October 1st, 2014

Why Does Wealth Not Survive More Than 3 Generations? A Story About a Story

By Ron Nakamoto

Post By Glen Snyder, Empowered Wealth, Certified Facilitator

As a new Empowered Wealth Certified Facilitator, I’ve been challenged to learn and convey ideas that it’s taken Lee Brower 40 years to develop. It’s proven to be no small challenge. It’s one thing to understand what Lee’s saying about True Wealth, Gratitude, Family Leadership, etc. at an intellectual or “thinking” level but it’s a much greater task to integrate his thoughts and concepts into general awareness and my everyday way of looking at the world.

I remember the first few times I stood in front of a small group and told the story of “The Woman on the Airplane” (what Lee originally called “The Napkin Presentation”). As a pastor for over 30 years, I’ve gotten comfortable standing in front of audiences and conveying

messages. That’s what I do. But telling Lee’s story was a little bit different because initially I didn’t quite appreciate the simple but profound truths embedded in the story. Let me quickly retell a simplified version of the story to demonstrate what I mean.

Lee had been an estate planner for many years when he came across a statistic that over 90 percent of family wealth is dissipated after 3 generations – “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in 3 generations” as the saying goes. This caused him to experience an existential crises: why was he doing what he was doing if, despite his best efforts and those of the very best professionals in the field, nearly all family wealth is gone after 3 generations? What was the point? Just to make money doing something that seemed pointless?

Then he had an epiphany, which he tested during a conversation with a woman on a flight to Atlanta. In answer to the question, “What do you value more than money?”, he diagrammed on a napkin and explained what would become the Brower Quadrant; that is, the four categories of assets – core, experience, financial, and contribution – that comprise “True Wealth”. Like many people, I initially focused on these four categories of wealth and the expanded concept of True Wealth as the most important takeaway from the story. And that’s the way I presented the story, focusing on the message that there are actually four categories of wealth, not just one.

At the very first Ambassador Certification, as I sat on the observers’ side of the table evaluating our aspiring Ambassadors’ presentations, it suddenly became clear to me that I had not fully comprehended a deeper message in this story. Lee had asked the woman which of these categories of assets would you like to see passed on to your children. She had responded “All of them.” She went on to explain the value of each of the categories of assets and why she thought they would benefit her children. Then Lee asked her an important series of questions. He began with, “If you could only pass along three of these categories of assets, which one would you leave behind?” The woman’s response was that she would forgo the “financial”. Then Lee asked her the defining question of the entire story, “Why?”

You’ll recall that Lee’s existential crisis was caused by the observation that family wealth dissipates over 3 generation. He had felt frustrated, overwhelmed by the apparent futility of his efforts as a financial advisor to help families build and sustain wealth. He didn’t understand why “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in 3 generations” occurs or what to do about it.

The woman answered Lee’s question: “If my children are rich here (pointing to the “contribution” quadrant on the napkin diagram), AND here (pointing to “experience”), AND here (pointing to “core”), then this (pointing to “financial”) will take care of itself. BUT, if my children are bankrupt here (pointing to “contribution”) OR here (pointing to “experience”) OR here (pointing to “core”) then this (pointing to “financial”) will eventually go away.”

I hadn’t fully grasped that sustaining financial wealth beyond 3 generations was not a matter of pursuing financial and tax tactics and strategies. Rather it ensues (i.e., it “will take care of itself”) as a result of strengthening and optimizing “core”, “experience”, and “contribution” assets. And the reason that financial wealth does not survive beyond 3 generations is because family members become “bankrupt” in “contribution” OR “experience” OR “core” assets. I realized that embracing this philosophy, this mindset is what this story is really about and why it became the catalyst for Empowered Wealth’s mission.



One Response to “Why Does Wealth Not Survive More Than 3 Generations? A Story About a Story”

  1. Addie K Martin

    Great post, Glen. The contribution, core, and experience assets are often overlooked by modern day society, but like Lee and the woman on the airplane (and you!), I believe that they’re necessary for living a rich and fulfilling life. When those three are aligned, the fourth will work out.

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts!

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