Succession – 4th in the Series

by Don Moore

Succession covers such a wide range. In the space of 12 months I have talked with families with the following incredibly different situations. Just a few examples:

  1. A large family of siblings in their 60’s and older who have children in the business but who have yet to hand executive leadership and ownership to the next generation.
  2. A family in which the children and spouses share in decision making with the parents…but, in which the succession process is stalled and the children now believe that it is going to stay stalled.
  3. A husband and wife who wish to exit now, while they are in their early 50’s. They want to sell to their employees but have an aversion to sharing the executive roles with employees. And yet, they want the employees to make life changing decisions.
  4. Two young men (40’s) with lots of manufacturing experience who are looking to make a purchase, but, who don’t really know what it means to own a business.

Some people who read the above will think, “that’s me he’s talking about!”  Maybe, maybe not.  You’d be astonished at how common some of these scenarios are, even the first one.   (Read more)

What is the common thread among these? First, the good news: They all have a goal and they can state it with clarity. Second, they know they are not doing the things they need to do, which is why they called me. Third, they know there are hidden problems that they are not going to find until they get bitten…that is, they know there are things they don’t know.  So, the good news is, they know they need to get to work if they want to achieve their goals in the timeline they have in mind.

The other common thread is that they all share a lack of action: None of the four above have actually taken steps to get to their goals. I’ve done my best. Some of them will come around. Some won’t. I don’t mean to sound fatalistic. It’s just that I’ve learned that I can only push so much and that pushing harder, telling the stories of failed successions, the family fallout and business failure, etc., will work right away or won’t work at all.

On the other hand, it is a great joy to work with the other type of client…..the ones who decide to act and follow a process. I have a client with offices in Buffalo and Punxsutawney (that’s a small population, so they know exactly who I mean). Two families, two locations, many children ready to step in. They are nearing the end of the transition process and the succeeding generation is ready to launch. The handoff will occur, the older generation will assume different roles and everyone will succeed. It’s been three plus years of very hard work, soul searching, difficult adjustments, difficult decisions and a pause or two. But, they never lost sight of the objective and made every decision in the context of the objective. The five-year Strategic Plan is nearly complete and it’s being written by the new generation. It is a great plan and it is achievable. There is no doubt in my mind that they will achieve their goals in the timeline they’ve set.

I cannot really say what separates the first group from the second; why some people act and others do not. I can say that Sue and I have been working on our own answer to the Succession question and, no, it isn’t easy. We are on a path similar to our Buffalo and Punxsutawney client. Though Sue and I will still work for a number of years, our roles need to change. I will continue to consult but, need to be a mentor as much or more than a consultant. Sue needs to establish business and administrative systems that will serve a larger and more diverse base of services. The Strategic Plan that we are starting next month needs to reflect the capabilities and vision of the generation behind us, while remaining true to Decision Associates’ business model. We’ve set and communicated a timeline and our step-down stages. It is work, but we are working it and we’ll succeed.

So, if you have read this and get a little red faced because you think I called you out among the first four examples, remember what I said: In any given year, there are probably 3 examples like the ones I stated….it might be you, it might not. But, if you are red-faced, you should be mad at yourself. If I can suck it up after 34 years, if my friends in Buffalo and Punxsutawney can suck it up, you can.  If you want some help, I’ll help you.  If not……