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Two generations are wiser than one


Business success doesn’t always run in the family, but the odds for it improve greatly when PulvermacherKennedy & Associates (PKA) are brought in to assist.

With a growing presence in Ottawa, Toronto, New York City and South Florida, PKA partners Luzita Kennedy and Gerald Pulvermacher have built a highly successful consultancy by helping mostly high-net-worth family businesses transition from one generation to the next.

Importantly, they’re not lawyers or bankers. PKA delivers a deft mix of advising around generational change, strategic enterprise transformation and leadership development.

In the last three years, while the firm’s reins were being passed from Pulvermacher to Kennedy, the pair have found themselves happily practicing some of what they preach. Though not related, the longstanding associates had a definite father-daughter way about them as they sat down to describe their own generational transition.

“When I bought the practice from Gerry about three years ago, I intentionally called it PulvermacherKennedy & Associates because what Gerry has built is a very, very solid brand and business foundation,” said Kennedy.

Perhaps the most important thing to go unchanged is the presence of Pulvermacher himself, who will stay on with the firm in a consulting role for the foreseeable future. What started out as a planned, three-year-long transition from mentor to protégé has become a sharing of the torch – to the advantage of all involved.

From working with family clients, Kennedy had seen up close how critical it can be to retain the wisdom of the elder generation. She applied that principle to the betterment of PKA and its clients.

“A concern that some of our clients expressed when we announced our transition was ‘Where is Gerry going?’” said Pulvermacher. “But I’m simply not disappearing. I’ll continue working with those clients that I have and continue to mentor other people that we have on board.”

The elder statesman Pulvermacher is a Ph.D., registered industrial/organization psychologist and former global partner at Deloitte Consulting. He entered the business transition field 47 years ago and at first consulted extensively with non-family firms and organizations.

“I consulted to several professional services firms in a variety of industries,” said Pulvermacher, “and I had a number of  oil companies in Western Canada, as well as a company in the pipeline business, a major pension fund and hospitals where we did the succession planning for the leadership of both the medical and non-medical positions.”

Only in the past 10 years or so has PKA been extensively sought out by family businesses. It started when Pulvermacher was hired by an Ottawa real estate company that was family-owned-and-run at the time.

“Because Gerry did such a good job there, he was referred to another real estate company that is family-owned and family-run,” said Kennedy. “And so through word of mouth, it just so happens that at least 90 per cent of the work that we do now is with family businesses in a variety of business sectors.”

Pulvermacher says that whether it’s a corporate or family-run firm, “the methodology is not all that different but the complexity in family business is much deeper because you’re dealing with family dynamics. It is essential that the family unit remain intact and therein lies the challenge.”

In fact, the human factor challenges that come with those dynamics are largely what drive the PKA team. These highly people-skilled partners are quick to reaffirm that they don’t do law, don’t do trusts, don’t do asset management, wealth management, tax advice or even accounting.

“Our space is quite clear so that we can maximize our value,” said Kennedy.

That said, they will refer that work, when it surfaces, to high-quality professionals they have known for many years.

What they do provide is a personalized blend of business guidance, strategy and broad expertise. Besides the obvious psychological component, “there is organizational development and change management,” explained Pulvermacher. “There is executive development, there’s learning, there’s many components to delivering this service effectively.”

Pulvermacher also notes how unlike other types of consulting, PKA client relationships call for much more than simply laying out a blueprint and walking away.

“You’ve got to really bring the people along,” Pulvermacher explained. “Help them formulate their ideas as opposed to forcing an idea on them. At the same time, we have decades of experience which our clients can bank on and we are not shy to offer up options they can consider.”

For Kennedy, a former KPMG partner with a chartered accountancy background, regular conversation is a key to the whole process.

“What Gerry and I do is we talk every day,” she said. “Here’s what’s happening in this family, this is how I’ve dealt with it. Did I miss anything? Having that conversation is very valuable.”

This kind of knowledge sharing is a core advantage of blending experience with youth. It’s part of a succession strategy that will help both PKA and its clients go from strength to strength as they move from generation to generation.