E35: Defining Wealth – Robb McKinney, Bridgeview Wealth

by | Feb 23, 2021

Succession
Stories
Podcast

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Laurie Barkman is joined by Robb McKinney, Founder of Bridgeview Wealth, to discuss how wealth isn’t just about money. Entrepreneurs and family businesses can pass on their values along with their money– connecting their heart and history, with their future and finances, across generations.

The pandemic has changed many things for small business owners. Comparing to pre-COVID data, the Value Builder System found that more business owners are accelerating their succession plans, looking to sell their company to a third party within five years. Additionally, business owners define “wealth” differently than before, emphasizing freedom and time to do what you want. Additionally, business owners define “wealth” differently than before, emphasizing freedom and time to do what you want.

What does wealth mean to you?

Listen in to learn more about:

  • Redefining the meaning of wealth
  • Switching to a values and vision based strategy
  • Navigating family dynamics that impact business success across generations
  • Family philanthropy approach

Show Links:

Transcript:

Laurie Barkman:

Welcome to Succession Stories, insights for next generation entrepreneurs. I’m Laurie Barkman. I’ve spent my career bringing an entrepreneurial approach to mature companies struggling with change as an outside executive of a third generation, 120 year old company, I was part of a long-term succession plan. Now I work with entrepreneurs, privately held companies, and family businesses to develop innovations that create enterprise value and transition plans to achieve their long-term goals. On this podcast, listen in as I talk with entrepreneurs who are driving innovation and culture change. I speak with owners who successfully transitioned their company and others who experienced disappointment along the way. Guests also include experts in multi-generational businesses and entrepreneurship. If you are a next generation entrepreneur looking for inspiration to grow and thrive, or an owner who can’t figure out the best way to transition their closely held company, this podcast is for you.

Subscribe to our newsletter for more resources to build value in your business. Visit smalldotbig.com and sign up today.

Laurie Barkman:

The pandemic has changed many things for small business owners. A 2020 survey from the Value Builder System showed that more business owners are accelerating their succession plans, looking to sell their company to a third party within five years. Additionally, business owners define “wealth” differently than before, emphasizing freedom and time to do what you want. What does wealth mean to you?

This week I spoke with Robb McKinney, Founder of Bridgeview Wealth, about how wealth isn’t just about money. We talked about how entrepreneurs and family businesses can pass on their values along with their money– connecting their heart and history, with their future and finances, across generations.

Laurie Barkman:

Robb McKinney. So great to see you. Thanks so much for being on the show today. I’m really excited to talk to you for a couple of reasons. One is, I think you’ve done an amazing job at productizing a service. What does that mean? Well, we’ll talk more about that as you describe what you do and how you help clients. But more importantly, is the aspect of what you do. Working with families, working with clients on their future, their legacy, I think is a really important thing. So I’m excited to be with you today. Thanks for being on the show.

Robb McKinney:

Well, thank you, Laurie. I think you’re doing a great job. I’ve really enjoyed listening to some of your past interviewees. It’s been fun. I’m looking forward to today.

Laurie Barkman:

Awesome. So why don’t we start with you. If you can just give us a brief introduction. Give us a bit about your background and what you do.

Robb McKinney:

Well, I’m first and foremost a father of three awesome adult children who have turned out great; I’m very proud of them, and four incredible grandsons who affectionately know me as “G-Daddy.” That’s a fun role I play. I’m a great friend, and employer and advisor to those with financial and family needs and ideas that they want to accomplish in a very purposeful way. Bridgeview Wealth has a mission to help families flourish. We support those families who want more than just the financial and the technical life and estate planning performed. We facilitate a process that we named the Ultimate Discovery Experience for those who deem that this focus would be meaningful. In the end, what it does is it coordinates the financial along with the family balance sheet. We’ll talk more later, hopefully, about how we define wealth.

Laurie Barkman:

That’s a wonderful tee up for what we’ll talk about. What inspired you to do things differently in creating your firm and creating that process that you mentioned, and, can you tell us a little bit about your journey working with families?

