by Deborah Steinthal, Managing Director, Scion Advisors (707.246.6830)

Family business transitions are even more complex today than they were for our parents three decades ago. Entrepreneurs, in particular, have a hard time transitioning out of an active business life. Their identities are so intertwined with their businesses that they typically lack significant engagement outside of work. Many desire to turn over the reigns of the business to a successor, but find it difficult to feel significant and fulfilled without their business leadership roles.  They frequently find themselves stuck in repeating what is familiar.

Most are ill prepared for facing complex transitions.  This is compounded today by the fact that we live longer and are typically healthier than our parents were at the same point in their lives. With that perspective, we have more active years in our lives than our “role models”, which explains why we have very little preparation.

Increasingly, neuroscience is shedding light on organizational change dynamics. Neuroscience shows that we need to think of ourselves as healthy people who make good decisions, so we resist information that challenges those beliefs. For example, I ignore the pain in my knee, even though it keeps me up at night and avoid seeing my doctor to get the tests I need. So I ask: why do I sometimes ignore the facts even when I know they are important?

I do a lot of work advising business owners on important transitions: preparing their business for growth, succession, or sale to third party. These complex transitions can be hugely fulfilling, however, require great personal commitment; a drive to contemplate a different future, a readiness to face uncomfortable facts and take unfamiliar action.  This is a big ASK for most; and so many along the way get stuck, even when they seek outside, objective perspectives and information that can be valuable to their successful decision making. Sometimes, having the best information at your fingertips – may just not be enough to make change happen.

We also know from neuroscience, that the clearer our image of success, the greater the probability that we will achieve success. Knowing this to be true during periods of complex change, when our clients are occasionally stuck – we help them dial in and clarify their future core purpose. In my experience, those who skip this step have false starts and limited success.

Simple steps first. Family business leaders who want to see their business legacy continue must thoughtfully plan the preparation of successors and their own exit strategy.  This is essential if they want to coordinate business developmental stages with multiple generations’ dreams.  This process certainly involves complex decisions. This is a weighty undertaking and can be daunting for some.  Here are five steps that have helped alot of people face facts and better prepare for this journey:

  1. Start with restating why you exist (core purpose/ mission) and where you are headed (vision). Vision statements should be aspirational, not something already attained.
    • Core purpose/mission: What are you driven to accomplish in this lifetime? What would really disappoint you if you didn’t personally accomplish it? (Hint: think of a verb—e.g. to create, to help, to foster, to make)
    • Vision: What are your aspirations for your next chapter? What would be truly fulfilling? This is a great time to brainstorm and not censor yourself: write down whatever comes to you. Then think: “If I completed this chapter of my life and I haven’t done x, y or z, I would be really disappointed.” If you have many, prioritize them. For some people, it might be to see their children self-actualize. For others, it would be to change occupations; for still others, it may be to see the South Pacific. If it isn’t in your vision statement, it may be off of your radar screen and thus, not as likely to be accomplished. (Hint: think to be…, to do…, to create…, to have…)
  2. Write a few paragraphs about what is important to you and how you practice these in your life.
    • How you go about this journey is described by your values: safe investing, because we value security; spending on home design, if we value aesthetics; whitewater rafting through amazon jungles, if we value adventure and thrills. (Hint: think adverbs and adjectives, as well).
    • A value is that which is important to you (e.g. not being wasteful, being helpful, having fun).
  3. Think about the complex situation you are facing, but have been avoiding because it is threatening, unfamiliar, causes fear. Remind yourself that you do have control over the situation.
  4. Ask yourself what information you need to have better control over the outcome and why you might be avoiding getting it.
  5. Then write about how you will apply your values to this situation.

Breaking through complex transitions. I find it useful to think of my life in terms of “chapters” that each has its own “purpose”, rather than the fixed, prescribed stages of adolescence, young family, career and retirement.  This concept allows much flexiblity, opens up new horizons and empowers creative rather than stuck thinking.

