Spencer Burke - The St Louis Trust Company Multi-Family Office [The Business of Family]

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00:55:59

12 October 2020

55 mins 59 secs

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About this Episode

Spencer is a Principal with The St. Louis Trust Company, a multi-family office for 50 families in the United States managing in excess of US $10 billion, where he heads the Family Business Advisory Practice. Spencer is also an Adjunct Lecturer in Family Business at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Standout Quotes:

  • “Multi-family businesses are acts of inadvertence in the initial years or the initial generation, they're usually a force of necessity, and then it becomes more opportunistic as the family gets bigger, and by the time you get to the 3rd generation it's more process-driven and ultimately becomes strategic” – Spencer Burke
  • “At the end of the day, it's not about having a board and all that, it's about the quality of the people, the vision, the culture and purpose of the organization; that's what creates great companies of all kinds and family business is just a large subset of great companies in the world” – Spencer Burke
  • "In the United States, you can own 100% of the votes and not own any of the economics of a company" – Spencer Burke
  • "I don't think there's anything better to own than your own company and the ability to compound earnings" – Spencer Burke
  • “When it is time to sell the business that's great, that's not a failure” – Spencer Burke
  • “The key to happiness is, don't let other people be the measure of your success; If you're not happy doing what you're doing, go do something else” – Spencer Burke

Key Takeaways:

  • Some families walk away from a wealth of knowledge because they don't know what they're getting; although they need the advice, they just have the wrong person giving it to them
  • Multi-generational family businesses are acts of inadvertence in the initial years or the initial generation, but get more opportunistic as the family gets bigger, and by the third generation, ultimately becomes strategic and process-driven.
  • “Hygiene" refers to some cost-free measures that can be set up in the beginning to increase your chances of getting beyond the 2nd and 3rd generation, however, if not taken care of, you have no chance of success
  • The key characteristic shared by enduring companies whether family business or not is "Total Control by One Person”
  • In most families where there are issues, how the socio-emotional wealth is getting shared is just as prominent as how the money is being shared.
  • To succeed over long periods (100 years), successful families have extracted a great deal of wealth out of the business so they have the resources to protect the business when necessary.
  • The 3 fundamental factors that may impede the success of a family business; the Family tree is the first because it tends to grow faster than most business
  • One of the number 1 keys to family business success is "Set the policies for the future when there are no names attached to them".
  • The matriarch of the family is usually the keeper of family harmony, the patriarch of the family is usually the keeper of running the great business, but the patriarch more often than not, does not have the power in that family.
  • The three interest groups represented in a family business; the people in the business, the people that own the business, and the people that are just in the family neither as owners nor in the business.
  • The key to happiness is ‘don't let other people be the measure of your success; If you're not happy doing what you're doing, go do something else’

Episode Timeline:

  • [01:28] A concise overview of Spencer's professional background
  • [07:55] Spencer's thesis on starting a multi-generational family business
  • [10:50] Instead of a Family Business Course, Spencer calls his course Ownership Insights
  • [11:36] Common characteristics shared by enduring companies whether family business or not
  • [14:19] The concept of Spoils of Ownership
  • [16:35] The 'tyranny of the internal rate of return' versus 'creation of real wealth'
  • [20:41] The 3-circle diagram in family business education depicts Family, Business, and Ownership, with how they interact.
  • [22:32] The 3 fundamental undertows that affect a family business
  • [28:57] The continuum of behaviors; a Business Family and a Family business.
  • [35:20] The tradeoff between running a great business and maintaining family harmony
  • [38:00] How is family harmony maintained as businesses progress through multiple generations?
  • [53:40] A letter from Spencer to his kids.

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