Robb McKinney:

Thank you. That’s a great question. When I entered the financial industry 28 years ago, I was looking for a career change. I wanted a place where I could have a long lasting and purposeful impact, not transactional, which is the space from which I came. A friend had encouraged me and thought that I would be a bright light in a dark industry, in this financial space, but it took 10 years for me to figure out what he was saying, and the extent of what he meant.

I became disappointed with not only my industry, but how various advisors lacked collaboration and placing the family interests first. So I actually went on a nationwide hunt for methods of planning successfully. I found success means a lot of different things to different advisors — from marketing machines, versus filling gaps for families who want and need something different than what Wall Street wants.

What I realized is that very well intended advisors — and I’m talking financial advisors, attorneys, CPAs agents — learn from their professions, their mentors, their teachers, from Wall Street, from companies how to present their best ideas and best picks. You as a client hope that those ideas would be an appropriate strategy. Then you hope that that strategy would satisfy or meet your goals. I saw this as an upside down pyramid, with the apex at the bottom, putting advisor company ideas first at the bottom part, then the strategy on the next tier, then the goals at an inverted, almost baseline. So we uprighted that pyramid and said; “Hey, let’s look at a vision, values, and goals as the baseline, then how do we uncover that?” So we put the pyramid this way: established vision, values, mission, and goals as a baseline. Then we go to strategy and ideas at the marketplace to capture the best ideas of the advisor team.

Laurie Barkman:

How long did it take you to put all of that together? You said you went on an exploration and you were already working in financial services, but what was it that prompted that exploration? Were you finding that clients ultimately were dissatisfied with the status quo? Was there something inherently in how you saw the world that made you want to do it differently?

Robb McKinney:

Yeah, I saw the ladder stacked against the client. I saw a disunity when I was attempting to collaborate with other advisors. Everybody vying for their own interests: CPAs, attorneys, financial people, the heavy marketers. The most difficult thing I had to learn was to not have an agenda. To go into meetings having questions and no answers. No outline, because our industries, all of them that I’m referencing, are taught, “Here’s the beginning and here’s the end.” To not have the end in mind, when you go in can be a scary place. So it literally took me years to establish the comfort level. Now I have peace about not knowing the end. It’s fun, it’s exciting.

Laurie Barkman:

That sounds exciting, but also sounds really hard.

Robb McKinney:

It’s hard to get there when you were taught a different way.

Laurie Barkman:

That’s right. You created a whole new playbook, which is what I find so fascinating about your practice. The clients that you work with — I know they’re around the whole country — are they, in this context, family businesses? Or are they business owners, entrepreneurs, your everyday family, or a mix of all the above?

Robb McKinney:

Kind of a mix of all the above. I like complex circumstances, I’m crazy like that so I find that family businesses with multi-gens involved fit my skill set well, and I can help solve multi faceted problems. So people that have financial wealth, or other assets, whether it’s real estate (I love real estate) and businesses. That complexity helps, I guess, feed me too.

Laurie Barkman:

You like the problem solving nature of it, but there’s also this emotional quotient or EQ side that is probably driving you and looking to work with people to ultimately achieve their dream or whatever that lasting legacy is. When you mentioned the multi-gen, I totally agree that there’s a lot of complexity there, certainly on the show, and in my own experiences. I think anyone listening, if you’re a business owner — you could probably relate even if it’s not a family business — having that vision, the values, the goals is awesome, so important, and sounds like a great place to start. So I like that picture, that visual, that inverted pyramid you described.

Robb McKinney:

It’s on our website, so feel free to check it out.

Laurie Barkman:

Okay, great. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes.

One of the sayings that we hear a lot, and we see a lot in the data is; “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” which means pretty much by the time a company is in its third generation, its likelihood of continuing to the fourth is pretty low. It’s under 10% at this point, I think 8% is the number. That’s very often the case. So what do you find in terms of your process, working with multi-gen companies to talk about these family dynamics? To bring things up that maybe are hard conversations? Maybe they’ve never really had these conversations before? How do you bring these dynamics up in your Ultimate Discovery Experience?

