Family Matters: Focus on Parental Succession

Small Business

Question: My father has run our family business for three decades. I have been “transitioning” to the top leadership position for 11 years. While my father assures me that he is confident in my abilities, he never quite gets around to making my appointment official. Any thoughts on how I can move this along?
–A.S. from Bristol

Susan Lesser1

Susan Lesser is cofounder of nPlusOne, an operational management company focused on recruitment, training, and consulting.

Succession planning requires that a series of decisions be made, some practical and others more personal. In order for a transition to be smooth, both must be considered equally. Your father knows who will succeed him. He also knows that his successor is appropriately trained and ready to assume the new role. But what about him? Perhaps he is not fully ready for his next role. For him to progress out of his company’s daily operations, he must first investigate where he is going next and what he wishes to leave behind.
Where is he going?
Most people need to know “what is next” before they are comfortable deciding how to satisfactorily complete “what has been.”  What will your dad do when he leaves his current position? Will golf still be appealing when it is all he does every day? How much time with his grandchildren can he really tolerate? Consider the following:

  • Start with a rehearsal retirement. Encourage your father to try out new activities now, before he has actually left his company or his current role.
  • Embolden him to begin philanthropic endeavors right away. He should start networking and exploring what feels right to him socially, financially, and spiritually.
  • Help him examine the practicality of a planned, articulated, phased retirement. Remember, he has been going 24/7 for your family’s company since you and he can remember. Putting on the brakes entirely might prove too harsh to both him and the organization.
  • Suggest that he spread his wisdom. Perhaps it may be appealing for him to work as a consultant or on another company’s board.

 What does he wish to leave behind (how does he live on in the company)?
Every new beginning starts with and ending. Before he can move to his next phase, your dad must come to terms with purposefully ending this one. After having dedicated years of time, energy, and passion, it is expected that he will want some sort of legacy.
The skill set that he brought to the company, which served him so well, needs to be captured in perpetuity.
What about creating a company-sponsored university named after your dad so that his ideas and values can be passed down through future generations of employees?
Have you contemplated creating a formal position on your board of directors explicitly for your father?
Would it be appropriate for him to author the ultimate management handbook with step-by-step instructions for all critical leadership processes and deadlines?
A.S. from Bristol, remember, succession planning is not an event; it is an organization-wide process. However, there is a component that is very personal to the individual who is transitioning out. While this element cannot be rushed, it can be aided with conversations that are purposeful and compassionate.
In our next newsletter, Susan will explore how to make this transition truly an organization-wide process.
If you have any questions about issues related to your family business, I will be pleased to address them here. Names of people or companies will not be included, as anonymity is critical in a column such as this. Email your submission to me or CBIA’s Phillip Montgomery.


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