Christina Wing explains why good governance is so key for family offices
Christina Wing says her father — “a serial entrepreneur” — inspired her interest in and passion for family-owned businesses. The native of The Woodlands, Texas, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Wing held a variety of finance and management jobs, including running a large family office, before returning to Harvard to research what she saw as a lack of governance best practices that family businesses should adhere to. To address the gaps, she founded the family office advisory firm Wingspan Legacy Partners. Wing talked about Wingspan and why governance and succession planning are important for family offices.
What are some of the top challenges facing family offices right now?
Lack of governance, succession planning and preparing the next generation.
Many family offices come about organically and are not thoughtfully designed or managed like a real business. That’s a mistake. Every business needs a clear mission, and it has to build a team to execute on that mission. Too often, a business will hire a CIO before thinking through the kind of business they’re building, which results in a misalignment between mission and team.
Succession planning needs to be built around purpose. The next generation typically has very different attitudes — around social good, for instance. While the older generation typically sees investing and philanthropy as separate, the next gen wants to combine doing good with making money. They’re more interested in impact investing.
That’s triggering the need for hard conversations about shifts in strategy and purpose. These conversations need to happen now to ensure a smooth transition. People need to learn how to give throughout their lives and create metrics to evaluate the results.
Why are so many families resistant to governance planning? What are some best practices they should be following? And how does the next generation view governance, and are these views incorporated into the planning process?
Family offices should have clear decision-making processes, a clear mission that guides all decisions, incentives to maintain a high-performing team and quantifiable metrics.
Family offices also need clear investment policy statements that the team can execute against. Good talent needs room to fly.
Families are hesitant to discuss family offices, as money has been a taboo subject for many years. But it’s important to onboard the next generation and consider their views. Education and dialogue around the importance of governance need to be prioritized, and it needs to start early.
How are family businesses in general doing with succession planning? What should they be thinking about?
There’s a lot of room for improvement. We encounter a lack of planning in many of the businesses we work with, and it’s also evident in industry studies. Only 34% of family businesses had documented and communicated succession plans in place in 2021, according to PwC.
Succession is one of those topics that’s difficult for families to talk about, and they tend to put it off until they are forced to address it. Families should always be thinking about the next crop of leaders. It’s also important to have a solid onboarding plan to ensure the succession succeeds. Some of the best succession plans come from people already serving on a company’s board, as trust is a top priority.
What are the trends in the family office space? Do you see the number of family offices continuing to expand?
We believe there will continue to be growth. Families want differentiated service. And as the number of family offices grows, so will the number of external providers. Finding the right balance between insourcing and outsourcing is an important consideration and one that will be different for each family.
What prepared you for your current role? Have you faced challenges being a woman in wealth management? What’s your advice for women looking to enter or advance in the field?
I believe the length and breadth of my experience has positioned me to help families ensure their legacies. I love this work and the journey many families in business have gone through. I’m honored that families put their trust in me and my team to help them achieve their goals.
I have never felt that being a woman has hindered my success — although I know that not every woman feels that way. The industry has changed, though, and I think there’s never been a better time to be a woman in the wealth industry. We can continue to contribute to society and have fun doing it.