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Family Farm succession planning – equal or fair? by John Mill

Family Farm succession planning – equal or fair? by John Mill

 

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The recent appeal decision in Mountain v. TD Canada Trust is a classic example of how badly things end up without proper business succession planning. The case involved a farm that had been in Mountain family for five generations since 1830. Gary the son had been working on the farm for 24 years since high school and had received less than average wages so money could be used to build up the farm. Gary said that his father Jack had promised to pass the farm onto him. Gary’s sister Louanne never worked on the farm.

 

A universal problem in family farms and businesses is that there are usually children who do not work on the farm or in the business. The question becomes how do you treat these children fairly? A common misconception is that the child on the farm or in the business will be getting a very valuable asset; however if the farm or business is not to be sold then what the child really gets is a job.

The problem in this case was that Jack and Helen Mountain had identical wills. Each left all of his/her estate to the other absolutely, or if either spouse died first, the estate would go to Gary and Louanne to share and share alike. This is the default will pattern employed by most families. But in family business succession cases the default will pattern creates havoc as happened with the Mountains.

After Jack’s death Gary’s sister Louanne took the position that under the will she was entitled to half the farm. So Gary started a lawsuit to enforce what he claimed was an oral agreement that the farm was to go to him.
In the period between January 2000 and November 28, 2001 when he died, Jack had made a number of attempts to transfer the farm to Gary. First Jack saw Mr. Riley his bookkeeper and tax preparer. Mr. Riley had detailed notes of their discussions about how to transfer the farm to Gary. The Judge ignored these notes because Jack did not act on them.

In October 2001 Jack was hospitalized. He was first visited by retired lawyer Don Elliot who referred him to another lawyer Chris Moon. Mr. Moon prepared powers of attorney to be used if Jack was disabled but he did not recall discussing any land transfers. It seems odd that this lawyer would not have asked about Jack’s intentions for the farm.

In mid November Jack met with Mr. Riley again. Mr. Riley sent a letter addressed to Jack, dated November 13, 2001. The letter says:

This letter summarizes our discussion of the farm rollover from you and Helen to Gary. If I understand your desires correctly, the two farms, the 46 acre lot with the helper house and the trailer on the 97 acre farm are to be rolled over to Gary. The one-acre lot at Conc. 4, WHS Pt Lot 33, is to be rolled over to Louanne.

Jack asked his sister if he could meet with her lawyer and an appointment was made for November 15th.  Unfortunately Jack was readmitted to hospital and died on November 28th.

Gary did not have luck in court, after an 11 day trial the trial judge made a factual inference that Jack intentionally did not transfer the property to Gary before his death and ordered Gary to pay $275,000 in costs to Louanne. As the trial judge put it:

While I am doubtful of Jack’s competence, if he was [competent] as Gary submits, Jack had thoughts about how to arrange his affairs, knew that they had not been put in place and did not put them in place. Since he did not do so, I can safely infer that that was intentional.

From a common sense perspective if Jack wanted the farm to stay in the family for the sixth generation then he had to give it to Gary. If it was split evenly then it would have to be sold. There were other assets that Louanne would have received including insurance. The appeal court allowed the appeal finding that the trial judge had made a palpable overriding error of fact as follows:

[75]      The trial judge did not explain why this inference was safely drawn given the following evidence indicating that it was the swift deterioration in Jack’s health that prevented him from completing the farm transfer:

  • Several witnesses, including Louanne, testified that while Jack was in the hospital, he indicated that he wanted to meet with a lawyer.
  • The Monkmans offered Jack an appointment with their lawyer, Mr. MacDonald, for November 15, 2001. Mr. MacDonald would have met Jack were it not for Jack’s unanticipated hospitalization that same day.
  • Reverend Lekx testified that on November 18 or 19, 2001, Jack told him that he had just “told Gary to take the farm and get a lawyer to have it settled.”
  • Mr. Riley testified that Jack passed away before they were able to finalize the rollover of the farm to Gary, so he followed the will and transferred Jack’s half to Helen with the intention that it would then be rolled over to Gary.
  • Mr. MacDonald testified that when he prepared his memo of November 27, 2001, he was expecting there to be an inter vivos transfer of the farm property, milk quota and vehicles.

