By | Published On: February 13, 2013 |

Sometimes in my practice I find Chief Executives approach me who are facing a dilemma: what to do when their children do not want to come into their family-owned business? This leaves them not only with a succession issue but a sense of loss, along with a possible vacuum where they feel a loss of purpose about what they’ve been building all these years. ‘What was it for if not for them?’ they say, and ‘What do I do now..?’

To answer these questions is not a quick process but it is very worthwhile:

The place to start is to totally simplify the issue, otherwise trying to answer the question ‘What was it all for?’ can be very daunting.

Start with a sense of where you are now – I call that ‘Point A’. Be aware that Point A is a description of what the business does or where you are personally, or what you think the current issues are.

The tendency for CEOs who want to get a problem solved quickly is to look next at where they then want to be, or what they want to do about it, otherwise called ‘Point C’.

But to leave ‘A’ and aim immediately for ‘C’ it is necessary first to analyse yourself and determine what might be holding you back, or sufficiently challenge your thinking around what the issue really involves. For example, if your children don’t want to come in to the business but you’re not troubled by this, have you told them? It is easy to think this is not necessary but over the years I have found a number of people have attended my practice because they haven’t felt it was ‘ok’ not to do something. Instead they’ve lived with the fear of disapproval or the desire to do/be something else which they’ve subjugated for the sake of their parents’ interests in the business.

I believe it’s therefore a good thing to reach out to your children first and foremost; you may be surprised at the assumptions they’ve been making or you may have expressed your disappointment before now and they are ‘carrying’ a sense of responsibility for that.

Leaving your business to your family to carry on is admirable if it’s workable to do so, but ultimately our responsibility as parents is to give our children the opportunities they want in life whilst accepting that we cannot be responsible for the choices they ultimately make. Nor, sadly, can we be in control of everything they do!

The next points are these:

  1. To travel from A to C the obvious conclusion is we must go through B. Although this metaphor is simple, the B in this case represents a strategy or plan that gets you from where you are now to where you want to go, but again the important issue is not to bite off more than you can chew in terms of a timeframe. Many of us like making long term plans but when faced with this issue of succession I find it helps to shorten the timeframe and achieve what feels right for you first in a shorter section of time, a maximum of six months to a year for example. It isn’t then so necessary to come up with all the answers for your future, only those that impact on you personally.
    At this point you might realise you are in a different place than you thought you were. It might be that it would be better to recruit someone externally to replace you rather than encourage one of your children to accept the succession. This may change the values of the business so you might wish to analyse the core values you see as important before you leave ‘A’ so that you can recruit the right person in order that your decision, and what this person eventually achieves, is something you’re proud of.
  2. Point B may only be a matter of taking three to six months to evaluate where you want to be with your business. By this time, the Point C that was relevant when you first set out becomes a new Point A. The process begins again, where you analyse what is happening at this new A; where you want to be for a new C, in what time frame, and once again set about a strategy to get yourself there. Slowly (you will find you have begun to minimise the ‘daunting’) it’s possible to feel that the question of what you are about and what you want feels more manageable and the issue of where to go from here becomes less intimidating.
    I would be happy to discuss any aspect of the methodology behind my suggested approach, assist you in evaluating where you are now (Point A) and where you want to be (Point C). Believe me, the decision of a family member not to share your values and beliefs need not mean the end of all that you hoped for and dreamt you would achieve when you started the company.

To contact me for an initial discussion and take a further look at what I recommend when managing change please click on the Contact tab on the Home page.