Following a brief stint as a computer sciences professor at a Boston-area university, Kevin Dawson decided to start his own data analytics company in Greenwich, Connecticut. Ten years later, the business had grown considerably and several private equity firms convinced Kevin to sell the majority of his business to them. His personal wealth was now in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Kevin and his wife Christy were caught off guard by their sudden wealth. They didn’t come from money – their parents were solidly middle-class white-collar professionals who valued education, personal responsibility, and family life.
Kevin and Christy lived their parents’ values. They both attended top-notch universities and following graduation got married, started a family, and worked hard to get to where they were now. Their twin boys were now 16.
Kevin’s enormous financial successes put the family on a different path than his parents’. The Dawsons bought a beautiful estate in Greenwich. Their boys were enrolled in the most prestigious private school in Connecticut and beginning to think about college. And Christy was finding her own successes in a business she had started two years earlier.
Everyone in the family seemed to be in a good place, but something was bothering Kevin. He worried about how the boys would be affected by the wealth he had created. Talking to friends and colleagues who were also wealthy, he realized he wasn’t alone in his concerns.
Kevin and Christy agreed they needed to help the boys find their own paths in life without the money destroying their will to pursue what they wanted for themselves. Like many of their friends, they believed it might be best to give their fortune to charity rather than risking the adverse effects that inheriting substantial wealth might have on the boys.
The Dawsons arranged a meeting with their family attorney to discuss this idea. Christy asked their attorney what he thought about setting up a foundation so they could give most of their money away rather than bequeathing it to their sons. She told him they wanted to give some money to the boys, but not enough that they could afford to do nothing with their lives.
Their attorney responded that families of wealth have a great privilege and responsibility to use their resources to make the world a better place. He went on to say that families of substantial wealth rarely spend all that they have created or inherited.
Their attorney asked whether they had ever thought of their wealth as being a force for good for their sons. They said no. All they could think about was how dangerous it might be for their sons to be given so much money. He asked them what they wanted most for their boys.
They said they wanted their boys to be happy, and to have meaningful and productive careers. Their attorney asked them what yardstick they believed accurately measured success. The Dawsons said doing something that made you happy and fulfilled was a better measure of success than simply making a lot of money .
The Dawsons attorney wanted to know whether they thought having enough money to do what you want was important. They nodded and said money certainly made it easier to do some things in life. But they didn’t want their money to rob the boys of their own ambitions.
Their attorney asked how they would feel if the boys wanted to pursue careers in fields such as social work or the nonprofit sector. Kevin and Christy both stated they didn’t care how much money the boys made as long as the work they were doing was important to them.
He asked them how they felt about the boys’ not being able to do some of the things they’d always enjoyed doing as a family, like skiing in the Alps every other winter. He explained the obvious. As social workers or nonprofit administrators, the boys wouldn’t be able to afford such vacations. If Kevin and Christy opted to give all their money to charity, how would their sons continue to enjoy the quality of life they were accustomed to?
Before the Dawsons could answer, their attorney introduced the thought that money itself wasn’t destructive should they choose to share their vast wealth with the boys. To avert a sense of entitlement, he said, they would need to educate their sons on how to interact with their wealth in a good way. The attorney also emphasized the importance of clarifying for the boys what the family stood for and how this money could be used as a resource to perpetuate the family legacy through them and eventually their own families.
Read Part Two of the Dawson's Story to discover how all of these considerations were addressed through our exclusive Success Mapping Process™.