Footsteps into the FutureJournalists Peter Mansbridge and Andrew Willis join Richter Family Office to reflect on how Canadian families secure their legacy
At Richter Family Office, we strive to help families of significant means in governing their multi-generational legacies, while preserving and growing their wealth. Recently, we hosted two of Canada’s best-known journalists to share their inspiring stories and insights on how our clients and colleagues can shape their legacies.
Peter Mansbridge, former chief correspondent for CBC News and anchor of The National from 1988 to 2017, delighted guests at Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works with his reflections on the qualities and characteristics that connect us as Canadians.
These defining traits are what brought admiration and gratitude at places like Vimy Ridge in France and during disaster relief missions in Sri Lanka; they are embedded in our businesses and dominate discussions at our dinner tables. “Sometimes, you have to go outside your own circle,” Mansbridge said while he considered a lifetime of work decoding who Canadians are. “You have to go outside Canada – to understand what a good thing you’ve got going.”
Andrew Willis, business columnist for Report on Business at The Globe and Mail and co-author of The Bre-X Fraud, drew on three decades of business reporting to identify characteristics that have consistently helped families transfer wealth successfully between generations.
Willis emphasized the importance of patriarchs or matriarchs in preserving wealth for the coming generations. “They’re basically saying, ‘I did what I did because I got lucky, in part, and I had a specific set of skills. I’m not expecting my kids to have [those skills, so] I’m going to make sure they’re well taken care of – no matter what.’”
Willis points to families such as the Richardsons in Winnipeg or the Thompsons in Toronto, who have effective family trusts, well-defined roles for heirs and professional managers who are largely left alone to run the company.
“If I was to [identify] one defining characteristic of families who have succeeded in transferring wealth, it is they’ve respected outsiders,” says Willis. “They brought in good management and they’ve listened; and they’ve stayed away from the inner workings of the company.”
He also emphasized how successful dynasties have treated the family like a business by adopting processes and systems, such as arbitration mechanisms, to resolve family disputes.
Willis noted that second (and now third) generation Desmarais kin have successfully piloted mammoth Power Corporation through turbulent waters but says for some the ability to exit a family business – and do so with a clean conscience – is “an enormous gift from the previous generation.” The Thompsons, were “dispassionate sellers of the businesses that made them their first fortune.”
For those families who do sell enterprises, formalizing philanthropy through a foundation or charity, can have tremendous benefits. “Those are ties that bind a lot of these families together,” says Willis. “They can allow siblings and second and third generations to live with inherited wealth, but also to be their own actors and have fully satisfying lives.”
Andrew Willis and Peter Mansbridge both emphasized the centrality of family – and unified family values – in meeting individual and collective goals.
That’s something we understand and steward at Richter Family Office. We recognize and teach the families with whom we work that maintaining strong bonds, communication, perseverance and planning are paramount.
“It’s not just about portfolio management or business dealings, it’s really about getting to know the humans at the centre of all the numbers, issues and assets,” Gregory Moore, of Richter Family Office, told the Brick Works audience that night. “It’s about identifying their objectives and working together to achieve their goals. Our job is to be advisors to the whole story, not just one narrative.”