Robb McKinney:

Well, I think there’s a traditional estate legacy planning model that has a focus around dump, divide, defer and dissipate assets. Our process, the Ultimate Discovery Experience, delves into a focus on more behavioral and relational aspects of family’s origin, and their current nature. We explore the stories of the past, and the hopes and vision of a family’s future so this is more about enriching, and enhancing life. But we utilize many experiential tools in this ultimate discovery process: evaluations and questionnaires, indexes. Let me just share a couple that I like. We first start with the planning horizon.

So if you think of the horizon on a landscape as a line, there’s stuff above, and there’s stuff below this horizon of life. We look at focusing on the Y first, which is the above planning horizon versus the “what”. Most of my colleagues and peers and other industries even are focused on the “what” first. People think about, “what do I do? What should I do? What’s the answer?” Well, you’ve got to dig in first, you’ve got to find the “why”. So That cycle of dealing with the “why” and the “what” actually ends up creating clarity, and then confidence in your decision making. So that’s where we start, and some of the tools we use. I’ll give you two of my favorites.

One is “Angels and Heroes” that I’ve picked up from Scott Farnsworth, one of my industry mentors, an attorney in Florida, but he’s done a lot of work with families all around the country, and it’s a way to help people see what their values are. Sometimes people don’t even know. So this helps you identify your past: in different time brackets of your life, who was an angel or a hero? Then you find out and you talk about that and why. You end up discovering which values are most important and what has molded people’s past and even directs them now.

The other one is “Priceless Conversations.” So we have about 20 different conversations with about 20 different interview questions in each. These are around life stages, experiences, we even record them in a gift box. It’s used for developing trusts and wills, and putting narrative messages in those legacy documents. Topics might include legacy, work, business, grandkids, faith, giving, love, success, our special child, wisdom, those are just about half of them.

The meaning of money is a place we like to start. It does three things, all these do three things. It helps us understand you better. Second, it helps you understand you better. Third, it helps a couple, if I’m working with a couple, hear about each other. I can’t tell you how many times stories come out, and a couple married 20, 30, 40 years goes “I didn’t know that about you. I didn’t understand that.” We have an index called the Tissue Index. Rarely have I done one, that I didn’t need to grab a tissue somewhere along the line in a story. So that’s a measure, I think, of great success, because you’re getting under the veneer, you’re getting deep, you’re going several levels deep and really finding out who people are at their core, when sometimes they don’t even know. I mean, Laurie, how often do people ask you about the meaning of money?

Laurie Barkman:

Not often. Wow, I should have you on the show together with Mike Schoedinger. He was on last season and he works with people at the end of life. Literally, it’s a funeral business. What he talked about is the importance of legacy for those who are still around and the family and friends. What strikes me here in these Priceless Conversations is because this is what lives on. I mean, even that you’re putting them in a box, you said there’s a gift box. There’s a message here to the next generation, which is so meaningful. So yes, you’re going through from a fiduciary standpoint, financial planning and estate planning. But really, it’s almost like the metaphor or literal gift to the next generation of the “why”. We talked offline before the show, Robb, I think you had told me a story about examples of how these Priceless Conversations have literally been used in funerals. Can you share?

Robb McKinney:

Yes, and I’ll try to do this without tearing up. A really good client wanted me to interview her mother in law and I did. Within a year she passed. She was 90 years old– a beautiful woman, and at that age was almost suspect as to why I was asking these questions. But she was so generous and kind and gracious with answering them. I was invited to the funeral and it was a packed house at the church. They had the monitors, the TV monitors on the sides of the church sanctuary, and they had her words and her voice. We did not have video, just audio, but they had her voice and her words with taglines on the screen; what she was saying. I can tell you there was not a dry eye. Family members were sobbing: It was incredible. So we use these to help families pass this message on with their money.

Laurie Barkman:

That’s a really powerful example. I’m just thinking now because of the restrictions we have in our country on travel at the time of this recording. It’s not quite Thanksgiving yet and we’re already thinking about, in our family, maybe not going on the driving trip we were going to go to in another state and it’s hard. It’s heartbreaking to not be able to see families and we don’t know what’s going to happen over the next year if people are living apart in different states. This is a very big country and our families are dispersed so maybe now more than ever these recordings and conversations with family about what’s important and documenting them is a really good thing to do.

