Family business

Educating your next generation: Navigating the advantages and disadvantages of family wealth

Elizabeth Clarke, CEO and Founder of EJC Education Consultancy.
Elizabeth Clarke, CEO and founder of EJC Education Consultancy, discusses the attitudes and mindsets that are needed to approach the issue of private education.
By Elizabeth Clarke

Families’ dilemma

No discussion of education could realistically expect to start unless the word education is clearly defined. Education evolved from Latin and has a couple of meanings… One is to ‘train’ or ‘mold’ and the other is to ‘lead out’, with the French equivalent helping us to shape the history of education that originated in the ancient world. 

In the 21st Century, education is nearly always discussed in relation to examination results and university or college entrance and equating all decisions with this understanding and focusing upon it, almost exclusively to the detriment of anything else. 

What dominates many families and their next generations across the world is the highly structured and test prep-focused learning from a young age, without understanding the value of fiction and non-fiction reading, using the time to develop and hone an intellectual or creative interest, see the joy of physical movement and learning to understand one’s individual and collective personality that the culture of an education with a clear mission enables students to achieve.


A key difference when considering what type of school and college/university education successive generations should consider very seriously is what defines ‘best’?


Supporting your value proposition personally and professionally by getting the education path right when navigating the changing landscape of primary, secondary, and higher education direction is essential if family businesses are to flourish through successive generations. School and university will remain with generations for life. 

Fee-paying education is one of the single luxuries of the 21st Century and the lessons learned at each stage will shape the character and motivations of future generations and will directly impact family business relationships in leadership functions, as well as being part and parcel of the wider business community.

The choice of schools, as well as the option of home schooling in many parts of the globe, enables engagement in the debate about which educational route best fits a family’s values and culture, as well as the family businesses brand, business value and reputation. The challenge is how to successfully navigate the choices, when issues arise - such as fashion, popularity, exam results and wider political factors. 


The solution and action

What do families need? Some of these requirements may well read as counterintuitive to first generation of family businesses and founding family individuals, yet their second, third and successive generations, are likely to be on the receiving end of almost all these challenges. 

Families will need their health to continue to generate wealth. Second and successive generations are more likely to demonstrate mental and associated physical ill health than their peers in lower socio-economic groupings across the globe almost regardless of culture, language or religion. This is because wealth provides an opportunity for behaviour to be prevalent with the belief that a family’s financial position can fix the problem. In effect, that the problem becomes someone else’s rather than the individual person taking responsibility for their own actions. 

Peers from lower-income families cannot afford to have that financial confidence or belief in their adult network’s ability to solve their problem. 

This forms a key argument in the research from Socioeconomic Status and Substance Use Among Young Adults: A Comparison Across Constructs and Drugs a research paper by academics at The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2012.

It may well seem incredulous to a first generation whose experience from birth focused upon the creation of life’s basics and a building mentality, metaphorically one brick at a time, that second and successive generations can be vulnerable precisely because of the wealth created and honed by the founding generation. The University of Michigan’s study in 2016 showed that boys demonstrate more narcissistic behaviour in top-ranked private higher education colleges and universities than other lower income groups. Ensuring that the values that both the individual family members, as well as the family businesses espouse, are matched to the value set that is to be found in a school and university’s mission and how it affects the next generations operationally day on day.

Another key difference when considering what type of school and college/university education successive generations should consider very seriously is what defines ‘best’?… ‘Best fit,’ ‘the best school,’ ‘it’s the best’ are frequently used phrases, but do not in and of themselves enable you to transform your thinking unless you the adults have carefully thought through with the necessary research, reflection and impartial guidance and professional advice and trust in that advice. 

‘Best’ has driven the debate between first generation and successive generations. ‘Best’ plus the increasingly competitive landscape for admission to both sought-after schools and colleges and universities across the globe. Understanding the definition of what ‘competitive’, means and the effect of political thought and dogma upon the admissions process and the type of school or college education is critical to making of informed decisions. An interesting exercise is to consider where leading members of any given commercial sector attended college or university and see how that research compares with the list of current sought-after higher education institutions, and if not why. The results may well surprise first and successive generations.

One of the key differences between first generation and successive generations is the rise in a ‘me myself and I’, approach to lifetime goals. In 1967, the American Council on Education produced a comprehensive survey of more than 200,000 freshmen from over 250 institutions, including 158 colleges offering four-year degrees and 67 universities. Nearly 90% of the freshmen in the survey mentioned ‘developing a meaningful philosophy of life’ as an essential life goal in 2004, only 42% of the freshmen agreed with them. Interestingly, but sadly not a surprise for those of us in the educational sector, the primary area of focus was around the concept of ‘me, myself, and I’, such as the demand for a prestigious job and fame, regardless of what was sacrificed to get it. What type of human being do you want to lead your family businesses into the future?


The need to fully understand education

When protecting successive generations from themselves, it is essential to educate them about the honour of the legacy of the founding generation and ensure that their lifetime achievement, financial foundation and opportunity thrives. 

As the doctor and psychiatrist Dr Shimi King said in 2015, “childhood sets the stage for life”. It is essential to understand what environment will provide the educational and clear framework for children at all ages and particularly when adolescence emerges at age 12 and 13, the start of adolescence and next stages of physical and psychological health begins. 

Unless this is acknowledged and understood, the choice of educational environment that will both support and challenge the individual child is likely to be made with only partial information. 

A set of criteria used will be narrow, lacking in rigour, knowledge, research, and evidence and based upon external validation that may well not support the family businesses reputation and place in the world. An own goal that should never be the plan and one that happens all too frequently when ‘bolting on’ thoughts rather than ‘baking in’, a comprehensive understanding of who the family are, where they have come from and where they wish to lead.

Elizabeth Clarke is on the board of directors of fee-paying school Downe House School, Berkshire, UK and Whitgift School, Croydon, UK. She has more than 25 years of educational experience in the UK and internationally, including the Middle East and India. 

Elizabeth is CEO and founder of EJC Education Consultancy. The practice is global with support for families considering primary and secondary education, as well as those seeking specialist and bespoke guidance and preparation for university and college in the UK, Canada and especially the US.

For information on The Family Wealth Essentials Series, a foundation of knowledge and tools for successfully managing family wealth across the generations presented by Campden Education, click here.

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