María Sanchíz: “Family businesses are run with the heart”

María Sanchiz runs the Wealthy Families unit at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Spain. The team consists of tax advisors, lawyers, consultants and auditors who are specialists in managing large family fortunes and businesses.

“At companies you always end up dealing with people, but when you deal with families, that personal ingredient becomes the most important one,” she explains. “With companies it’s more complicated because the people change a lot and sometimes relations are more opportunistic.”

In general, she sees more advantages than disadvantages in family-run companies. “The inconveniences may be that relationships are very passionate, governed by the heart and not the head, and a dispute can turn into something that can’t be resolved. If we’re talking about two business partners who are not related, then it’s the head, and economic interest, that are most important. But that feeling can also greatly strengthen mutual support among family members, who have shared values and aims,” says Sanchiz. “In their decisions there are other factors beside the purely economic ones, it’s not just a case of the company surviving.”

Leaving financial and legal decisions in the hands of professionals should not be something exclusive to wealthy families. According to Sanchiz, each family should find an appropriate financial and fiscal advisor. “There are magnificent, accessible professionals,” she says. If many people do not deal with them, it’s because of cultural aspects: “If we look at neighboring countries, like the UK or the USA, everyone has a tax and financial advisor, even though they may not have a very highincome.” The key is to consider it not as a cost but as a “necessary investment” because “making a mistake through not getting the right advice can have some enormous costs and consequences.”

Those consequences are evident every day in news about new cases of corruption. On this subject, Sanchiz says the following: “We’ve been concerned about this for years. Internally, we’re on the alert and take all the measures to prevent it from occurring. In our line of work it’s very important that the institutions function well, and that the economy runs normally, that there are no cases of corruption, crisis or instability.” At the other extreme, Sanchiz accepts that “it’s also true that it’s on those occasions when our customers most need us. At times of uncertainty and insecurity, it’s reassuring to have the support of an advisor who can help you.”

In her sector, customers are not looking so much for an infallible advisor as for the feeling that this advisor really cares about what they are doing. “What the client wants is that you put yourself in their place. You have won their trust when they know that you are just as concerned as if it were your own personal matter. That there is a connection, empathy. That you are involved.” She has been with some clients for more than 20 years, and during that time they haven’t always been satisfied, “but if they see that you take your work as something personal, that you’re with them through good and bad, they’ll forgive mistakes.” In this sector, she says, customers want an important brand that gives them security, but above all that there is a personal chemistry with their advisors. “Clients are lost when they feel that there is no longer that motivation.”

Sanchiz finds it hard to name just one aspect of the Máster en Asesoría Fiscal de Empresas (LLM) that she earned at IE in 1992. More than the technical knowledge and the demanding level of the course, she values the sense of professionalism that students perceived: “They taught us to be serious, to have values and to behave ethically and very professionally.”

For that reason, she advises young students seeking a career in consulting to take the maximum advantage of their studies. “If they use the time and the quality professors to the utmost, with a hundred percent effort, it’s something they’ll have for the rest of their careers. To acquire knowledge and skills, they have to be demanding. That’s going to be priceless in their professional lives.”

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