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Leadership, Fathers And Matriarchs: An Interview With Amy Hart Clyne

Joe Reilly

7 April 2022

Joe Reilly, a regular writer in these pages, interviews Amy Hart Clyne, author of Finding Her Voice and Creating a Legacy, with Dennis Jaffe. Pitcairn. They talk about women’s leadership styles, how fathers can encourage leadership in their daughters and the status of the term matriarch. 

Joe Reilly:  Could you briefly describe the book?
Amy Hart Clyne: Women today hold leadership positions worldwide in government and business, yet in ultra-high net worth families, they far too often remain in the background, hindered by longstanding conventions and complex intergenerational dynamics. We might see these women’s names in a news story or connected to philanthropy, but we don’t really know who they are. With Finding Her Voice and Creating a Legacy, we set out to uncover their voices and celebrate their unique perspectives and contributions to their families. This book and the underlying research which offers a fuller, deeper, and richer picture of wealthy families, comes at a time when women's roles are changing at an exponential pace. This book is ultimately a celebration of women as leaders and of the fact that they have found their own way and their own path. It’s been a hard road, but these women have done it and we’re proud to share their stories. 

How did it come about?
I didn’t set out to write a book. Two situations pointed me in this direction. During my first year as a Pitcairn leader, I found that the final decision-makers of new client families were the family matriarch and I thought that was wonderful, even remarkable. I wanted to better understand that. And second, this work really grew from a conversation I had with Pitcairn’s CEO Leslie Voth about providing service and support to women of wealth and how they needed something different than men. So, I started doing some research that would help us better understand the role women play in very wealthy families and what that means for Pitcairn and society at large. As I spent more time on it and spoke to more and more women, the more obvious it became that these were stories that needed to be told so that others could benefit from the lessons these women learned the hard way. 

What was your process? How did you conduct the interviews?
The research methodology was both anthropological and cultural rather than data driven. We chose a mix of women, only a small handful were Pitcairn clients. Several dozen women of considerable means participated in deeply personal and private conversations with my co-author, Dennis Jaffe and me. They told us about how they came to wealth, their role in the family, the obstacles they overcame, and how they prepared the next generations while striving to sustain family connections and family harmony.

Who are today’s women of wealth?
We spoke to women who were an active part of their wealth creation, as well as women who inherited their wealth from a previous generation. Our research found that hampered by outdated stereotypes, some of the most important family voices in some of the world’s most influential families have been sidelined or silenced.  

What is the status of the title “matriarch?”
In this book, these women family leaders, regardless of age, are identified as the “new matriarchs” who are challenging traditional gender roles. They haven’t completely shunned the traditional matriarchal construct, but are reshaping it as caretakers and corporate leaders, family stewards and financial stakeholders. They are advocates and models of greater equality, as well as examples of what women’s sensitivity and gender experience can bring to family leadership.

The New Matriarch is a woman who forges her own path in advancing the financial success, culture, and values of her family with a focus on partnering with her spouse and preparing her children for a life of passion, purpose, and family harmony.

These pioneering women are breaking longstanding barriers of communication and connection and rewriting the rules of leadership with a focus on family and the future in the process. 

How are today’s women reshaping traditional dynamics in multi-gen families?
One common thread among all the women we spoke to was their emphasis on relationships. The women we spoke to really focused on the incredibly ambitious and essential task of creating threads between business and family and across generations. They served as bridge builders and connectors, and saw alignment and connection as keys to success. They believe the family enterprise is something to be shared and used wisely. 

Additionally, they took on the role of family culture innovator. They were creators of an inclusive and fair family culture. They were concerned with opening the paths for other family members to participate, and they felt family wealth has a purpose to support everyone in the family fairly.

They have gotten more comfortable with and have found great conviction in their leadership style.  We found that they were often leaders that used soft power and influence rather than domination. Dennis and I concluded that these women often shun the limelight of visible leadership, instead preferring to lead more quietly and behind the scenes. They seek to influence rather than overpower or force others into acquiescence.

How did you find women are dealing with unequal partnerships?
I think the specifics differ from family to family, but nearly every woman I spoke to mentioned in some way how they are active in challenging the traditional roles that have so often limited women’s horizons. They were leaders who had to generally overcome more pitfalls, challenges, and hurdles than their male counterparts that resulted in unequal partnerships. They had inner confidence to overcome obstacles without acrimony. They had to drive and navigate their family’s evolution to acceptance of women in key leadership roles. And, as a result, they displayed self-confidence and a feeling of personal efficacy and drive early in life, and this confidence allows them to feel comfortable as innovators and pioneers. These women want to show the upcoming female youth that they are more than capable of having their own respected careers and passions.

How can fathers encourage leadership in their daughters?
At a recent families of wealth peer group session I facilitated, I was especially delighted to observe how many fathers were in attendance as they chose to be “learners” to better support their daughters as future family business leaders. They viewed their daughters as individuals with their own strengths, weaknesses, passions, and abilities, and wanted to support possible entry into the family enterprise. 

They were cognizant of the fact that they needed to throw away old ideas and gender stereotypes, and instead embrace and encourage their daughters to be future leaders. Being there for their daughters, listening to their ideas, and feeling the passion they have while expressing those ideas will only help lift them up. When you have the constant support of a family member, it goes a long way. I found their participation to be particularly inspiring and hopeful.  

How do women get out from the shadow of their family and come into their own? You mention women “face gentle winds of traditional expectations?”
It all comes back to breaking through ingrained gender stereotypes. 

When one of the women in the book went to talk to her grandfather about college, his response was along the lines of, “What in the world do you want all that education for? You’re just going to get married and have babies.” So, she paid for it herself and went off and built a life for herself in an area where no one knew her family. But eventually she was asked to become the family’s financial leader after her brother, who had been running the family office, made some poor financial decisions. 

In another case, the woman’s family owned a bank, but it was just assumed that her brother would succeed their father there. The reality was she had more of an aptitude and passion for banking and eventually became the CEO while her brother went off to run another family business. 

In both cases, these women pressed on with great intentionality, committed to finding a role in the family enterprise in which they would be successful, add value to the enterprise, and find a sense of personal satisfaction that wasn’t traditionally offered to them. 

How are women’s leadership styles transforming family businesses?
Old money often comes with old values and several of the women I spoke with found themselves faced with the incredible task of challenging these longstanding norms including gender traditions, birth order, and family hierarchy, from the inside. Women’s evolving roles have a social and political component – women’s suffrage, co-education, and entry into formerly gender-segregated careers – and change of that kind takes time. However, the actions of these female leaders show how a trend can move from societal opportunity to family reality.