In my experience, the earlier we begin this creative process of detailing our dreams and clarifying our purpose, the sooner we emerge into our ‘next chapter’ – feeling fulfilled and on track. If my ideal for my next chapter is to travel and be creative, as well as have a secure lifestyle; I need to think about the type of travel and employment that support my goals.

Real life examples of reframed ‘Purpose, Vision and Values’. Giovanni Boccaccio, the 14th century Italian writer, once said: ‘You must read, you must persevere, you must sit up nights, and you must inquire, and exert the utmost power of your mind. If one way does not lead to the desired meaning, take another way; if obstacles arise, then still another way; until, if your strength holds out, you will find that clear path which at first looked dark.’

A recent émigré to Oregon, I am facing a new chapter in my life. I have been reflecting on my purpose, which has been consistent for the last 30 years: ‘to empower people with a framework for becoming more knowledgeable, energized and capable of realizing dreams; achieving faster and better results in their personal and professional lives.’

My vision has adjusted with each life phase, as have some of my values. Not too long ago I created a new vision statement for my ‘next chapter’ and it is pulling me into a new future: ‘to be a financially secure, physically fit, respected advisor who is centered at home with my healthy husband; having gatherings of friends, colleagues and clients; teaching, working when I want; painting, writing and publishing books, hanging out in my garden, traveling for fun and adventure; visiting my family and friends; and supporting causes on an ad hoc basis with advice.’

And finally, an encouraging story that models this approach: “Brenda had always known she would accomplish her life’s aspirations because throughout her life she followed a simple little process that she revealed to me: ‘Between the ages of 18 and 25 I began cutting out pictures of things I liked and inserting them into a diary. Without really giving it much thought I inserted the picture of a house I liked, an elaborately decorated cake, and a story of how to sail. I eventually forgot the diary existed. Years later, I found my diary filled with pictures. I was amazed to realize that over the years I had developed an impressive sailor’s curriculum vitae. I had become successful at decorating cakes as a professional; and I had bought several homes almost identical to the ones in the pictures. Years after I achieved these objectives it then dawned on me that I had subconsciously gotten involved in goal setting. By committing to my objectives formally through pictures, somehow I consciously set the stage for figuring out how to reach them.” [1]


[1] Dr. Raul Deju: We Got Mojo! Stories of Inspiration and Perspiration. Chapter 18 by Deborah Steinthal – Change is what happens on the way to somewhere new.



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ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Deborah Steinthal is Founder and Managing Director of Scion Advisors, a leading boutique, strategy consulting firm serving the U.S. wine industry. With a proven approach enabling business owners to position for profitable growth or for exit, she has worked alongside over 150 winery owners and CEOs; and has moderated over 80 Winery CEO Roundtables involving more than 50 top wine industry CEOs for over a decade. Deborah’s expertise is in the area of business growth strategy, family business transformation, and board and leadership development.

Based out of McMinnville, Oregon; born in Lima, Peru; raised in Belgium and Germany; Deborah has lived, worked and travelled globally. She is broadly published in the national business press, an invited speaker, panelist and widely quoted for research on key practices, such as such as How to Build a Pull Brand, Digital Commerce and Family Business Transition.

For more information call Deborah Steinthal at 707.246.6830.

Among her clients: Bledsoe Family Estates (Doubleback, Bledsoe family Wines, Bledsoe-McDaniels), Cristom Vineyards, Adelsheim Vineyard, Wine by Joe, DeLille Cellars, Woodward Canyon Winery, OVS, Willakenzie, Elizabeth Chambers Cellar, Patz & Hall Winery, Benziger Family Vineyards, Calera Wine Company, Delicato Family VIneyards, Cakebread, Spottswoode, Gundlach Bundschu, Luna Vineyards, Clos Du Val, Quail’s Gate Winery, Wente, J. Lohr, Choice Lunch,
 Cowgirl Creamery, 
Easton Malloy 
(producers of Peppermint Bark for Williams-Sonoma)
, and McEvoy Ranch.

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