Peter Evans - Trusted Advisor to Legacy Families & Member of a 7th Generation Family Holding Company


24 April 2022

53 mins 48 secs

Season 2

Your Host
Special Guest

About this Episode

Peter Evans is an advisor, consultant, and speaker to legacy families, family offices, and multigenerational enterprises all around the world. Peter creates the opportunities where affluent families have the greatest chance of flourishing.

Peter is also part of a legacy family himself; he is a 5th generation member of a 7th generation American enterprise established in 1885. Peter married into this family and was astounded by the welcoming and inclusive nature of his wife's large family. The family enterprise is now a holding company with over 500 shareholders, all of whom are family members. Of particular interest are the Family Summits held annually, which are designed to re-engage family members, partake in family traditions and rituals, discuss philanthropy and reset for the year ahead.

Peter shares his experience of what it was like to join a well-established legacy family and how he has used this unique experience to pivot his career and help other legacy families flourish.

Standout Quotes:

  • "We can't really plan significantly for longer than 5-10 years, you just learn that along the way, things change; the world changes" - [Peter]
  • "I'm really interested in making sure that the family's values are aligned with their actions" - [Peter]
  • "To have some sort of formal way of telling stories, I think, is critical" - [Peter]
  • "The most important thing you'll do are these rituals" - [Peter]
  • "If we have the privilege of having wealth and means, we have an obligation to give back" - [Peter]

Key Takeaways:

