By definition, ultra-high net-worth (UHNW) families control large sums of money, and how that money is spent influences the lives of people around the world. These families too often squander money or spend it on intra-familial lawsuits, and money that might otherwise have benefitted causes the family supports, is lost. The social impact of this is significant. Wealth managers surmise the missing ingredient in helping these families more responsibly manage and transmit wealth across generations may be a collective family purpose.
This proposed study seeks to bring the scientific knowledge of individual purpose to bear on the problem of wealth transmission among UHNW-families and the growing number of families in the US and abroad that are well on their way to becoming UHNW-families. We aim to advance our understanding of how family purposes develop and how they can be encouraged. To that end, we hope to launch an exploratory, exemplar-style study that explores the conditions under which family purposes develop and are transmitted across generations. We also plan to partner with organizations that can help us share our findings with the families who stand to benefit from them the most. We have met with multiple organizations interested in collaborating with us. Accordingly, we believe findings from this proposed study will have a significant, positive impact on the way UHNW-families consider wealth transmission and their responsibility to others. Providing guidance to these families around how they can develop and transmit a collective family purpose that directs wealth distribution will have significant social benefits.
- Principal Investigator: Kendall Cotton Bronk, Claremont Graduate University
- Co-Principal Investigator: Tarek el Sehity, Sigmund Freud University, Vienna-Milan (Tarek.el-Sehity@sfu.ac.at)
- Co-Investigator: Anne Colby, Stanford University
- Scientific Advisor: William Damon, Stanford University
- General Advisor: Heinrich Liechtenstein, IESE Business School, University of Navarra
- Viktoria Asamer
Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with multiple members, from multiple generations of each family. Conducting interviews allows us to probe deeply into the experience of being a member of a family with purpose.
This proposed study has two units of analysis: the individual family members (N=72) and the families themselves (N=24). This is reflected in our proposed sample, which will feature 12 UHNW-families that have a (1) family business, (2) family foundation, and/or a (3) family office. Exploring these different types of family wealth will enable us to explore the role organizational structures play in the development and transmission of family purpose. Within each family, approximately three individuals, each from a different generation, will be interviewed (n=36). This will help us learn how families transmit their priorities across generations.
In addition to interviewing members of 12 UHNW-families, we will also interview member of approximately 12 families from more typical socioeconomic backgrounds that similarly have family businesses or other shared enterprises (e.g. family farms, family restaurants, etc.). Here too we anticipate conducting interviews with approximately three members from each family, each from a different generation (n =36). Studying members of this comparison sample will shed light on the role of wealth in the development and transmission of family purpose.
Question(s) and hypotheses
1. What is family purpose? Meetings during the planning period focused on developing a working definition of family purpose, which identifies five elements. A family purpose represents (1) an enduring and stable commitment, (2) shared by multiple family members, (3) to actively engage in making (4) a meaningful difference in (5) some aspect of the world beyond the family. We will continue to refine this definition as a team and in consultation with advisors.
2. How do family purposes develop, and how are they transmitted across generations? We propose to explore family communication styles, family climate, and family cohesion and their relationship to the development and transmission of family purposes. We will also explore the role the founding generation has in family purpose formation and factors that facilitate and hinder the development of family purposes. In addition, we will examine the influence of wealth on family purpose formation. Wealth amplifies the social significance of its owner’s decisions and choices, and our study design will enable us to examine the difference it makes for UHNW-families, as compared to more typical families, to develop and maintain collective, family purposes.
3. What role do virtues play in the development of collective, family purposes? Virtues are core to individual purposes, and they are also likely central to family purposes. Accordingly, we seek to explore how virtues influence the direction, form, and sustainability of collective family purposes.
4. Is a family purpose beneficial to individual family members? What effect, if any, do family purposes have on the ways individuals make decisions and behave within the family and within the context of the broader society?
5. How do religious belief systems (faith) influence a family’s purpose? We have a special interest in understanding the role religious and spiritual beliefs play in the formation and transmission of family purposes. Do religious beliefs influence the form a family purpose takes? Are families with a religious tradition more likely to have purposes undergirded by a particular set of virtues?
2018 – 2022
Bronk, K. C. (2022, March 14). Family Purpose in Family Firms: What it looks like and why it’s important [Practitioner]. FFI Digital Publications. https://digital.ffi.org/editions/family-purpose-in-family-firms-what-it-looks-like-and-why-its-important/
el Sehity, T., Liechtenstein, H., Bronk, K. C., Colby, A., & Damon, W. (2020). Family Purpose: A Conceptual Analysis of Shared Purposes in Business Families. In C. López-Fernández, J. Casillas, U. Arzubiaga, & J. Kotlar (Eds.), IFERA 2020 PROCEEDINGS (Vol. 20, p. 38). IFERA Inc.
Liechtenstein, H., & Bronk, K. C. (2021, October 21). The Cultivation of Family Purpose: A New Family Enterprise Trend [Lecture]. 2021 FFI Global Conference Proposal, London. https://www.ffi.org/conference/2021-ffi-global-conference-call-for-proposals/
Liechtenstein, H. (2021, July 26). What’s the purpose of a shared family purpose? [IESE Business School – Blog]. IESE Family Business BlogNetwork. https://blog.iese.edu/family-business/2021/family-purpose/
If you are interested in the research project, please contact Tarek.el-Sehity@sfu.ac.at