Robb McKinney:

Yeah, it really is.

Laurie Barkman:

It really is. So one of the other things I wanted to ask you about is a family philanthropy approach. When you talk to families about what’s important to them, I would guess it’s very common for families to want to pass on their wealth in a meaningful way to their family and I know there’s a variety of vehicles and ways to do that. But then there’s also the “why”, going back to the “why” you were talking about and what’s important. Maybe some of that “why” is giving their name or their funds or both to causes they care about? How do you have conversations with families about that?

Robb McKinney:

Good question. We have two tools we use which we like: card games. So one of them is these legacy impression cards, and they provide a creative way to prompt conversations regarding topics pertaining to family wealth, business goals, values, multi generational planning. So we spread them out and let families kind of pick their favorite photos. There’s about 30 or 40 photos of different life scenes; pebbles stacked up next to the ocean, a beach scene, a tree in the woods, family around the table of Thanksgiving. Just different photographs that prompt thinking.

Then we let them pick and then we get them to share how that particular photo spoke to them. That’s another really revealing way to help understand and listen to each other. A second experience we have is the family philanthropic adventure. We have what’s called mad cards we start with, it’s make a difference. There’s photos of different philanthropic charitable programs/projects. So animals, pets, Red Cross, church. There’s like 30 different charities. So it’s a similar process. You get to pick and narrow down, but it’s done with a whole family of all ages so it’s really a learning journey, this experience.

It’s hard to do it in one sitting, but you end up selecting a charity that’s not driven by the matriarch or patriarch. It’s driven more by committee or consensus. They then do quantitative and qualitative analysis of a nonprofit that they might want to give to. They might do several and find out which one’s the best; look at the tax returns, see what percentage is going to the cause versus going to administration and executives. So they get to leverage their gift and present that gift also to a charity. They might even find ways to raise funds together instead of one member of the family writing a check. We try to encourage whether it’s a carwash, digging out couches, a little child went around in the neighborhood and said, “We’re doing this family charity, this is who we’re giving to, can you remove the pillows from your couch and see if there’s any change there?” He came back with like $19 from the neighborhood. So there’s all kinds of ways you can do that.

Laurie Barkman:

Is there a generational aspect to having these conversations? Is it typically the grandparent generation, let’s say that it’s bringing in their sons, daughters, and then their children so those are folks maybe in their 60s – 70s?

Robb McKinney:

Yes. Until you have grandchildren, it’s not very effective. So that’s kind of the rule: “Do you have grandchildren? Okay, we can do this.” A lot of people think charity starts at home, and until you get beyond a certain level or certain self absorption, it’s not really effective, and there’s basic needs that people have, I mean, they need to give modestly until they can give more generously.

Laurie Barkman:

Robb, sounds like you have learned a lot from your experience in doing this for a very long time, and even just the learning of not having an agenda coming into a meeting like this is great learning. I wanted to ask you a little bit of a challenging question on that and that’s from when something hasn’t quite gone your way. I use the word failure, but that sounds extreme. So is there a failure that has made you grateful because it has given you a perspective that you didn’t have? Maybe you did a 180 and did something different because of that.

Robb McKinney:

Okay, you really do want to make me cry, don’t you? So I’m divorced and I’ve learned an incredible amount through that. Raising my children, again, I’m very proud. Their mother and I both think they’re incredible. Anybody that knows them does. But I learned a lot through that process and that’s probably something that has driven me to help in the relationship area of families. So when I work with a family, and I see brokenness — and every family has it. You can’t enter a family scene and not find something that’s broken — that’s what drives me. Then when I see family members not wanting to be open to change or not wanting to be open to listening and hearing, it saddens my heart deeply. I think everyone needs and has room for change, and it has to start, I think, with questions. I like to say questions are the answers. So that’s where you find the answers.

