ArchivesSuccession Planning Archives — C. Lynn Northrup, CPA, CPIM
One of the key components of succession planning is deciding where the business should be going and who is going to provide the necessary leadership. This process is a double edged sword. It involves planning for both owners as well as the business. Things can get pretty emotional in family-owned businesses. Accordingly, it is very important to make sure the planning process gets done properly.The emotional process is what stalls many initiatives. It is critical to have a skilled outsider to help to balance the emotions, personalities, and politics of the family-owned business. An objective facilitator with no stake in the outcome dramatically increases your chances of success.
Organizational planning combines development of ownership plans with strategic planning for the business. Achieving balance between these two plans is the key ingredient. This function is where facilitators can earn their money. They balance management interests with ownership goals and the board. Many family-owned businesses don’t have a formal board of directors’ function. We think that boards provide a balance point between owners and management. The board provides a key role in providing continuity between business strategy and long-term vision that helps to preserve owner’s value.
When owners and the business look to the future, the shareholders have to ask the following questions:
• Where do we want to be in 5 to 10 years?
• Can the business survive without the founder?
• What are the goals of non-family team members, entrepreneur owners, and family of the entrepreneur?
• What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with this business?
It is amazing how many family-owned businesses haven’t developed a succession and transition planning process. A well-designed and systematic succession planning process focusing on the family, management, and the organization of the business pays big dividends. This represents a huge opportunity for family-owned businesses to step up and do what they need to do. Planning for the future pays off.
There are tons of issues and challenges associated with succession planning. Most family businesses want the family to be involved with the business. This gets tricky when there is more than one child and even worse when spouses and cousins are thrown into the mix. Another component of the process relates to non-family managers involved in the business. They have a stake in the business and usually represent a critical link to the future success of the business.
There are many stories about fights and disputes that arise when family members get side ways over the selection of who is in charge. Without an effective planning and communication process, you open the door for lawsuits and fighting between family members. It doesn’t need to be that difficult when the succession and transition process is handled properly from the beginning. We use an approach that sets the stage for proper evaluation of both involved family members and non-family member managers. Our methodology makes a clear distinction between owners, boards, and management. This is done at the beginning and family owner plans are developed and shared with management in an effort to achieve agreement on how to move forward in a balanced fashion. Owners have a role separate from management and it should not be mixed with management responsibilities. These are separate roles and responsibilities. Open communication amoung family members is critical as they reach consensus on ownership goals and on the direction of the business.
One of the major obstacles to succession is the failure of entrepreneur owners to give up control of the company. This often is an attitude of denial and deceit relative to their own mortality. Once founders realize that it is healthy for them to move out of the center of the circle, we start to see progress. The lack of an effective ownership transition plan could be fatal if something unforeseen happens to the founder.
Our process involves family and non-family members in a positive fashion. By fostering effective communication, the business can focus on the right things and achieve a smooth transition. The failure to engage in this critical planning and communication process can prove fatal to the business. Maintaining a balance between all family owners and non-family management is the best way to secure a successful future and build the value of the business.