David Bentall: Leaving a Legacy in Family Business

Mar 17, 2016 | Articles

By Ed Hird

Last week I wrote aboutLegatus and the several other ministries working with business people around Metro Vancouver. So it seemed very timely when I learned that Ed Hird had just written a column about David Bentall and his work with people who run family businesses.

David Bentall is from the third generation of a Metro Vancouver family whose members are well known real estate developers.[1] For 20 years, David worked in the family business, including seven years as president and CEO of Dominion Construction, during which time they built the $100 million Rogers Arena.[2]

His book Leaving a Legacyhas taught me a lot about the possibilities and pitfalls of family businesses. I learned that family businesses on average last 24 years, twice as long as other companies.[3] The oldest family business, Kongo Gumi Company, survived for more than 1400 years.[4] The average CEO only lasts five years, in contrast to family business leadership that can last for decades.[5] I had no idea that approximately 85 percent of all companies worldwide are family businesses.[6] As the ‘economic engine of the global economy,’ family businesses provide 50 percent of North American wages.[7]

David’s book helps family businesses to integrate family and business, so that one’s business does not destroy one’s family.[8]Wise families always put family first and business second.

He comments: “In business, success is measured by profits earned; whereas in a family, the yardstick is love.”[9] Money given unwisely to one’s children ends up being a curse: “They don’t need more money or more stuff. They need more of their parents’ time and more of their love.”[10]One of the challenges of family businesses is that the new generation has often not been mentored regarding what it really means to work.[11]

David, who now runs Next Step Advisors, encourages family business members to initially work outside of the family firm in order to gain perspective.[12] Growing up in the shadow of highly successful parents can cause the new generation to suffer from an acute sense of inadequacy. “To say that my self-esteem was fragile would be an understatement,” he says.[13]

Many family businesses suffer from lack of good governance policies and structures.[14] Less than one percent of family businesses, he says, have effective boards.[15] The Bentall family paid a high price because of this omission, resulting in a ‘fractured wasteland of broken relationships’.[16] David has dedicated his life as a consultant and executive life coach helping other family businesses avoid these same costly mistakes.[17]

His transparencies about his own leadership foibles make compelling reading. He freely admits that he used to suffer from the need to always be right.[18] “Nothing was too sacred for me; I began charging about the company, tilting at windmills.”[19]

David and I go back a long way. He was there the night that I came to a personal faith in Christ at age 17. He mentored and encouraged me in my first steps of faith. He has been able to integrate his faith and his business life in a way that is not often seen. Genuine faith walks the walk, not just talks the talk.

One of the generational strengths of the Bentall family is integrity.[20] Granddad Charles Bentall was famous for building downtown skyscrapers on no more than a handshake.[21] Jimmy Pattison commented: “David C. Bentall is a man of great integrity and depth. He’s also insightful and caring.”[22]

My prayer for those reading this article is that we too will leave a lasting legacy of integrity.[23]

[1] David C. Bentall, Leaving a Legacy (Castle Quay Books, Pickering, Ontario, 2012), 5.
[2] Bentall, 5. 71.
[3] Bentall, 143.
[4] Bentall, 134.
[5] Bentall, 76.
[6] Bentall, 124.
[7] Bentall, 142.
[8] Bentall, 125.
[9] Bentall, 147.
[10] Bentall, 190.
[11] Bentall, 133.
[12] Bentall, 137.
[13] Bentall, 136.
[14] Bentall, 145.
[15] Bentall, 163.
[16] Bentall, 59.
[17] Bentall, 240. “. . . most importantly, I want to offer the next generation mentoring and coaching.”
[18] Bentall, 134, 334. “I have always wanted to be right, and I really don’t like being wrong . . . During the first 10 years of my career, I didn’t understand that love trumps being right. Blinded by my own self-righteousness, I was a strident advocate of doing things right. Unfortunately this created in me a very critical spirit.”
[19] Bentall, 224.
[20] Bentall, 234. “A person of integrity is someone who is incorruptible and honest, someone who firmly adheres to a moral code.
[21] Bentall, 24.
[22] Bentall, 4.
[23] Bentall, 242. “If we build a business, we may leave a legacy of industriousness. If we serve, we may leave a legacy of service. If we love, we can leave a legacy of love. Our legacy will not be created tomorrow; it is created by how we live today.”

Rev. Dr. Ed Hird is rector of St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver. This comment is re-posted by permission from his blog (a shorter version appeared in the Deep Cove Crier). He also wrote on Bentall’s earlier book, The Company You Keep, which deals with supportive relationships between men.