Much of our work focuses on the opportunities and challenges of first generation wealth creators and their immediate descendants. One of the sayings that’s inspired our work is the warning “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in 3 generations”; that is, wealth does not survive beyond 3 generations.
The article below offers a glimpse into how the Rockefeller family has sustained its wealth beyond three generations.
The article is instructive because it points out some of the long-term strategies and obstacles for families who aspire to sustain their financial wealth over more than 3 generations. These include:
The growing number of the extended family members over multiple generations.
The basic math suggests that at some point, unless there’s another large influx of money from investments or new ventures, the demands for withdrawals will exceed the growth of the underlying financial assets. In anticipation of this eventuality, we take the position that a family culture that emphasizes:
- The long-term greater good of the family
- Gratitude (and avoiding greed, over-consumption, and entitlement)
- Elevates prudent risk-taking and entrepreneurism is something to strive for.
The ability to continue to engage in dialogue and to develop strategies as an extended family, especially the ability to foster inter-generational collaboration.
As a family grows in numbers, so too does the diversity of ideologies and opinions of family members. In the article, the banter between the Federal Judge and the Exxon attorney about whether the Rockefeller initiative against Exxon is “disturbing” (as the Exxon attorney states) or “ironic” (as the judge viewed it), highlights the generational differences that the Rockefeller family has dealt with. Yet the Rockefeller family has apparently managed to maintain a civil discourse and family harmony, despite the activism of younger generations
The long shadow, the legacy – both positive and negative – of the wealth creators.
Like the Rockefellers, many families continue to hold their wealth in the stock of the original company that created the wealth. Whether or not this is or will be prudent in an increasingly volatile, unpredictable future is unknown. However, a wealth creator has the opportunity to prepare younger family members for the opportunities and responsibilities of great wealth. This may or may not include the freedom from retaining the stock of the original company and perhaps instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in the culture of the family.
Finally, the article hints at the power of a higher purpose, a noble cause, and the ability to wield influence through philanthropy, as well as business. I was struck by the quote attributed to John D. Rockfeller:
As a nation looking proudly to our past where it has been noble, and recognizing with humility our mistakes of extravagance, selfishness, and indifference, let us with faith in God, in ourselves, and in humanity, go forward courageously resolved to play our part in worthily building a better world.