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Family Governance in Enterprising Families
The Role of Family Assemblies & Retreats

Successful, multi-generational family businesses are known to pay considerable attention towards creating sustained family togetherness through well-functioning governance structures.

Being together as a large, geographically dispersed family becomes an increasing challenge as the family size increases and business begins to diversify. Moreover, after three generations into business, many families prefer to professionalize the business and transition from an “operating mindset” to a “strategic investor & steward mindset”.

In such circumstances, ensuring family’s commitment, engagement levels, communication and education/development becomes extremely vital.

Family governance begins with the family making a commitment to get together regularly.

Two important structures of family governance that help achieve these objectives are

Family Assemblies and Family Retreats


A well-functioning Family Assembly is an annual meeting (sometimes semi-annual), where relatives can get together, update their information about each other and share views among branches, generations, and those who live far apart.

In smaller families that comprise of only 2 or 3 generations, family assemblies and retreats are often combined together as a single event. However, in large multi-generational families wherein the family units are spread across multiple locations, family assemblies and family retreats are held as separate events. The former focus more on sharing information & highlights about the business while the latter focus on bonding and fun events.

Who attend the family assemblies and retreats?

The family assemblies and retreats are usually organized by the family office led by the Family Council chair and one or two members from the family assembly.

  • Usually the direct descendent of the founder and their family units are invited to the family assemblies. Most families aim to be as inclusive as possible, usually involving family members of all age groups from all the family units/branches, including the in-laws.
  • All family members which include (1) members working in the business, (2) members having ownership but not working in the business, (3) members who are both owners & working in the business and; (4) members who are only part of the family but do not have ownership or a role in the business – all come together to attend these gatherings.
  • In many family assemblies, they include children who are 12yrs & above since the forum focuses on legacy sharing, values & beliefs and presentations about the business.
  • In family retreats all children are involved that helps increase their sense of belonging within the family and emotional connectedness.

Family assemblies and retreats are more than just social gatherings. They are carefully planned to combine fun, education, quality family time and business meetings.

Family business leaders in the business use this as an opportunity to make brief presentations about the business.

The Family Assembly of JMB Family
The J.M. Burguières Co., Limited was founded in 1877 from three sugar plantations and has prospered through the years as a land acquisition and holding company with property interests in south Louisiana, south Florida, and west Texas. They are a diverse company that provides a multitude of services that build value in land.
It all began with Eugene Denis Burguières, son of Jean Baptiste and Catherine Pauline Lallamand Burguières, originally from Paris, who came to America in the early nineteenth century, settling in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana.
Originally envisioned by young leaders within the family business, the J. M. Burguières Family Assembly is comprised, largely, of direct descendants of Jules M. Burguières, Sr.
Membership includes all members of a shareholder’s extended family, including spouses, children, families of children of shareholders and family members and their spouses who are former shareholders and are at least 15 years of age.

In order to ensure an effective family assembly and retreat, it is important to plan the dates, venue and other logistics well ahead in time. Usually all assemblies are paid for by shared family funds, rather than by individuals.

“IF YOU ARE IN A FAMILY ENTERPRISE, YOU NEED TO LEARN THE BASICS OF GOVERNANCE AND APPLY THE BEST PRACTICES THAT EXIST IN FAMILY BUSINESS GOVERNANCE.”

- JOHN DAVIS

Sources:
Family Assembly Development, Investing in family cohesion by Lansberg & Gersick
A survey of enterprising families' governance practices by Dennis T. Jaffe, Peter Begalla and Jane Flanagan
Official Website of JMB Companies & Family Assembly Website

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