[76]      The trial judge’s inference that Jack did not intend to transfer the farm to Gary before his death also inexplicably fails to give any consideration to the uncontradicted evidence of Mr. Riley, which he had set out at paras. 20-22 of his reasons. As the trial judge noted, at para. 20, Mr. Riley testified that in 2000, Jack and Helen decided that “it was time to act to roll the farm over to Gary.”

The appeal court ordered that the matter be sent back to trial to be heard all over again setting aside the $275,000 costs award and ordering Louanne to pay Gary $40,000 in costs for the appeal ; however, they did so with this warning:

[113]   I must stress that a new trial is in neither side’s interest. This case cries out for a mediated, consensual resolution. This is a rare circumstance where in the interests of justice, I would direct that mediation be conducted prior to any new trial.

So what did the parties get for their more than half million in legal fees and months of effort preparing for trial? This case is a classic lesson in the value of proper planning.

 

What’s Your Greatest Legacy? Hint: It’s Not Your Family Business

What’s Your Greatest Legacy? Hint: It’s Not Your Family Business by Tom Deans, Ph.D

 

Everyday Business Tom Deans

 

I was playing my regular Saturday morning squash game and had my friend two games to zero. I was only three points away from taking the match in a clean three-game sweep. But something happened. I started to drift and lose focus. To make a long story short, I flamed out and went down three games to two. The sting of defeat is always more acute when you’ve already begun to celebrate before victory is earned.

 

On the drive home I wondered how many business founders have always imagined that the surest succession plan – the sale of the business to their own children – is a slam-dunk, only to find out too late that their children love their jobs but hate risking capital.

 

The plan is to talk later

 

I also wondered how many business owners never really know how to broach the subject of selling the business to their kids. The issue feels so emotionally complex and dangerous; the best plan is to plan to have the conversation…later. Many business owners in my audiences express to me the sentiment that if their kids were “real” business owners they would make the first move and raise the subject of a buy out. Similarly, kids will say “hey, I’m waiting for the big guy to make the first move.”

 

I wondered how many families feel the sting of defeat, never experiencing what could have been a great transition because no one knew how to start what is perhaps the most important conversation of a business owner’s life.

 

The blunt truth is that too often owners never have the conversation. Life unfolds, and parents who are controlling shareholders become incapacitated and die. And then their family discovers that the owner has done what feels so utterly right: he or she has treated their children “fairly” and proceeded to gift, via the owner’s will, an equal number of shares to each child, irrespective of whether the children are working in the business or not.

 

What unfolds next is unpredictable and often wealth destroying. Children working in the family business can find themselves reporting to their brothers and sisters outside the business. And too often children outside the business are disappointed with the dividend stream and clamor for more. Many children on the outside looking in assume that their siblings working in the business are overpaid – not because they know this to be true, but because they find themselves awash with emotion about what the business is, what it was and where it ought to go.

 

Exceptional advisors force awkward conversations

 

Advisors can play a hugely influential role in sparking the right conversation among the family about the sale of the business – when everyone is still healthy and thinking clearly. When the answer emerges that there is a buyer in the house, what a magnificent event for the family to celebrate: an orderly transition. This natural trimming of the family tree forces ownership into one branch of the family – ownership by someone taking risks, with real skin in the game, just like the founder had so many years ago.

 

But if the answer emerges that the children rather like their jobs but are not interested in risking their capital, then the parent can get on with the job of selling the business outside the family. At least everyone has exercised control over his or her own future. Junior can hardly blame his parents for selling a business that he’s taken a pass on buying. I haven’t met too many business owners who can afford to gamble the retained earnings in their business on the idea that a son or daughter who doesn’t want to buy the business will run it profitably throughout the owner’s long retirement – a retirement that will likely be longer and more expensive than most imagine.

 

Find the end before the end finds you

 

When you’re up two games and business is going great, don’t forget why you started your business in the first place. It was to make money. Do your last deal by finding the end of your business before the end finds you. And when you do, celebrate the fact that the best is yet to come and that it has everything and nothing to do with you. Your legacy was never your business – it’s your family. So focus on making things right for the people you care about. That’s how founders who are mothers and fathers are measured and remembered.

