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The Art of Balancing Family and Business: Insights from Sally Woodford

9 July 2024

The Art of Balancing Family and Business: Insights from Sally Woodford

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Family businesses are unique and often face challenges that require a delicate balance between family relationships and business operations. To gain a deeper understanding of these complexities, we had the privilege of speaking with Sally Woodford, an Independent Strategic Advisor with extensive experience in advising Ultra-High-Net-Worth (UHNW) families.

Sally's journey in this field has equipped her with invaluable insights into the dynamics of family businesses, from succession planning and governance structures to legacy and leadership. In this interview, Sally shares her perspectives on the key factors that contribute to the success and sustainability of family businesses, offering practical advice and personal anecdotes that highlight the importance of communication, values, and strategic planning.

Join us as we explore Sally's expert advice on navigating the intricate landscape of family businesses, ensuring they thrive across generations while preserving their unique legacies.

As an Independent Strategic Advisor with extensive experience in advising UHNW families, could you provide an overview of the key dynamics that families encounter when navigating the complexities of family businesses in modern times?

Family businesses are unique entities that often face complex dynamics due to the overlap of family relationships and business operations. Some key dynamics families encounter include balancing family harmony with business decisions, succession planning, managing conflicts of interest, establishing clear communication channels and setting boundaries between family and business roles. As an Independent Strategic Advisor, my role is to provide objective trusted advice, this can involve ensuring coordination and communication between the generations.

Your session at the World Family Office Forum 2024 focuses on legacy and leadership in family businesses. What are the most critical factors for successfully navigating these nuances, especially across multiple generations?

I believe that the DNA of successful navigation of legacy and leadership requires a strong focus on values and communication. Critical factors include creating a shared family vision, identifying and developing leadership capabilities across generations, implementing effective governance structures, as well as balancing tradition with innovation to ensure the continuity and relevance of the family business.

What role do governance structures play in ensuring the long-term success and sustainability of family businesses, and how do you approach designing effective governance frameworks for your clients?

Governance structures are essential for the long-term success of family businesses as they help establish clear decision-making processes, delineate roles and responsibilities, manage conflicts and ensure accountability. When designing governance frameworks, I approach it by customizing structures to fit the family's unique needs, values and goals while incorporating best practices for transparency, fairness and sustainability.

How do you address intergenerational dynamics within family businesses, particularly when it comes to succession planning and preparing the next generation to take on leadership roles?

Succession planning is essential in family businesses and yet unfortunately still often disregarded. Planning for a smooth transition takes a lot of time and careful consideration; there are pitfalls to avoid, choices to be made as to timeframes, when to pass the torch on, when to reconsolidate, how to navigate the choice between family members and external candidates for executive management positions. I would say that education is the key element in preparing the next generation for leadership roles. Open communication, mentoring and education programmes are excellent tools that I use when addressing intergenerational dynamics.

Could you share some best practices in estate planning and wealth preservation that you recommend to your clients, and how these strategies contribute to maintaining family legacies?

Best practices in estate planning and wealth preservation include creating a comprehensive plan that integrates tax-efficient strategies, trusts, philanthropic vehicles and other tools to protect and transfer wealth across generations. These strategies help safeguard assets, minimize liabilities and support the continuity of the family legacy for future generations.

Given your expertise in philanthropy, how do you advise families on integrating philanthropic initiatives into their overall legacy planning, and what benefits do you see this bringing to both the family and society?

Integrating philanthropic initiatives into legacy planning can enhance family cohesion, instil values in future generations and make a positive impact on society. I advise families to align philanthropic goals with their values, engage family members in decision-making processes and leverage collective resources to create sustainable social impact that reflects the family's legacy and values.

With your background in private collection and project management, how do you assist families in preserving and managing their valuable assets, such as art, antiques, and other collectables?

Preserving and managing valuable assets like art, antiques, automobiles and other collectables requires a strategic approach that considers preservation, security, documentation and succession planning. My experience has led me to develop excellent networks and access to the leading authorities in these fields. I assist families by developing comprehensive collection management plans, engaging experts as needed, implementing best practices for conservation and storage, and integrating these assets into the family's overall legacy and wealth preservation strategy.

As an honours graduate of Oxford University and University College London, how do you stay updated on emerging trends and best practices in family business advisory, and how do you incorporate these insights into your work with clients?

Staying up to date with new legislation and practices is essential. STEP, of which I am an affiliate member, has an excellent learning platform for professionals which I highly recommend. As one of the conditions to remain eligible as a STEP member, you are required to maintain and record CPD (Continuing Professional Development) hours. I read a lot of relevant articles and books, engage regularly with leading experts and peers, and attend seminars, workshops and courses that consolidate my knowledge and give me a deeper insight into the subjects that I can incorporate into my work with clients. As Einstein famously said: "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."

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