Business Lessons from Family Foundations Who Bridge the Gap

Family foundations are providing a model for multigenerational collaboration, compromise, and success, says Walt Rakowich

Family foundations are providing a workplace model for multigenerational collaboration, compromise, and success.

My dad and others who successfully blur the lines between work and family are why I wasn’t surprised to find business inspiration in an article about family foundations. These families successfully bridge the gap between generations—a prevalent challenge in corporate America today, and something I’ve thought about a lot lately.

Openness to new ideas

Liz Simons and her husband Mark Heising formed the Simons-Heising Foundation and enthusiastically added their daughter, Caitlin, to the board when she expressed interest upon college graduation. Thanks to her parents’ openness, Caitlin started a small human rights program. Simons joined her daughter on several Human Rights Watch visits and now appreciates a broader understanding. “I’ve been really grateful to have the opportunity to work with Caitlin and learn from her,” Simons said.

In the business world, we’re also faced with different views about how to improve outcomes, and I wonder how often our first stop is the youngest person at the boardroom table. Research tells us that outcomes are more innovative when we involve diverse opinions.

Creating a means for compromise

Not all next-generation involvement is as effortless as the Simons-Heising Foundation’s process. There’s a lot at stake. Between 2007 and 2061, $59 trillion dollars will transfer to the next generation. Younger generations often encounter a deaf ear when parents have held the gavel for so long. As a result, many family foundations have developed discretionary funds which provide a means for compromise so each family member can focus on their own systemic solutions.

In companies, there is also a lot at stake, and many times the safest decisions are those that favor experienced performers. On the other hand, when younger employees are eager to research a new strategy, it’s a great opportunity to compromise with small-scale projects and explore what can be gained in the process.

These family foundations successfully bridge the gap between generations—a prevalent challenge in corporate America today.

Each of the foundation practices these families have explored translates to everyday business challenges and how we can work more effectively within multigenerational organizations. The most inspiring decisions can often come from the most unlikely places. What’s more, the generation gap in our society clearly has no sector boundaries and neither should our willingness to embrace each other’s ideas.

 

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