Listening to Wealth
John Messervey helps affluent families resolve issues and make tough consequential choices that determine the long-term strength of their family, their business, and their wealth.
Photography by Thomas Balsamo
I help high-performing families have difficult conversations,” says John Messervey, Private Family Advisor and longtime resident of Lake Forest. “Together, we make a number of highly personal choices about family goals, business direction, and wealth creation. What often perplexes families is the intersection of family harmony and wealth. I help families get unstuck on any one of a myriad of issues.”
Any family can feel stuck, but when you mix key issues such as leadership, succession, compensation, inheritance, or governance, you’re not just talking about family roles anymore, you’re looking at individual livelihoods. That’s where Messervey comes in. For the past 30 years, he’s worked with more than 300 affluent families around the world to help them resolve issues that have otherwise seemed insurmountable.
As one client shared, “We came to John to resolve some family issues, all of his business savvy came as a bonus. He combines a deep understanding of relationships with practical business experience.”
“I work with the alpha wolves of capitalism. My clients have figured out how to create and sustain wealth. Most often, they have highly competent advisors in wealth management, tax, and the law. Together, we create some amazing outcomes,” says Messervey. “A large part of my job is to get a family to talk about business issues in an open and supportive way. Is it therapy? No. But it is highly therapeutic.”
Messervey helps families avoid the most common traps of wealth depletion, such as sustained conflict, divorce, litigation, a sense of entitlement, or a lack of competent heirs. On the business side, the need to renew, execute, and measure a focused strategy is high on his list of success factors.
Messervey uses his outside perspective and his proven history at the top of his field to get to the root of the problems that are keeping the family from moving forward instead of just addressing the immediate symptoms. “There are very few surprises left in my work. I can see the patterns of where a family is headed over future generations as clearly as if they were on iron rails. I can often see if they’re going to become a three-generation train wreck,” says Messervey. “There are all kinds of behaviors that can contribute to that, but my job is to focus the family energy upon competing in the marketplace instead of with each other.”
“The key issues today are parenting, growing the business in a tough environment, and family governance—a respected leader has to emerge in every generation,” Messervey says. “Maintaining trust in a family is absolutely critical. It is the essential characteristic of long-term family wealth.” Depending upon the issues at hand, Messervey can see families for very short periods of time or for many years, off and on. He’s now at the point where he’s begun advising the next generation of the families he counseled at the beginning of his career. He adds, “Raising competent heirs is a major issue.”
Messervey has been getting families back on the right track since 1980. He’s worked with more than one-third of the leading families in Chicago, developing strategies for successful management, succession, and the growth of family wealth.
A renowned lecturer for families, private advisors, and financial groups, Messervey routinely speaks to such groups as the Young Presidents’ Organization, the Menninger Management Institute, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Northern Trust, Harris Bank, William Blair & Company, and the Tokyo LTCB Research & Management Institute. He’s also an oft-quoted source for national radio and print publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Forbes.
Whether he’s facilitating a family retreat to help enhance family harmony and set new goals, mediating a tough family dispute, or helping a family through the process of liquidity, Messervey’s chief concern is always the families he counsels. The secret of his long-term success? “As difficult as some family members may be, I care about every client,” Messervey says.
For more information on John Messervey or the National Family Business Council, visit privatefamilyadvisor.com.