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Helping Family Businesses
Prosper Across Generations®

First Family Meeting

By Jennifer Pendergast, Ph.D.

We are planning our first family meeting. Our family is quite large and spread out, so there will be considerable expense involved in getting everyone together. While we want to encourage everyone to attend and would like to be inclusive of family members and spouses, we do have some concern about the budget. We also know that we will be setting a precedent with how we handle expenses going forward. What is your recommendation on reimbursement of travel expenses related to family meetings?
 

Many client families view family meetings as “shareholder education.” The closer and more unified the family and family shareholders, the greater the likelihood of a supportive, informed, and unified group. Family meetings can be viewed as a cost of doing business. In the case of a family business, it is wise to invest in education for spouses and children even if they aren’t shareholders, because shareholder education is important for these groups as well (future shareholders and their parents).

 

The following guidelines should be helpful in all aspects of planning your family meeting, not just expense reimbursement:
 

  1.  It is almost always better to be inclusive rather than exclusive for the reason stated above.
     
  2. Involve the family in the decision. Put on the family meeting agenda this very question. Don’t allow it to be personal; just state the facts: namely, we have an exponentially growing pool of family and shareholders and we feel that shareholder education and family unity are critical. But those of us in operations, responsible for managing the family’s capital, are uncomfortable making this decision and would benefit from shareholder input. How do YOU recommend we resolve this dilemma?
     
  3. Create a formula or rule for expense control. Some families set aside a percentage of either revenues or net income for shareholder education and allow that number to guide what the company can afford to pay for. Another option is to agree to determine shareholder dividends AFTER paying for meetings, in essence treating meeting expenses as a cost of doing business.
     
  4. Encourage attendance by making meetings interesting, educational, and fun. Most definitely make the meetings so wonderful that even if the company cannot afford to pay for all, those who are not covered by the policy are eager and willing to pay their own way.
     
  5. Consider working with a meeting planner and travel agency to manage costs.
     
  6. Look for ways that spouses can contribute value to the meeting by leading discussions or managing parts of the meeting – a sort of “earn their way” philosophy.
 

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