Written by Peter Dougherty, CEPA, CPFA®, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management
Congratulations and a hearty AFHE welcome to AFHE’S newest and 5th elected President-Mike Whitty.
Mike is a partner at Freeborn & Peters LLP, a full service law firm with international capabilities and offices in Chicago, Illinois, New York, NY, Richmond, Virginia, Springfield, Illinois, and Tampa, Florida. Mike is a partner in the Corporate Practices Group. He concentrates his practice in estate planning, taxation, and estate and trust administration..
AFHE was founded by John Dadakis who served as AFHE’S 1st president from 1994-2005. Mark Swary served as our second President from 2005-2010, Michael De Leon Hawthorne became AFHE’S 3RD President and his term ran from 2010-2017. Andy Karlen, AFHE’S 4th President just completed his term earlier this year after serving from 2017-2020.
I had the opportunity earlier this fall to interview Mike about his experience as an AFHE member and his vision going forward.
Dougherty: Mike, please tell us about your history as a member of AFHE. How did you learn about AFHE?
Whitty: I first learned about AFHE when attending my first meeting of Family Firm Institute in October 2002. AFHE had a stand-alone program attached to that conference, and I signed up for that. I subsequently joined AFHE that fall.
I first spoke at an AFHE conference the next year in New York and have presented every three years or so since then. I became more active over the subsequent years, hosting the Fall Regional Meeting in Chicago and serving as Program Committee Vice-Chair in 2008 (San Antonio) and Chair for 2009 (Charleston) and 2010 (Chicago). I then became Treasurer for several years, then cycled off the Board, then became Treasurer and Vice-President during the critical 2017 year, and President in 2020.
Dougherty: What is your vision for AFHE?
Whitty: In addition to the official AFHE Mission Statement, my own vision for AFHE is to grow as an organization devoted to collegial multidisciplinary training and collaboration for attorneys and other advisors to family-held businesses.
Dougherty: If you could have wish list for AFHE, what would it be?
Whitty: I hope to develop the next generation of members and leaders for AFHE and instil and inspire them with the qualities that make AFHE special. One program to assist with this is the new AFHE Fellowship program for developing younger members, to be rolled out in 2021. We will also continue to enhance AFHE’s regional and demographic diversity. Along those lines, I predict that the next AFHE president will be female.
Dougherty: What is your specialty as a professional working with family enterprises?
Whitty: As an attorney I help business owners with their core estate plans, their advanced estate plans, their succession plans or exit strategies using experience enhanced by AFHE membership.
Dougherty: You have assumed the Presidency at the most challenging time in American History and you are in essence experiencing a whole new paradigm in professionals meeting and interacting…do you believe that AFHE cannot only survive but thrive during this incredibly difficult period?
Whitty: I absolutely believe AFHE can thrive and grow during the current challenging period. Our officers, committee chairs, and Executive Director have stepped up and produced and excellent series of webinars, and we expect to have a well-attended virtual Fall conference and (hopefully) a live in-person (or at least a hybrid) in 2021.
Dougherty: If there is one message you could send out to our membership as we prepare for our first virtual conference…what would that be?
Whitty: AFHE can continue to be a high-quality collegial source for continuing education and collaboration even with virtual programming, as we are demonstrating this year. Once we are able to return to live conferences, in-person networking and relationship building will help us grow even stronger.
Dougherty: Finally, tell us about Mike the man, education, professional, family, hobbies, interests, passions about life.
Whitty: I’m a native Texan living in the Midwest for most of my professional life. I’m married to Julie, and together we have a daughter Caroline who works as a lab research associate in San Francisco. Julie’s mother lives in Michigan where we get away for summer breaks, and most of my family lives in Houston or Austin. I’m passionate about certain charitable causes, and enjoy golf and politics.