Aside from each other’s company, family members enjoy elaborate meals, planned games, and fun activities. Family business retreats, however, are gatherings in which family members also enjoy each other’s company but, more importantly, focus on ensuring the family’s inheritance and legacy. Group sessions are designed around specific subjects (e.g., household budget, insurance policies, medical concerns, education, and living trusts).
Steven White, president and CEO of S.D. White & Associates, a Lanham, Maryland-based organizational development and management consulting firm that puts together retreats for small businesses and nonprofit clients, suggests family business retreats and reunions can work together, but it’s best to keep them separate. If you plan your retreat when family members meet for a reunion, make sure to have the retreat first. “You need a moment before the reunion itself when the leaders of the family get together to discuss important family issues and create plans,” he says.
“The reality is that our white counterparts tend to do this in the context of family financial planning,” he says. “They have meetings in the context of trusts, growing endowments, and charitable contributions that they’ve been making for years. We’re not far away from that, but we [as a race] haven’t gotten to the point where we’re doing more at our family reunions than just getting together and talking about where we come from and who graduated this year. And that’s not bad. But before we have the fun, we have to deal with the business.”
In and by themselves, family business retreats are about discussing the goals and objectives for the future of the family. Depending on the size of your family, you may break up into small, select groups — for example, parents or children only; immediate family; or aunts and uncles on your mother’s side. However, there should be at least one session designated for attendance by the entire family (see sidebar, “Steps to a Successful Family Business Retreat”).
Family business retreats should last as many days as needed to accomplish your objectives. Size isn’t a major issue as long as relative goals and strategies are discussed and set into motion. Meaning, your gathering might include every member of the family, your siblings, or just you and your spouse. You’d be surprised how differently husbands and wives think about household affairs. By sharing their views at a family retreat, couples can come to a better understanding on these issues.
For the past 10 years, Paul T. Williams Jr. and his wife, Ammie, have held regular retreats that exclude their children. Married 17 years, the New York couple started out having yearly meetings of the minds, but now it’s a biannual event. The Williamses had been working long hours, with Paul practicing corporate litigation and government relations law as a partner at Bryan Cave L.L.P. in New York City, and Ammie working as a realtor at Marjorie Wohl, Town & Country Realty in New Rochelle, New York. Add to that the stress of taking care of three children (ages 14, 11, and 7), a