  • Peter is the 5th generation member of a 7th generation American enterprise established in 1885. He is an adviser, consultant, and speaker to legacy families, family offices, and multigenerational enterprises globally. He became a part of the family when he married his wife and was included.
  • The company began as a group of lumber companies started by two brothers who liquidated everything after 45 years to invest with their partner, Friedrich Weyerhäuser in 1901. Peter's family had continued to be involved with the business as it expanded, although there were no male heirs in the second generation, till the 3rd generation. The family later started a private trust company in 1964, at which point they became the 3rd largest retailer of building materials in the US.
  • Today with diversification, they are now a holding company with over 500 shareholders, all of whom are family members. Peter's children are already involved with the family business actively and eagerly look forward to partaking in the annual family meetings.
  • The Family Summit: This annual family meeting usually runs over 3-5 days, on the same weekend every year, with activities like the coming-of-age ritual and elders’ ritual, Olympic games, business meetings, philanthropy group meetings, and talks by guest speakers. The goal is to make it so interesting that people want to come back.
  • Planning Never Stops; the family forms a long-range planning committee every 5 years to have a clean slate to think through everything. A pattern of liquidating a significant resource once every 20 years was also observed; this 'Generational Harvest' would provide liquidity to each shareholder, giving them the freedom to make their own investments.
  • The family investments today are largely in Real Estate, like residence halls or low-income housing units, all intentionally inclined towards 'doing well by doing good' which is a value the family holds.
  • Peter left his role as president of the family enterprise in 2003 and has since then helped other family enterprises manage their multigenerational interests. He believes families with vast amounts of capital can make decisions that affect millions of lives and works to ensure that these families act in accordance with their values. "I can hold a mirror up to you so that you can begin to see yourself, your family system, and your footprint in the world; the other thing I can do is open the window so that you can look out into the world and see how other families made choices during different transitions"
  • Peter's most satisfying work is sitting with family members and watching the interactions; his work is focused on helping build bridges in communication and relationships. His role is a position between being a business consultant, priest, and therapist all of which require a deep level of trust and respect. At its core, his work is about relationships.
  • Peter’s role as a 'Personne de confiance': This is a confidential advisor based on their trust, respect, and honesty. The way to get into that role is to come into the family that needs help, taking time to build trust and confidence. Very often Peter has to model a way of doing things like chairing a meeting, inclusion, and effective decision-making while keeping in mind that the goal is to pass on the mantle of leadership. Most of the time, the G2 generation is the one that reaches out to him, however, in some cases when the patriarchs are comfortable giving up authority, this spurs the G2 to take up the mantle and learn how to hand over to G3. Sometimes, the G2 has even already made the transition in their lifetime, adapting to the values and culture while the G3 grows up having a completely different experience.
  • Storytelling is critical in documenting family history. Peter uses this both in his family enterprise and while working with others. His family works with a full-time archivist who helps research the lives of people such that detailed questions can be asked and stories can be told more deeply. It also offers an opportunity to share lessons from the failures, trials, and tribulations of family members.
  • While still active in his family he was always open to learning from other families and when he left his role, he wanted to be involved in creating the consciousness in families that they can impact the world. Based on Peter's background, he has the experience which gets him into those family spaces after which he starts work.
  • From Peter's experience, when it comes to cultural mindsets like having female leaders, and diversity, there is a lot more openness in the US than in most other places. Although he tries to encourage such views, some cultures are just not ready for it. However, families of significant or multigenerational wealth are naturally global these days, hence it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid influence from other cultures.
  • Family Rituals are the most important way to bring the family together continuously over the years because they help young people feel acknowledged. Peter's family has a children's program packed with several activities that keep them eager to return. After the age of 14, they can start going to business meetings. These activities help the family familiarize themselves with teenagers and create a more welcoming environment in the business meetings.
  • It is necessary to identify who is family and the kinds of roles available to different members. Each family does this differently, but Peter's family has selected the option of Inclusion.
  • Building Family Governance starts with having a reliable cadence of meetings quarterly, as well as major annual gatherings; this goes hand and hand with excellent communication. The next step would be to memorialize family values and have a direction and then this can be the foundation of a constitution. The constitution is a living document and should be examined and changed as required.
  • Peter also uses the concept of the "5 Capitals" within his family and the families he works with.
  • Philanthropy is another tool Peter has been familiar with. It is fun to watch families come together to figure out ways to give back based on their different interests and drives.
  • Very often, families look at their business as heirlooms which begs the question "Is the business an heirloom or an investment?" Sometimes it is hard to sell a business because it's been our identity for years; thus, selling is easy if the business is only an investment but if it functions as an heirloom then it may not be advisable. In some situations, the business is on the spectrum in-between, which means only certain objects or aspects may be more valued as an heirloom. Mike's family takes pictures yearly on the same spot on a piece of land which over time has taken up the role of an heirloom too.
  • From Peter to his children: "This is your life, do what you love and do it often. If you don't like something, change it; if you don't like your job, move on. If you don't have enough time, stop watching TV. If you're looking for the love of your life, stop, they'll be waiting for you when you start doing the things you love. Stop overanalyzing; life is simple. All emotions are beautiful, when you eat, appreciate every last bite. Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people; we are united in our differences. Ask the next person you see what their passion is, and share your inspiring dream with them. Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once so seize them. Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating. Life is short, live your dream and share your passion."

Episode Timeline:

  • [00:52] About today's guest, Peter Evans.
  • [02:44] Peter shares his family history.
  • [07:10] What makes your annual family meetings appealing to the younger generation?
  • [12:28] Does a value system guide the investment making decisions?
  • [14:00] Peter's work helping other family enterprises.
  • [18:40] Peters role as a 'Personne de confiance'.
  • [24:22] Family Storytelling as a tool in Peter's work with family enterprises.
  • [29:08] Was it your experience with your own family that led you to work with other families?
  • [31:39] What are some of the differences in culture that showed up during your work with different families across the world?
  • [34:50] How important is it to have traditions that bring the family together?
  • [38:41] Who is a Family member?
  • [39:17] Building blocks of Family Governance.
  • [44:10] Philanthropy in the family enterprise.
  • [46:16] How shared experiences come into family meetings.
  • [48:14] What is the role of Heirlooms in the family enterprise?
  • [50:47] Peter's letter to his kids.

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Episode Links

  • Laird Norton Company — Laird Norton Company is a family-owned enterprise that provides long-term capital and resources to empower companies to thrive—and we’ve been doing it for seven generations.
  • Peter Evans | LinkedIn