When to Buy Lunch for an Expert?


Larry Grypp, President of the Goering Center

Would you pay $3.46 million to have lunch with Warren Buffett at New York’s Smith & Wollensky legendary steakhouse? Well, as part of a charity auction, one unidentified woman did exactly that. Maybe there’s value in picking his sage brain over surf and turf. Maybe it’s just for the bragging rights, or a fondness for that charity.

By contrast, one Goering Center member was approached by an executive of a family business who was concerned about some potential and fundamental conflicts with a sibling in the business. When they approached the other sibling about bringing in an outside coach to help sort it out, the one sibling said, “No way, this is a family matter!”

High performance leaders know when to bring in expert advice or counsel, but is there something about family business that makes it harder?  Do family businesses face a greater risk in not seeking outside advice at the right time and in the right way?

Families, by their nature, are private institutions. For some, the cultural roots run deep that you don’t take family issues outside the door. At the Goering Center, we have always suggested that you make business decisions in the best interest of the business and use forums like family meetings and councils to deal with the family dynamics.

The natural culture around family privacy or “discretion” can create a subtle reluctance to engage outsiders in the family business itself. Outside experts can turn over some rocks, and bring clarity to issues that are sometimes easily kept in the shadows when a family member is worried about offending or challenging someone with whom they will be passing the mashed potatoes and gravy at the next Thanksgiving dinner.

When family members make up most of senior management, when a business has been in family hands for several generations, it’s critical to bring in outside experts from time to time to keep things sharp and in touch with a rapidly changing market. It’s just good business. And good businesses support good families.

If you meet over lunch, just make sure you pick up the tab. It won’t cost $3.46 million in our region.