Laurie Barkman:

Yeah, sometimes the best question is the one that just brings out 1000 different answers we wouldn’t have thought of previously and just leads to so many more things. I can appreciate that, and no, I’m not trying to make you cry. [Laughs] So certainly, on this show, we want to be authentic, and I think that’s what you are, and you bring it with your clients, and you’re bringing it today, which I really appreciate. On a little bit of a lighter note, I think you have a pastime of making wine, right?

Robb McKinney:

I do. Award winning wines.

Laurie Barkman:

Award winning wines, how did you get into that?

Robb McKinney:

Once separated, I lived in a bed and breakfast for a year and one of their draws was handmade wine. This person, who became a friend, learned from a mafia guy how to make wine. It was kind of a crude way, and we used not a lot of chemicals, very little testing. Then I met a friend who was making wine more scientifically. That was quite a few years ago, about 15 years ago. So I’ve been making it on my own for about 12 years and we’ve won close to 20 international medals now.

Laurie Barkman:

Wow!

Robb McKinney:

Bronze up to gold, and it’s a great relationship builder because I bring clients and friends. You just have to have a love for wine, you don’t have to be a client. We just like to relate and connect, and bring people together around harvest. Things that God has blessed or given us in a way that reflects good yield, good harvest. Sometimes we use symbolisms and similes around winemaking in our family process.

Laurie Barkman:

That makes a lot of sense. It’s really cool. Really, really cool. If you can summarize your career in a word or phrase, what would it be?

Robb McKinney:

I think Socrates said it best when he was on his trial for death, or exile. “A life unexamined is not worth living.” That’s my phrase. In the early ’90s, I read Tom Peters’ book, Thriving on Chaos, where he pointed out that the survivors of the new millennium, those businesses that are going to survive are going to be the ones that can change in the midst of market and society chaos. He was right, and in order to change, you have to question yourself. You have to examine hard, not just what you’re doing, but the “why” and be willing to change.

Laurie Barkman:

Self reflection.

Robb McKinney:

Self reflection, absolutely.

Laurie Barkman:

Easier said than done. For a lot of leaders and whether you’re in a family or not, and mostly, we all have family members and we can take those interpersonal issues, but sometimes we bring those family issues into the office and so self reflection is important in a lot of different ways. I like how you describe that.

Robb McKinney:

This actually might be — Laurie, I don’t know if we’re gonna get to it, so let me just interject — the defining or redefining the definition of wealth. So when you think about wealth, and when we ask families or individuals or at a cocktail party or anywhere, “Hey, what’s wealth mean to you? What do you think of when you think of the word wealth?”

What do people mostly say? They say something around money, something around financial, but it’s not. It’s incorporating all the human wealth, human assets, relational, intellectual, social, spiritual wealth, into a plan. That, I find, is one of the hardest shifts for advisors of all disciplines to make, because everything is driven by the dump, defer, dissipate or the legal document or the tax return and we miss such a golden opportunity, a golden space to be able to say, “This is what my legal documents and my financial plan needs to be directed towards, because this is who I am.”

Laurie Barkman:

Yeah, the meaning of money. You’re right; that’s probably a great place where your conversations start, as you said, when you talk about the “why”, and their view of what is money or what is wealth to them, and those answers probably vary a lot.

Robb McKinney:

They do.

Laurie Barkman:

Beyond just the money in your pocket.

Robb McKinney:

You’re right.

Laurie Barkman:

Another second on the four D’s because I’m not sure everybody would know what those mean; dump, divide, defer and dissipate. Can you just quickly talk about what each of those mean?

Robb McKinney:

Dump, divide, defer and dissipate. So Dump is just giving it away. Defer is deferring tax, not paying it. Divide is splitting it however I want between family members, and dissipating is the shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations; it’s all dissipated, it’s gone. Because the values aren’t passed. The message isn’t passed with the money. There’s no underpinning.

When you think about it, James Grubman wrote a book and there’s a dialogue, Denis Jaffe and he, on immigrants and inheritors. How immigrants from the foreign lands come over to America. They bring with them their stories, their roots and that’s who built America, at least at least in part, that’s what started it. Inheritors — Second Gen, Third Gen — grew up in a new world, in a new place, and they didn’t have the benefit of where the originator came from. Missing out on those stories is part of the failure of some wealth. So we find that stories are very important to pass on.

