which Gwen and Stephanie would serve as board members.
Alicia always had found satisfaction in her work of investing in growing companies, but she didn't pressure her daughters to go into the business. Nonetheless, their college experiences led them into fields that dovetailed with their mother's interests. Gwen majored in business at her mother's alma mater. Stephanie was intrigued with helping women from developing countries improve their lives, so after college she traveled to India with Women's Centers International. During her time in Mumbai, she worked in projects designed to improve the status of women. She loved the experience, but after two years she became homesick and returned to the United States.
When Stephanie was in India, she was not surprised to find wide gaps in the quality of healthcare among different population groups, but she was shocked—and horrified—to discover the disparities in healthcare for women and children in her own home state. She spoke at length with Gwen, and the two decided they wanted to build something important with their parents.
Combining their strengths and armed with their intimate knowledge of how projects receive funding, the sisters wrote a proposal and approached their parents to become investors in their new business—one which focused on the use of technology to improve access to healthcare in minority communities. Their original proposal was to carry out an extensive pilot project that involved connecting homes, church clinics, and a network of physician offices to identify and deal with health problems in a nascent stage, thereby improving the well‐being of the community and saving healthcare dollars.
Rather than being disappointed that neither child was interested in taking the helm at McMillian Farcus Family Investment Partnership, Alicia and Matt reviewed the girls' plans and eagerly became part of their team. “I invest in young women's businesses all the time. Why wouldn't I become an investor in my own daughters' idea? They're well‐schooled, bright, and prepared. I'm proud that they didn't simply ask Matt and me for a handout, but approached the entire project with professionalism. I'm sure their new venture will be successful and perhaps become a model for the entire country. I see a true entrepreneurial spark in this important work. It's inventive, creative, and fills a vital need. I'm happy to serve as an advisor to the project.”
Now both in their sixties, Alicia and Matt are preparing to fund the foundation their daughters will take over at the appropriate time. The couple plans to travel widely and perhaps live abroad for a while. They hope their daughters will make happy marriages, because Matt and Alicia eagerly await grandchildren.
The three families in these examples have taken different approaches to the stewardship of money, and each shows that the direction of the second generation is largely determined by the actions of the first. Discussion is critical. Values around the use of money cannot be shared if the conversations are never held. Unspoken expectations can sully the family's relationships with one another while lack of preparation can result in painful consequences that last for decades.
First‐generation wealth creators who dictate the path their heirs are expected to follow and do not prepare them for the responsibilities, pleasures, and pitfalls of wealth run the risk that succeeding generations will feel like tenants in their own lives. However, careful preparation, education, and communication create both an ownership mentality and a growth mindset. Heirs come to understand that the family is not the name on the building, but is instead a living organism, a supportive network, and a catalyst for stability and continued progress.