Having "The Talk"

Having "The Talk"

Consultant Nathan Dungan helps family businesses discuss and live their values around money and generational expectations.

Category: Hubler Award

The title of Nathan Dungan’s first book gives you a good idea of what his work with family businesses is about.

Written in 2003, Prodigal Sons and Material Girls: How Not to Become Your Child’s ATM, discusses why so many of our children have distorted relationships with money. It’s an issue many business owners wrestle with as they accumulate wealth and consider succession. Dungan, a former vice president at Lutheran Brotherhood (now Minneapolis-based Thrivent Financial), launched a Minneapolis-based consultancy called Share Save Spend, which helps families learn how to talk about money and its best uses.

Tom Hubler, founder of Hubler for Business Families, a Minnesota-based consultancy, and the creator of the Minnesota Family Business Awards, met Dungan about 14 years ago. He calls Prodigal Sons and Material Girls “one of the first lucid books in the country on the issue of money and families—and how to begin to deal with money, your family and your values.”

The Hubler Award for a Multidisciplinary Approach to working with Family Businesses honors professionals who work with family businesses to help them solve their most challenging issues. This year’s recipient is consultant, speaker and author Nathan Dungan.

In his practice, Hubler works with “families with business and wealth who are struggling with this issue,” he says. “Clients say to me all the time: ‘Tom, it’s one thing to make all this money. It’s a more difficult thing to figure out what to do with it. And I’m worried that the money is going to corrupt my kids or grandkids. I don’t want them to feel entitled.’ ”

Dungan’s own practice includes one-on-one coaching work with business-owning families; he also conducts seminars nationwide. He says that families often “don’t have a working vocabulary” to discuss “really critical and necessary conversations” about money. Attempts to do so can be very emotional—and not as constructive as they could be. Barriers go up between family members, and it can affect personal and business relationships within the family.

Business-owning families might be good at the “quantitative conversations,” Dungan says, and are able to discuss topics such as estate planning, wealth maximization and tax minimization. “But what about the qualitative side of that, where values start to come into the conversation—education, stewardship, generosity and so on? Sometimes, because families don’t know how to proceed, they just don’t go there.”

If a family doesn’t address these issues? “It can really derail perpetuating the business down generational lines,” Dungan says.

Having these conversations isn’t easy work. But done right, they can help families pass on not only their businesses but also their values. As Dungan notes, “the encouraging sign is that increasingly, advisors and families are recognizing that they need to go there.”