It's both a privilege and a challenge to be born into a family with a great legacy, according to Matthew Fleming, great, great grandson of Robert Fleming, the man who built the Fleming family business some 150 years ago. It’s a challenge, he believes, that can’t be met without implementing governance and engaging advisers who go beyond the technical.
“The great Barbara Broccoli, daughter of Cubby who first started making the James Bond films, once asked me: How does it feel to be standing on the shoulders of giants?”, Matthew, Head of Governance and Succession at Stonehage Fleming, told the audience at a fireside chat with Blair Trippe at the recent STEP Miami Summit. “I'd never really asked myself before. The answer is: while it is daunting, it’s also incredibly empowering.”
This paradox faces many of the Next Gen family members that Matthew and his team work with. For Matthew, however, the key to its successful management is engaging advisers who understand the human side of family office work and putting governance in place.
Using personal experience to illustrate, Matthew outlined how a trust company provides the governance for his own family. “My father was chairman of the trust company that held the family business. As a structure, it has taken us through many major events: the when, why and how of selling our family business; what to do next; dealing with liquidity; working with brilliant – and not-so-brilliant – advisers and the challenge of how to coordinate all that as a family group.”
Although “perhaps not the most exciting prospect for families to consider”, Matthew explained that the structure has been “an incredibly positive thing” for his family and the difference “growing up in a culture of governance” has made.
“Our trust company was our governance. I've watched our structure deal with an extraordinary range of events during my lifetime but the only thing we all know is to expect the unexpected.” Here, Matthew underlined that governance alone will struggle without the right advisers.
“There is a misunderstanding in the marketplace that governance is just a series of events underpinned by structure, or tax advice. Actually, governance has to have the family – with its living, breathing dynamics – at its core,” he said, going on to explain the importance of finding the right advisers, equipped with the holistic expertise that families require.
These, explained Matthew, are the sorts of areas where holistic advice that goes beyond governance alone starts to come into its own. “The risk is that too many advisers fall back on their technical capabilities alone”, he said. “Of course, those are very important but you can find technical capabilities all around the world. What is harder to find is advisers with empathy, who display moral courage and principle and who are prepared to challenge the really important issues head on.”