For most advisory firms, family dynamics are a daily part of client interaction. Couples have varying spending habits and risk tolerances, clients need help with legacy planning for children or grandchildren.

Some advisors also have the opportunity to work with their own family members. I'm one of them. Having worked in a family-run financial services business for more than two decades - with my father, two brothers and brother-in-law - I can tell you with some authority that working in a family business is so much fun.

It starts with our differences. The petty problems of family life can be used to create an environment that leverages a diverse set of unique strengths. My brothers and I were raised by the same parents, taught the same values, ate the same food - yet left home with completely different talents. We recognize our varying thought patterns, may do things that come across to others as bizarre and make different decisions - but understanding where we part company actually helps us leverage each other's natural talents.

Recognizing that truth has been a huge help in our business. Capitalizing on our individual strengths and giving each other full responsibility, transparency and accountability is critical. (Really critical - business history is filled with tales of corrupt siblings, scheming parents, devious children and duplicitous uncles.)

Businesses can only grow as fast as trust among senior executives is strong - and in a family business, there should be an innate trust. If you have issues with family members, you need to make sure you have an open environment to discuss them, build on your trust and move forward.

I am sure most of you who have worked in family businesses can recall having heated and direct conversations with a family member at work. The reality is that candid discussions occur because of this shared trust, not because of a lack thereof.

One of the biggest challenges of a family-run business is making sure work stays at work. My father always said we were partners between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and just family after 5. Due in part to our spouses and other family members - none of whom work at the company - we do a good job of leaving work behind. We do need a reminder occasionally, but try to never discuss work at the dinner table.

The best element of working with family is the time spent together. My father spent the vast majority of his time laying the foundation of the business that today is NorthStar Financial Services Group. The 16 years I spent working with him prior to his passing allowed me to interact and learn more from him than during any other period in my life. Those years working together are simply time that is irreplaceable.


Eric Clarkeis president and founder of Orion Advisor Services, an accounting services provider for investment advisors. His brothers and brother-in-law run separate companies owned by family-run NorthStar Financial Services.

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