Trusted Advisor

November 14, 2018

In this episode of “Generations in Family Business: Past, Present and Future”, Matt Kerzner and Tim Schuster discuss the importance of having the right trusted advisor to help family owned business be successful.


Tim Schuster: Welcome to our podcast For Generations and Family Business, Past, Present and Future. Our hosts for this podcast are myself, Tim Schuster, and I'm a manager in The Center for Family Business Excellence along with…
Matt Kerzner: Hi, I'm Matt Kerzner and I'm a senior manager at The Center for Family Business Excellence.

TS: Today we're going to discuss trusted advisors. Matt, what do you think of when you hear that term, trusted advisors?
MK: Tim, I think about, a trusted advisor is somebody who has developed a long-term relationship with their clients and is more than just a sounding board. It's an opportunity for both the advisor and the owner or executive to really develop a relationship where they actually learn from each other. They are sounding boards for each other to really help move the needle for the organization and for the owner.
TS: Absolutely. How I look at this myself, just being an accountant when I go out to clients, it's usually for some sort of tax work or it could be a compilation, a review and that’s how got to that status of being their trusted advisor. I'm getting the phone calls, not just specifically about the business, but questions about their family. I have clients that contact me who have kids who are looking at colleges and they actually called me and said, what should I do? How do I go through this process and try to find that school? Should I be asking these types of questions? And I said, well I'm glad you trusted me with this information. I just think that's one of the most important things—trust. That's how I that I got to that level where, if a client is calling me and not asking me just business-related questions but questions about anything, because they didn't know who else to turn to. You get to that spot with somebody where they can really view you as that. Tell us about the steps that you take in order to hopefully get to that level with a client, prospect, whomever it might be.
MK: Tim, that's a very good question, the steps when an owner or an executive is looking for a trusted advisor. I think there's some critical skill sets that they should look for. First of all, active listening is very critical and very key. An owner should really look at an advisor who is actually listening more than they're talking.
TS:Agreed, It's the two ears, one mouth mentality.
MK: You got it. An advisor doesn't want to go in and really say, okay, here's the problem and this is what you need to do to fix it. A trusted advisor is going to go in, they're going to listen. They're going to really get all of the data that is needed before they can say, okay, let's talk about the right plan for this organization. It's not the advisor that's going to solve the problem. It is a partnership between the advisor and the person that they're working with to solve the problem.
TS:You don't want to be a hammer looking to knock down a nail, for lack of a better term. Matt, how do you look at it from the family needs in the business to be that trusted advisor.
MK: It's very important for an advisor to develop a long-term relationship with the owner and the organization. To do that, it's really important to understand both the family needs and the business needs. It's important for the trusted advisor to look at the culture and the values that both the business and the family have, and then bring those in together to be successful in whatever action items that are needed or problems that have to be resolved.
TS:Given this is high level, I just want to make sure everything's copacetic with the company and the family side as well.
MK: You want to make sure that you meet the client where they are. A lot of times advisors will come in and they will go through their discovery phase. They'll identify a problem. Then they'll tell the owner that this is the problem and this is how you solve it. A good trusted advisor will gather all the data, possibly create some options and then dialogue with the owner to find what is the right fit for the organization.
TS: It’s very common where you essentially see this with not necessarily all accountants, but some accountants go in there and tell people, this is your problem. But that may not actually be the problem or even the client might think that they have a problem and that's not actually the right problem either. It might be stemming from something else. It's how do we get the information from them, and how do we get them to trust us with this information? We can actually find what is the actual problem, and we can come to a partnership-based solution together.
MK:A good advisor knows how to maintain confidentiality. The worst thing you can do is talk to a client about another client—storytelling in a negative way. It’s about confidentiality and making sure that you are really respecting the information that's being given to you. It's sacred, and you want to make sure you are adding value when you're having those discussions. Another one is being able to strike a balance between the owner, the family and the business, and then being able to look at those three areas and see how they interact and connect. Then really have that dialogue with your client to see what is the right path to take based on those three areas.
TS:You’ve got to have those conversations and really the idea, too, is that you're not shutting yourself off from that, and you're still continually listening because there could be elements that were the problem. But as you go through this process, it could just quickly shifting to something else. It's how we change the course of that river and make sure that it's going to the direction that we needed to go ultimately.
MK:I find that when I speak to owners they have trusted advisors, and those trusted advisors are usually their attorneys, accountants, business consultants that they've developed a relationship with. You're absolutely right, Tim, when you said you would get that phone call and they would say, what should I look at? Where did you get your haircut? But believe it might be simple things like that. But what's really critical is many times the attorneys, accountants and business consultants will focus in on one thing, that transaction. They have the skill set and the relationship that they've built, but they also need to know when to bring in other people that could help. A good trusted advisor can help with conflict resolution. Not everybody has the skill sets to handle conflict. A lot of things can get stuck if you don't know how to do that. You need to find the right advisor that has all of the skill sets that are needed to help the business, help the family and help the owners. I often partner with accountants and attorneys to help them do their jobs. It's a team. I use golf as an analogy. In my golf bag, I want to be able to pull the right club at the right time to make sure I'm hitting the ball at the right distance. I know what my skill sets are and what I could bring to the organization to help them. But I'm not an attorney; I'm not an accountant. I want to make sure that when needed, I also bring them in. It's important that if you have an advisor right now who’s helping you, there are emotional issues or conflicts that might get in the way with succession planning, getting the next generation ready. You want to make sure that you have the right advisor who can help you.
TS:So you can get to that next level to make sure that the organization continues to thrive and flourish.

Thank you for listening to Generations and Family Business Past, Present and Future as part of the EisnerAmper podcast series. If you have any questions or there's a topic you'd like us to cover, email us at Visit for more information on this and a host of other topics. We look forward to having you listen to our next EisnerAmper podcast.

About Matthew Kerzner

Matthew Kerzner is a Managing Director in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance and the Center for Family Business Excellence. Matt has more than 25 years of experience in organizational development with a specialization in assisting family businesses and closely held businesses.

About Tim Schuster

Mr. Schuster is a Senior Manager providing tax compliance services to individual filers, as well as assistance on tax returns for companies in the manufacturing and real estate industries.

Have Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions, we'd like to hear from you.