Generation to GenerationA conversation with…Ellen (56) and Aaron (27), her son (in italics), San Francisco, California

He was the family patriarch and he built the family business, established and oversaw the family foundation and defined the families' values. Then he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and everything changed.

“Dad had become increasingly forgetful and fussy, which was hard on everyone.  He was always everyone’s rock. When he set up the family foundation and hired a staff to manage it, he'd be in the family office every day ‘directing traffic.’”

“I haven’t really been involved much in the foundation. I started my own sustainable agriculture business in Napa a few years back and grandpa thought that was one of the dumbest ideas he’d ever heard; "what were grocery stores for?", he’d ask me, while telling me that agriculture is an industry, not a farm. "Besides, what does a kid with an MBA know about running a farm?” After that we didn’t talk a lot about my business, but he did talk about his interests how he wanted to change the world and make it a better place…his way.”

As I said…it’s been difficult on so many levels. I don’t think any of us disagree that we need a more civil society, and that human rights desperately need to be protected, which was where a significant percent of the foundations’ money went, but …”"I've had conversations with the kids, but maybe I wasn't listening closely enough."

“…of course these are important concerns, but so is world hunger and so is the environment. And if you talked to my brothers or my cousins, there will be a half a dozen other causes that they feel are important.”

"I've had conversations with the kids, but maybe I wasn't listening closely enough."

“My concern is, now that Dad’s not running things what are we going to do with the foundation? The company has both a strategic plan and a succession plan, but the Foundation’s a different story. None of us want anyone else to take the lead, and yet none of us want to take the lead. This is a pretty big family and we all have a stake in the foundation… and there’s also a significant amount of money going out every year.” 

“Mom’s talked about having a family meeting to discuss the whole thing. Can you imagine all of us in the same room trying to be heard over everyone else?  I can’t wait to find out when they’re planning to do that so I can plan on being busy that day!”

“One of the staff suggested we have the family meeting facilitated by someone outside the family so none of us is in charge and all of us can participate. Someone needs to manage the meeting and the people involved, and I don’t want to put the staff in that position.”

I just got a questionnaire from them and they actually asked me what I care about, what’s important to me, whether I wanted to be involved with the foundation and what that looked like to me. When I talked to one of my cousins she said that no one had ever asked her those questions…and she’s going to video conversations with her folks, my folks and our uncle and, I think she’s going to try to talk to Grandpa to get some history from him…if he’s able to. I hope so. That would be a nice history to have.”

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