Laurie Barkman:

Yeah, absolutely. Have you had any situations where your process helps bring a family back together that was kind of on the brink of extreme conflict?

Robb McKinney:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’ve got a great story. This one’s really good. So I have a couple of long term clients that were on opposite sides of the city, in the same industry. One was middle aged, like 50, and he was building his business, and hadn’t been on a family vacation for 10 years. Worked his business, built it. It was one of the most successful businesses in the country in this space, and he said, “Robb, I’m going to retire in three to four years. I just need to do this one thing to this one location, this one entity, and I can rebuild it, and switch it, and do this, and do that, and then I’m going to be worth another couple $3 million in just three or four years.” And I said, “Joe, why? You can retire now. That’s the question. You can go on vacation with your family.”

So that engaged a detailed, very deep, heartfelt discussion that lasted about an hour and a half. I gave him something to think about. So I fly home that day. I left him, took my car to the airport, I’m sitting at the airport, my phone rings, it’s Joe. “Robb, call your other client. I’m ready.” So the other client, interestingly enough, had two adult children in their business and they grew up in the business. But it wasn’t big enough to substantiate three families now from one and they were just in this merging situation. So we were helping them in basic foundational relationship and communication issues and they were delighted. So here’s an example of two families realizing what they needed to do. It just blended. I couldn’t have designed that it just providentially happened.

Laurie Barkman:

Yeah, sort of the right place at the right time, but more so you were very attuned to what your client’s needs were. He really needed that heart to heart and you helped him figure out his next at that moment. That’s really powerful, Robb. That’s a great story.

Is there anything else that you want to share that I didn’t ask you about today?

Robb McKinney:

I think there’s a couple of underserved areas. There’s a lot of large consulting firms that deal with the $50 million, $100 million, billion dollar area. We serve the market under that. So probably in the $5 to $25 million net worth, and even under $5 million. I still have legacy clients that I work with. Love them. I’m afraid to let them go; I fear where they’d end up. There’s a single woman, a divorced, single woman market area that’s underserved. I’ve helped several divorcees whose husbands did all the finance and they’re now on their feet, and some of them own businesses. One client, an aunt, father and a mother died in two and a half years, and she had three estates to settle. She was being run around by the law firm, had three different attorneys, was overpaying, needed a CPA to do some calculations, and I just stepped in and helped. That was not a large client, but very needy. So we have found a place. For me, it’s kind of a tithing or a mission to help some of these clients that really need it.

Laurie Barkman:

Yeah. Now, that’s really great. If people are looking to get in touch with you, Robb, or your firm. How do they find you online?

Robb McKinney:

bridgeviewwealth.com

Laurie Barkman:

Great. We’ll certainly have the links for that in the show notes. Last but not least, of course, I love to ask all of my guests if you have a favorite quote about entrepreneurship or even leadership.

Robb McKinney:

That’s a good one. Yes, I do. “Leave someone better than you found them.” My uncle taught me — my Uncle Jim, favorite uncle — “Always leave a place, a workplace better than you found it.” When I got into the business world that rang true, and I started thinking about people and leaving them better than you found them. Even in the New Testament, the book of Philippians, “In humility, treat others more important than yourself.” I think that’s probably my best line for leadership and entrepreneurship.

“In humility, treat others more important than yourself.”

Laurie Barkman:

That’s a great place to end. Thanks so much for being with me today, Robb. The priceless conversation stories, the resilience to really self reflect, rise to a greater purpose and find our “why” I think is a wonderful message for everybody, so thanks for being here today.

Robb McKinney:

Thank you, Laurie. It’s been an honor.

Laurie Barkman:

Innovation, transition, growth. Easy to say but hard to do.

If you’re an entrepreneur facing these challenges. I get it. I work with businesses from small to big for strategic planning with your team to achieve your vision.

Visit smalldotbig.com to schedule a call with me. I’d love to connect with you. Be sure to catch the next Succession Stories episode with more insights for next generation entrepreneurs. Thanks for listening.

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