Book review: International Family Governance: A Guide for Families and their advisors

Date: 18 Sep 2009


Barbara Hauser, a former lawyer, turned author, brings a book on family governance to the wealth market shortly. The book looks at examples of what went wrong and how to get it right for wealthy families. It opens with a look at the Hyatt Family who were once held high as an example of a successful wealthy family but after the death of the father, fell into dispute and litigation. Examples of other similar situations of complex litigation abound not held back by race, country, legal system or sex.

Her research encompasses a quote from the Economist who say that the reason most family businesses don’t survive beyond three generations is because of the disputes that follow a patriarch/matriarchal death.

The book is divided into sections and delves into legal definitions which includes explanations of what governance is and what a family is—leading the reader to conclude that actually trying to define a family country by country could be part of the governance problem as her research reveals we have very different ideas from our global neighbours.

Taking you through a slow cruise, the book unravels much legalease‚Äîreviewing various constitutions and the rule of law on her chosen jurisdictions which include Japan but it also reveals insightful quotes about what governance means to clients. A line in the book says: “As one Saudi family member remarked, after I had been explaining at some length the theories and usefulness of family governance: “I see: you are teaching us to sail so that we will be ready for any storm.” Barbara says “That great summary is the key to advanced level family governance work.”

The most interesting part of the book‚Äîif you buy into the reasons for needing family governance are the final chapters which look at step by step ways to introduce the idea of governance and “family laws”. Once introduced families can look at platforms to talk about grievances and air their views as well as focus on one or two concerns that can be addressed in government style‚Äîdemocratic family voting rather than the patriarch or matriarch imposing decisions on the group.

Hauser concludes with a round up that says good family governance ultimately creates world peace—happy citizens bring harmony to their fellow man. Whether you believe this or not, it certainly sounds like a good goal to aim for.

The book is currently at the printers.

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