Interview with Trusted Family co-founder Edouard Thijssen.
Edouard Thijssen is a 5th generation member of the Belgian family behind the Aliaxis Group, a company that manufactures and distributes plastic products for water and gas transport. Today, he has channeled his passion for technology and entrepreneurship by developing an online platform that allows family business members to better communicate and work with each other. Trusted Family co-founder Edouard Thijssen shares with Tharawat magazine how families can better navigate the unique challenges that come with running their businesses.
Tell us about what compelled you to found a family business platform like Trusted Family?
In 2006, I attended a conference for family businesses where I learned that only 10% of business families manage to stay together for more than 3 generations!
At that conference, I met Edouard Janssen, a next gen member of the Solvay Family Business, and we both recognized the challenges that our families were facing: our families were getting bigger and spreading geographically, and hence it was increasingly more difficult to meet in person on a regular basis. There was more diversity across the next generation, and fewer family members held an active role in the business.
Together we realized that there was a genuine need for an online communication platform designed for multi-generational business families looking to communicate & interact more efficiently.
From there, we developed a secure platform that we introduced to our family businesses, but after doing some market research, we quickly realized that many other business families had an interest in our solution. We decided to turn our idea into a company, Trusted Family, with a simple mission: help families go beyond merely staying together, and enable them to systematically identify and leverage their unique family assets.
What can family businesses expect when they adapt Trusted Family into their company?
Every time we start a project with a family, we start by understanding their family structure, their current way of working, and the different initiatives they are taking around family governance, communication, education and cohesion. We then discuss their biggest challenges and priorities for the coming year.
This enables us to develop an action plan by combining our advisory and technical expertise to offer them an integrated solution that will meet their needs.
In most cases, we start with a 1 to 3-month advisory project to develop – depending on the family’s priorities – a communication plan, an education plan, and/or a family societal impact plan (the 3 main drivers of family cohesion).
We also create a customized Trusted Family online Portal, iPhone and iPad app for that family. The platform can have separate working groups for the Board, Family Council, Shareholders, Family Office, Family Foundation and/or any other group that is relevant. Each Family Member or Staff Member or Advisor gets a profile and access to the groups that they belong to in real life.
The platform can then be used to:
- Access a directory of all family members and staff members
- Share business & family news
- Share board packs, shareholder information packs and minutes of meetings
- Share a calendar and organize meetings
- Share and archive family photos and videos
- Create private vaults for each family member with their private documents and financial statements
- Maintain an online family tree and history
- Run surveys
- Build online educational programs and courses
Once the platform is customized for the family, we typically arrange a launch session at the upcoming family meeting where we present the plan we developed and train all family members on how to use the platform and apps.
After the launch, we follow and assist the family on a month-by-month basis, acting as an outsourced family engagement agency.
What is unique about the platform that Trusted Family offers and what can families gain by using it?
The Trusted Family Platform is built by families for families, and what makes us unique is that we offer a complete solution (advisory, technology, training, support). A platform is just a tool and we believe that the value from the platform comes from how you use it. We have developed expertise by working with over 100 families and so we can offer practical use cases and best practices.
Most enterprise management platforms have been built for employee communities and are therefore less adapted to the family business and family office space by missing some key features such as the family tree, family/shareholder education, and private vaults. The families we work with want one platform with all the features they need in one place, instead of having a separate platform for documents, another for media, and so forth.
What are some tangible benefits a family can expect as a result of using Trusted Family’s platform?
Transparency: By using the Trusted Family platform, all key information becomes available at the same time to all stakeholders, meaning that everyone is always on the same page. Family members can no longer complain that they didn’t receive an email or where not aware of certain news!
Knowledge management: Over time, all the information added to the Trusted Family platform is built into a repository of key decisions and family archive, which allows families to look back at past indicators easily.
Engagement: As a family gets bigger, members that don’t work in the enterprise or are geographically far away often feel disengaged. The Trusted Family platform removes the barrier of geographical proximity and time zones to create a central place for a family to connect and share.
Having worked with a large number of family businesses through Trusted Family, what have you learned about the advantages and disadvantages that come with being a family business?
Family enterprises are unique as they can combine financial capital with non-financial capital. The brand, reputation of a family, the collective network, relationships, and know-how of the family members are often underestimated but can provide long-term competitive advantages to the business and individual family members. In addition, family enterprises tend to have long-term views and can therefore approach business challenges and opportunities in different ways than traditional companies. They are also very well positioned to play an active role in society and in the communities they are operating in.
The disadvantage of being a family business is the added complexity. Successfully managing a growing family and generational transitions takes time, effort and resources and needs to be planned for. It also requires family members to think as a group and hence sometimes to let go of individual preferences.
What advice do you have for family businesses as someone who has worked with them for so long?
My biggest advice to family businesses is to ask themselves whether they have the genuine intention to stay together as a family. If the family makes a conscious decision to stay together, then they can embark on a journey to plan their generational transition and overcome the challenges that they will face.