When advising family business owners, one of the biggest challenges is clients grappling with the transition from being "power players" who dominate every aspect of the company, to "people builders" who cultivate the next generation.
Take the example of "Terry," who had successfully led his manufacturing company for almost three decades. At age 68, he just didn't have the energy that he'd had even 10 years ago. What he did have was a wealth of institutional knowledge, which was part of his company's success. Terry was still the public face of the company, known throughout the community and by his customers and distributors as an astute businessperson with a big heart. Unfortunately, all of Terry's secrets to success were locked in his brain, so when his two sons stepped up to take a leadership role, they had no relationships with key stakeholders, such as the advisory board, the bank, the local community, customers and suppliers. Their style of leadership also was different than Dad's. Key customers were leery of the impending change and suddenly became more interested in re-negotiating contracts.
Much of this difficult transition could have been averted if Terry had included his sons in key business meetings and relationship-building opportunities early in their leadership training. Terry had a lot to share, but he just didn't know how.
Family business challenges
Terry isn't alone. There are approximately 5.5 million family businesses in the U.S. According to Tharawat Magazine, these businesses are estimated to account for more than half of the U.S. GDP and employ more than 60 percent of the workforce. Yet, despite their outsized impact on our economy, many family businesses haven't planned properly -- or at all -- for a transition in business ownership. One study by MassMutual found that more than 40 percent of respondents expected to retire within 10 years. However, fewer than half of those expecting to retire in five years and less than one-third of those expecting to retire between six and 11 years reported that they had a chosen successor.
Lisë Stewart- Guest Writer
Director Director, Center for Family Business Excellence