What is a Great White Elephant?
Wikipedia interprets the “elephant in the room” as an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or remains unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also appears to suggest an obvious problem or issue that no one wants to discuss. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook, and thus people in the room have to pretend it is not there have and have clearly chosen to avoid dealing with the present and pressing issue.
A “white elephant” is an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession that the owner cannot easily dispose of and whose cost (particularly the cost of upkeep) is out of proportion with its utility. White elephants (albino elephants) have long been regarded as sacred in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia. The upkeep and maintenance of a white elephant was an expensive undertaking, since the owner had to provide for its special dietary needs as well as provide access to people who wanted to come and worship the revered beast.
If a Thai king became dissatisfied with a subject, he would sometimes give him a white elephant. Such a gift as this, in most cases, would lead to the financial (economic) ruin of the recipient. Since the white elephant was regarded as sacred and frequently worshiped by the masses, as a gift, it really was considered both blessing and curse.
Great White Elephant: Chapter 1
My White Elephant: The Ownership Myth
From the book: Jake is a second-generation family business owner. His father started the family business by purchasing apartment buildings and later moved into acquiring commercial and industrial real estate. Over a period of about sixty years Jake’s father accumulated a portfolio that is now worth in excess of $ 600 million. When Jake’s father passed away, the shares of the company were passed to both Jake and his two sisters. Having said that, the running of the family business was passed on to Jake’s nephew, Blair. Blair had worked closely with his grandfather for about 20 years and, as a result was entrusted with the running of the family business.
Great White Elephant: Chapter 2
Values and Valuables
The human race has had long experience and a fine tradition in surviving adversity. But we now face a task for which we have little experience, the task of surviving prosperity.- Alan Gregg
The Values Conversation: The Why
Think of a conversation about values as what is needed for you to effectively deal with your Great White Elephant™ so that it is no longer remains a burden for you or that it remains one you pass on to the next generation. Values and your clarification of them is what will provide you with stability when the Great White Elephant™ is running amok. Think of your values as the legs of a table that will hold the structural, technical, and financial issues of the wealth transfer and succession plan in place. By first identifying and clarifying your own (individual) values, and later as a family, values provide a framework and become tools to manage the Great White Elephants whenever they show up (become apparent).
It is only by putting values first and clarifying what they are, that you can eventually identify your Great White Elephants, in relation to your values and realize that it has more to do with the management of your values, and acting in congruence with them, as opposed to structural, technical, and financial positioning of your valuables or assets.
Great White Elephant: Chapter 3
A Tale of Perspectives
Succession Planning and the transfer of your wealth to the next generation requires and demands you step up to be an Authentic Leader for yourself and your family. In the transition process it is important to know what you are transitioning, it’s not just your valuables and your values.
Great White Elephant: Chapter 4
Who is Really Running your Life?
Let’s consider money in the context of it being or becoming a Great White Elephant™. Money is obviously valuable, and yet it can become a significant burden if given too frequently and too early on in life. Yet the way we usually think and talk about money in a social context, is from an entirely quantitative perspective.
How much we make, how much we spend, how our accountant reduce our taxes, and how much we have saved for retirement. We give little or no thought to how we feel about money. Since we are human beings, who have feelings, and we have feelings about people, places, experiences, and material possessions, we also have feelings about money; our feelings about money, however well we might understand them or think we understand them, lead to a way of behaving with money, and how we deal with it in all aspects of our life.
Our way of dealing with money has the potential to becoming a Great White Elephant™ for us or for our family. Not knowing one’s Money Motto™ and its impact is one serious money-related Great White Elephant™.
Great White Elephant: Chapter 5
Finding our Power in the Missing Conversation:
A Son’s Desire to Please his Father
“You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest, that it leaves your arms to full to embrace the present.” Jan Glidewell
Trent is an example of such a story. His father would always tell Trent: “One day you will have the opportunity to be the breadwinner for this family and you will do this by assuming responsibility for running the family business, by taking over that role from me.” Having heard this plan for most of his young life, Trent felt he had an obligation to assume the responsibility for running the family business in order to be the breadwinner. Being a pleaser by nurture, a trait Trent learned from an early age. If he were ever to succeed in receiving his father’s attention, he had to do things that clearly pleased his father. Over time, it is not surprising that Trent convinced himself that what was expected of him and had always been expected of him—to end up running the family business—was the only thing he ever wanted to do himself.
Great White Elephant: What Now, What Next?
Conclusion and A Beginning
I promised you a book about improving your chances of success in business succession planning and the transfer of wealth to the next generation, by having tools and a methodology to prepare yourself and the younger generation to achieve this outcome—with both intellectual and emotional integrity. You have also learned about the necessity of uncovering and facing your Great White Elephants (the missing conversations about unspoken issues and corrosive family dynamics), and the detrimental impact these creatures can have in your life and relationships if they remain under the table.
“In his most recent book, Great White Elephant, Mr. Lombardo identified road blocks to successful wealth transmission. In a very interesting analysis of the estate planning process he establishes new and powerful techniques in overcoming the suppressed and unspoken issues which can create chasms between parent and child.”
– William M. Bone, President of a Canadian Business Family Office
“Great White Elephant will stimulate your thinking about parenting children of wealth and provide practical ideas to help you manage the challenges of wealth.”
– Andrew D. Keyt, Executive Director, Family Business Center of Loyola University, Chicago, IL
“Great White Elephant: Why Rich Kids Hate their Parents is a provocative title fit for a book that challenges parents, their successors, and their advisors to think differently about succession and wealth transition. Regardless of the size of your fortune, Lombardo’s message is one that deserves your attention: wealth transition is not something you just check off your list. It’s a lifelong journey requiring introspection, hard work, and a commitment to building relationships. This book is a thoughtful, caring, and abundantly clear road map on how to accomplish these goals.”
– Mike McGrann, Executive Director, S. Dale High Center for Family Business
“This is a wonderful read. The informal style draws you in, and the content is clearly presented and allows the reader to work along with the presentation, making the book even more rewarding. This is not just a book for the wealthy but for every family who is raising kids through adulthood, on how to create thoughtful, sensitive and responsible kids.”
– Dennis Jaffe, PhD, Professor of Organizational Systems and Psychology, Saybrook University, San Francisco, CA
“Great White Elephant encourages readers to explore and understand the motivations behind their own behaviors—an important first step towards productive, fulfilling relationships with others. The author, by being brutally honest about his own life-long journey of self-discovery, provides an example for others.”
– Lloyd Steier, Professor and Distinguished Chair, Faculty of Business, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta