Next Generation Leadership

Dini Pickering Shares Lessons Learned from Biltmore’s Family Office

March 27, 2012 By Kristina Magnuson

Hudson Shelby, MBA 2012, writes about Diana “Dini” Pickering’s visit to the Family Enterprise class last week. 

“Family meetings represent a reliable forum for the education of family members—particularly those not active in the management of the business—about the state of the business, its financial performance, its strategy and the competitive dynamics it faces.  Family meetings also offer a safe haven in which to teach family members about the various rights and responsibilities that accompany being a business owner and manager.”  – Family Business, Ernesto Poza

George Vanderbilt, 1888, builder of the 8000 acre Biltmore Estate

No one knows this to be more true than Diana “Dini” Cecil Pickering, Family Office President of the Biltmore company.  As the leadership of Biltmore transitioned to its sixth generation, Dini took it upon herself to establish a family council.  Despite hesitant acceptance by prior leadership, Dini persevered.  Today, family office is as crucial as to Biltmore as is the 250 room chateau.

In her recent visit to the Family Enterprise class, Dini shared some her family’s lessons learned from developing a family council, holding family meetings, authoring policies, learning to work together effectively, and ultimately developing an enduring trust.  She shared these lessons so that other families can benefit from her family’s experience.  Hopefully you will find wisdom in these words too.

  •  “As you begin the process of working together as a family, find/appoint/encourage a family leader who is willing to drive the process ahead—who is fully committed to developing the process by which the family will come together on specific issues.”
  •  “Allow the family leader to find and utilize specialists/family business consultants along the way.  Don’t feel like you must go it alone, particularly when addressing difficult issues.”
  •  “The real purposes of family meetings are to build trust and to learn to communicate effectively.”
  •  “The key to successful family meetings is to get all members involved in the planning process and engaged in the meetings.”
  •  “When planning family meetings, make sure to leave time for unplanned fun—don’t be too organized about this aspect of the meeting—allow for spontaneity and the natural flow of relationship building.”
  •  “Compromise is important in developing family policies—be open to everyone’s point of view and find the common ground from which to build.  Revisit the policies after the family has been working together for several years and see if refinements are necessary and possible.”
  •  “It’s all about the journey—and in this case, it is not so much the end results that matter the most, it’s not about the specific policies that are developed of the educational programs that are presented, it is about the process of learning to work together as a family, to communicate effectively, to support one another, and to develop and enduring trust.  It’s about developing relationships with one another that are based upon love, support, trust and respect.  It’s about having fun together and being thankful for family!”