JOHN A: It’s our privilege today to have Thomasina Williams as our guest on this Purposeful Planning Podcast. Thomasina is the founder of Sankofa Legacy Advisors, which uses a leadership development approach to help families navigate through the unique opportunities and challenges of combining family with wealth. And so, she assists families in building transgenerational legacies of success. She’s also — this is very exciting to me — the creator of the FEW (Family Enterprise Women), a leadership development experience for women that Thomasina has created, where she’s finding women within enterprising families. And her FEW program incorporates training, coaching and community. And Thomasina also has been a member of the Purposeful Planning Community for maybe close to 10 years now. And I found her to be a renaissance woman. What I mean by that is that she’s constantly seeking to learn and apply and develop innovative best practices. So we’re really fortunate to have her be a part of our community. A few years ago, I asked her if she would serve on our Advisory Board. She has been one of the most active participants with our Board. We’re very, very grateful for that Board leadership that she provides the PPI. And with that, Thomasina, I’m gonna ask you if you could help create a connection between family stewardship, our topic today, and Sankofa.
THOMASINA: Absolutely. Thank you, John A, for the invitation to join you. This is one of my favorite subjects. So as you said, the name of my firm is Sankofa Legacy Advisors. And I chose that name Sankofa for a very intentional reason. Sankofa is a West African wisdom principle. And Sankofa is traditionally depicted as a mythical bird. The bird has a very long neck. Its feet are faced forward. Its head with that long neck is turned backwards, and it has an egg in its mouth. And what Sankofa means, essentially, as it relates to working with families, and in general, is here we are firmly planted in the realities of the present moment, focused on today, as we look back to honor and draw lessons from the past, to give birth to new possibilities in the future. And that egg symbolizes the future. And for me, that is the essence of what the families that I’m privileged to work with are trying to do-–is the essence of family stewardship, and appreciation for being a part of a larger context, and having a greater purpose than simply oneself, to honor and draw lessons from the past while we also look forward to give birth to possibilities for the future. That, to me, is the essence of what it means to talk about the concept of family stewardship.
JOHN A: Thomasina, that’s beautiful, and I had learned about Sankofa and that mental image, which you did such a brilliant job of helping us visually imagine the bird with the feet planted forward. But if I had heard that before we started the PPI, we might have the sankofa bird as our logo rather than the redwood seedlings. So, thank you for that.
THOMASINA: Yes, again, it’s the past, present, future; it connects the generations. It connects people to something that’s much larger than themselves, and I think it gives people something to reflect on, that they can be very proud of, and also very excited about in terms of the possibilities for the future. I had a conversation not long ago with a young woman, I would say she’s mid 30s. And we were talking about this concept of family stewardship. And she said, “Well, you know, my grandparents were like early pioneers in the outback of Australia, that they had a very, very tough life living in the outback of Australia back in like the 30s.” And that she doubted her grandparents thought about her for one second. And I said, “That’s a possibility.” I said, “But it also is a possibility for her grandparents that migrated from Eastern Europe to Australia. I said, “It’s also a possibility that the very reason that your grandparents migrated from Eastern Europe to Australia and withstood those kinds of hardships was for you and your mother, because they wanted you to have a better life, a life that they thought they could not provide for you in the same way that they will be able to provide for you as pioneers here.” And she just looked at me, John A, and she started tearing up. And she said, “You know, I’ve never thought about it that way, that my grandparents did what they did as a personal sacrifice for me and my family, not just because they were some road pioneers.” So it also helps for people to think and to put into context some of these big life decisions that grandparents and parents make. It also gives people pause to think about the life decisions that they’re making, not only for themselves, and their family who was here with us today, but the family who has come behind them.
JOHN A: That’s really very beautiful, Thomasina. Let me ask you. I’m still visualizing that egg of the future in the mouth of the sankofa bird, but how does this role of family stewardship integrate into furthering the goals of our client families?
