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Next Generation; Independent spirit

Next gens are no longer expected to join the family business as soon as they are able, but many are left with the difficult choice of whether to follow in their ancestors' footsteps or branch out on their own, writes Katie Barker. 

Many find it incredibly difficult to strike a balance between maintaining their independence, following their own passion and playing their part for the family. Bryn Mars and Nathaniel Foster (pictured) are two fourth-generation cousins who have managed to strike that balance. At 30 and 31 respectively, they are the first members of their generation to join the board of their family office, Foster Holdings, yet neither live in Pittsburgh where the family office is based and both have successful careers outside the family.

Both agree that, as a next gen, it is first crucial to find something you are passionate about, whether that is within or beyond the family's traditional business, as Nathaniel explains: "I have noticed so many people who are completely bound to the money their families provide and they consequently can't find their passion. Money can't equal success, personal happiness has to equal success." Nathaniel admits he took some time to discover what it was that he wanted to do. Prior to starting his current job as director for development at a non-profit organisation based in California, he did two undergraduate degrees, a masters and some travelling before he settled on his career choice.

Bryn made the choice to move to New York to pursue her passion for fitness. She is currently working her way towards a management position at a high-end health club in New York and believes the most important thing other next gens in her position can do is put themselves first. "Don't forget yourself in the family. That would be my number one piece of advice," she says. "You can find a way to use your talents and skills to enhance the family no matter what those skills are. "I am excited about being involved in the decision-making process in our family office, but my cousin might be excited about planning the family retreat, which is just as important," she says.

Finding your passion is not always easy, as Jennifer East, founder of family advisory firm ONIDA and next gen leader in her own family business, knows. "In my experience of working with next gens from their late teens to their mid-50s, one of the greatest challenges is that they don't really understand what their skills and limitations are," she says.

Jennifer, who has worked closely with Bryn and Nathaniel, suggests using the structures in place in the family office to help next gens discover their passion. "The family office can play a pivotal role because they're slightly removed from the family in the sense that they're not family members. They can help next gens develop a plan to identify where they are at the moment and where they wish to be," she says. "Then they can help them develop a process to reach their goals." However, for many next gens, discovering what they want to do is only half of the battle. Having the confidence to follow that choice can prove equally as challenging. "Nathaniel and Bryn are examples of people who have a great passion for the work that they do, which is in no way related to the family business," says Jennifer. "Independence has given them enormous confidence.

"Bryn is working her way up within her organisation in a city where her family name is not well known. She's working hard and learning so much, which gives her creditability in her own mind and in her family's mind. She is proving herself in another environment, which is another challenge for next gens."

Nathaniel agrees independence is vital to both personal and professional development "Being independent will naturally make you more confident. If you're doing something you love and doing it independently it can be incredibly scary. There is a part of you that thinks: 'I'm not doing what my father did, I'm not going into the same business, what are they going to think? What if don't succeed? What if I don't like it?' "But ultimately, if you're doing well and succeeding in something you did yourself, that's happiness. Everyone around you notices that and respects it," he concludes.

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