How I Uncovered Nature’s Secret to Family Business Success in Alaska

October 19, 2023

Transformative life events have a mysterious way about them. We can’t anticipate them, can’t plan for their arrival, and certainly can’t summon them at will. It can often seem when we most ardently strive to initiate change, it can elude us, slipping through our fingers just when we think we’ve gotten a hold of it.

Sometimes, the real change, the deep, profound understanding, comes when we least expect it—during moments of rest and reflection, or when we find ourselves in entirely unfamiliar environments. Such was the case for me during a seemingly regular vacation this summer.

In the months leading up to our trip, I’d been spending a lot of time reading and reflecting on my business vision for WillKate. Gaining clarity on the business vision is something we do with our family enterprise clients all the time, but not something I do every day. After all, it’s not every day your business vision needs adjustment anyhow.

But, over the years the business has evolved and changed to better serve our family business and wealth management clients, and I knew our business message should reflect that evolution. I struggled, however, to see how to communicate that until I was on an Alaskan cruise with my husband this summer.

We booked the trip expecting a break from our routine. Little did I know that this journey would offer such a fresh, clarifying perspective. Amidst the serenity of glacial waters and the raw beauty of untouched terrains, I could suddenly see everything so clearly.

The experience, far removed from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, offered a fresh lens to view the world. During this time, I was able to reflect and draw parallels between nature’s grand tapestry of interconnectedness and the intricacies of what makes family businesses successful.

Two Worlds: Separate, Yet Interdependent

The breathtaking expanse of Alaska, with its pristine waters, snow-capped peaks, and dense rainforests, provided two contrasting perspectives. From the ship’s deck, the view was expansive: a vast, icy landscape. It stood a slow and steady macrocosm, confident and poised.

But setting foot on land, immersing ourselves in the depths of the rainforest during a hike, I was deep inside a smaller microcosm of this vast landscape.

Here, each element, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, plays a pivotal role in the well-being of the entire ecosystem. The guide for the hike shared this one tiny piece of information with me that really sparked some thought: while it seemed like the icy terrain and the dense jungle were two separate ecosystems, you could find pieces of one in the other. For example, traces of salmon DNA could be found in the bark of these rainforest trees.

My brain started drawing connections immediately, listening to the details from the guide deep in that Alaskan forest. These ecosystems were a testament to how every piece, every individual, and every value contributes to the collective success and health of a system—especially when it comes to family business.

Individuals & Family Enterprise (Eco)Systems

Later, I brought this connection to the WillKate tree we have as our logo. Take a moment and envision a single tree, tall and majestic. This tree, with its expansive network of roots, represents the individual. The roots of the tree represent the values, beliefs, and experiences of the individual, shaping their decisions, nurturing (or hindering) their growth, and fortifying (or breaking down) that tree’s resilience.

As the owner of a multi-generational family business, you might question this tree’s relevance to your enterprise. I’d like to say I devised the answer, but it was truly nature who revealed the key. The key is in recognizing the interconnectedness between the smaller portions of your family’s ecosystem and the landscape at large.

You see, it all started with one tree–the pioneer who ignited your family’s legacy and started your family business. And that tree gave way to more trees, or individuals, who joined in or took over the next generation of the family business. So, as we zoom out, more trees emerge, symbolizing the successive generations. Together, these trees form a vast forest, embodying your family’s combined legacy and enterprise.

There will always be traces of that first tree’s DNA in your family forest; but the most successful family business owners recognize that the health, density, and resiliency of the family business rely on the family’s ability to adapt, evolve, come together in unity, and nurture one another for the sake of the bigger vision. Each tree must be nurtured individually for the forest to thrive.

Not only that, but they also know when to let the dead leaves fall. In other words, they know when to let go of old values that no longer serve them. They know when to let go of old assets that limit their ability to grow. They know when it’s time to hand over the reins and allow the next generation to take over.

I will always remain in awe of the Alaskan landscape. Its profound lessons illuminated the vitality of adaptability, unity, and a holistic perspective in the success of family businesses. Every member plays an instrumental role, enriching the legacy and ensuring its perpetuity.

In essence, family enterprises, mirroring nature, thrive on interconnectedness and mutual reinforcement. As your family enterprise and private wealth advisor, our mission is to guide, nurture, and help you navigate both the granular details and the overarching vision of your family’s legacy. It is in this way that we can achieve the type of harmony that allows for unfettered growth.

With nature as our mentor, brimming with age-old wisdom and tales, let’s journey together in the realm of purposefully driven lives, listening intently and learning from its teachings as you steward your legacy.