THOMASINA: That really is a question that I think advisors are well-served and the clients are well-served to ask on a family by family basis. Oftentimes, I think in our field, there’s a tendency to assume that all families want the same thing. And then all families are focused on legacy, on generational wealth, on three, four or five generations into the future. And while I would say that that’s certainly the case for most of the families that come to me, I’ve actually had a few where that was not the case. I’m actually working with a client right now. We had this conversation about grandchildren. This client happens to have five grandchildren, two children. She came to me because of conflict between the two children and trying to figure out how to better navigate the dynamics that they were experiencing. And I was trying to get a sense of the larger context in the family and all of that. And she simply said, “Well, I love my grandchildren dearly. I’m frankly really not that concerned about what happens with respect to my grandchildren. That’s not part of my focus. I trust my children to do what is best as it relates to their children, my grandchildren.” Surprising response, but that was her response. So for her stewardship is not the conversation that she wanted to engage in. Another example, I had a conversation about a year ago with a woman who has only one child, a male child, and they were having some conflicts and some tensions as well. And she said, “I don’t care what he does with the money. I am going to be gone. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m not interested in legacy, stewardship, all of that. My professional legacy is what I care about, that will stand on its own.” So I said, “Okay, you have a young granddaughter, don’t you? What’s her name?” And she was like about four. I said, “Well, what about your granddaughter?” And she was like, “Oh, well, that’s a different story. That’s a different story.” She instantly changed her tune. She was only focused on the difficulty that she and her son were having, and wasn’t thinking of beyond that. And so that’s why I say it’s really important for us to engage in this conversation client by client. Needless to say, after asking that last client about her granddaughter, we had a totally different conversation than the conversation started out when she was only focused specifically on her son, and thinking about what she wanted to do as it related to the son. So, I think the first challenge, the first role for us as advisors is to really figure out what are the client’s goals, what is important to this client and not necessarily assume that what is important to this client is also going to be the same thing that was important to the next client. And for families that I think most of our listening audience probably deals with on a regular basis, they are very much concerned about stewardship, about legacy, about future generations. And the way to ensure that legacy, both as it relates to the family’s financial assets, but also as it relates to the family’s well being, and to the growth and flourishing of individuals and the larger family unit. There’s no way to do that, that I’m aware of, except through stewardship, except through each generation. Again, honoring the past, learning from the past, but then building on that in the current generation with an eye towards what will be possible, making opportunities available for future generations. So if you’re interested in legacy, I don’t see how people can do that without focusing on stewardship, because it requires — as I’m pretty sure most of our listening audience knows — a very high degree of intentionality. Legacy, generational wealth, generational success, doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen by default. It is very much purposeful, as we say, at the Purposeful Planning Institute. And being intentional about stewardship is part of that purposefulness, for ensuring that that family’s legacy endures, and also there’s sufficient flexibility that each generation is growing and adding their own contributions to the legacy as well.
JOHN A: I’ve often thought, Thomasina, because I do find that the word intentional, really, it just cozies up so well with the word purposeful. And I’ve often asked myself, what if we had named this the “Intentional Planning Institute, IPI? And who knows, it could have been. But I love what you just shared with us because, to me, attacking the blinders problem. And what I mean by that is clients step into these conversations with us as advisors and consultants with blinders on. And the blinders restrict their being able to see. And you did such a wonderful job by bringing the four-year-old granddaughter into that woman’s focus or vision by taking the blinders off to allow her to really see more clearly. It’s almost like this has got to be one of the most important things that we do is helping clients see beyond the blinders, see through the mist that kind of robs them of the vision that is so important. And I love what you just shared with us too, because it takes us back to the why’s. We are always talking about the why’s of purposeful planning. And that was so beautifully illustrated in that story. Let me ask, how does a focus on cultivating family stewardship support the business goals of the advisors and consultants? You know, at PPI, we’re very concerned not just with these best practices, but also with financial prospering sustainability in the practices of our advisor and consultant members. What tie do you see between family stewardship and that financial, prospering the business goals of the family advisor?
THOMASINA: Very significant tie on multiple levels. I was privileged to have been the first person that Wells Fargo Private Bank hired to come in-house as a family dynamics consultant and helped to build a new service offering for its ultra high net worth clients. And the reason the bank decided to create this new offering was because they were responding to client requests. The bank had done surveys, they had also kind of anecdotal case studies of family saying, “The money obviously is important. And we feel like that part is taken care of. But the things that are really keeping me up at night, things that I’m troubled with are how to raise a connected and capable family with this level of wealth.” And so, I think the first reason it’s important for advisors is simply to be responsive to client needs. There are a number of surveys and research projects that have come out recently talking about how these issues around how to navigate family relationships, how to raise a connected and capable family in the midst of have such significant wealth, when wealth can not only be a positive force, but in our society a very destructive force given how materialistic Westerners tend to be, in the US in particular. And so because it’s an issue of concern to clients, I believe, it should be an issue of concern to advisors as well. And not only meaning they’re responsive to the needs of clients, but all of the marketing, sales business experts tell us that the best source of new business is existing clients. And so, it’s also an opportunity for advisors to — depending upon their business model — it may not only expand their service offerings, but also generate additional revenue streams, because it’s a very different type of work to start talking about and working with families in a very intentional, purposeful way around issues of family stewardship, that goes well beyond simply teaching them how to manage money, or teaching about stocks and finances. And I think another really important reason that advisors would be well-served to think about this issue of family stewardship, and at least introducing it to their clients, is because clients are also great sources of referrals. The adviser is taking care of the things that are really troubling clients, those clients are going to talk to friends of theirs, family members of theirs, perhaps extended family, but certainly friends who are experiencing likely very similar challenges. And so getting referrals from clients who advisors are helping with these kinds of issues is very important. And then another reason that there’s been tons of research done on this is that, oftentimes, in a more conventional approach, where the advisor is focused on dealing only with the wealth creator, and perhaps a spouse, but oftentimes just the wealth creator, what happens when the wealth creator passes, dies? Then that spouse really doesn’t have a connection to or relationship with the advisor. So that spouse goes elsewhere for those same services, and perhaps even expanded services. And the same thing happens when both parents are gone. Then the next generation, because they don’t have a relationship with the advisor, doesn’t see that person as “their advisor.” That was mom and/or dad’s advisor, but not their advisor. So it’s in the best interest of advisors to focus on this issue, not only from the standpoint of being of service to their clients, being responsive to the client’s needs, but also thinking about the longevity of their own practice, and their ability to continue working with the family across multiple generations, as the family continues to engage this issue around family stewardship.
JOHN A: Well said Thomasina. I think that is just great points on the business benefits that cultivating this family stewardship approach has. And oh, I’m so, so grateful to you for sharing this wisdom with us today.
THOMASINA: Well, thank you, John A. I’m happy to have been here, and I’m looking forward to the symposium. Today, we talked a little bit about the what and the why. And during the symposium, we’re going to delve into the how, which is always the big question. People often can find it very easy to figure out, “What am I supposed to do?” Lots of people tell you what to do. But the real catch is how do we actually implement some of these concepts? How do we focus on this multi-generational legacy and create this — what I think of as a — paradigm. Family stewardship is a paradigm; it’s a particular perspective. It’s a purposefulness and intentionality that, really, families who are most successful figure out how to embed it throughout everything that the family does, from focusing on family history, family culture and values, to thinking about how we prepare the next generation, to thinking about the legacy and what it is that the incumbent generation might want to do to ensure that certain values, certain practices, certain approaches, things that may be a philanthropic cause, for example. They’re important to them how those are also furthered into the future. So, there are lots of moving parts. There are lots of opportunities, and many different ways. As I said earlier, each family has to be dealt with on their own. Each family is unique and there’s no one formula, no one way to do this. One of the things I love about this work is it reminds me so much of my commercial litigation work, where every case was a different industry, let alone a different issue. And families provide that opportunity as well, for advisors to really be creative to help clients think beyond what is right in front of them and explore the opportunities and the possibilities of what best serves that particular family that they’re working with at any given time.
JOHN A: Thomasina, here’s a very warm and sincere purposeful thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
THOMASINA: Thank you, John A. It’s my pleasure.