 

If gifting money to your children, instead of gifting your business, feels problematic, think about why that is.

 

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Are you accidentally putting your next generation at risk? by Family Wealth Coach

Are you accidentally putting your next generation at risk? by Family Wealth Coach

 

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No one wants to think that their successors would be in harm’s way of any kind, as a matter of fact, most leaders of family businesses are actively working to ensure that the next generation is not at risk. Who would want otherwise?

 

But there are certain conversations that need to happen, or it can put the next generation at substantial risk. Let’s take a look at one of those conversations.

 

Kelly Lector and Jennifer Pendergast, the authors of the book Roadmap, offer a thought that there is a single critical theme that must be handled properly, if a succession is going to be successful. That theme is Shared Vision.

 

The overriding theme of the book is that it is critical to invest time and resources to develop a vision for the future of the family business, and it should be started sooner rather than later. But this kind of vision casting is often overlooked by business families for five great reasons:

  1. It’s not action oriented — it doesn’t seem practical and it seems like a waste of time
  2. It typically doesn’t solve a particular problem at hand
  3. Many families don’t know how to do it, what questions to ask, who should be involved, or who should lead it
  4. Sometimes there’s a fear of asking big questions in case stakeholders [including children in the business, sibling partners, etc.] have different answers
  5. They fear conflict – avoiding the conflict is much easier than facing it

 

These are good reasons. Unfortunately, not facing them can put succession at risk. It’s better to clearly understand the motivations of all the constituents sooner, rather than later. What would happen if you reached a crucial moment in the succession, only to discover that someone has a completely different goal? If there is uncertainty in the business succession with the owners, it will affect all stakeholders. Clarity of vision helps ensure confidence for everyone involved.

 

So what kind of questions would you ask if you wanted to arrive at a shared vision? Here is just a handful:

  • What are we trying to be as a family? As individuals? As a business?
  • How will we know when we’ve achieved it?
  • Why is it important for us to own this asset together? Is it because it’s profitable? It keeps the family together? It is our heritage and our purpose?
  • Under what conditions would you sell?
  • Is it important that a family member lead the business?

 

You may want to consider having some conversations with stakeholders, having a family meeting, surveying stakeholders, and becoming more prepared to take on hard questions. If your values, principles, and vision are aligned, you can likely have a shared vision and smoother continuity. If you have different values, different principles, and a different vision, perhaps you can’t follow the same purpose.

 

We encourage you to start a process of continuity planning, not just succession planning. Succession implies a single event, while continuity implies an ongoing process. Plan the future by involving people who will be a part of it.

 

Do you have a shared vision?

The New EBITDA: Emotions Before Interest Taxes and Depreciation

The New EBITDA: Emotions Before Interest Taxes and Depreciation by Tom Deans, Ph.D.

 

Everyday Business Tom Deans

 

Sitting in the departure lounge at LAX, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between an investment banker and his younger associate. I learned two things. First (and most business travelers can relate), it is amazing how cavalier people are about discussing confidential details in public places. The second confirmed something I had been thinking about family businesses for some time.

 

The older of the two bankers was whining about how he thought the slam-dunk deal they had just presented was now probably never going to happen. On and on he grumbled about the time he had spent running the numbers, lining up partners and generally bringing the deal to a crescendo, only to have the business owner change his mind about selling.

 

The investment banker was completely perplexed about why the offer, the numbers, the multiples that looked so good weren’t enough to entice the owner to do the deal of a lifetime.

 

It took everything I had to stop myself from leaping into the conversation and selling him a copy of Every Family’s Business (it wouldn’t have been the first time). But I exercised extraordinary restraint and settled back and listened to him talk about the clever structure of the deal, the tax that could have been saved and the instant wealth the owner would have secured if only he had been smart enough to take the deal.

 

Emotions are Squishy – Not the Stuff of Deal-Makers in Suits

 

The funny thing about listening in on a conversation is that the longer you listen the harder it is enter the conversation. So I bit my tongue and instead simply wondered how many other business brokers, M&A professionals and investment bankers expend such effort trying to bring deals to fruition only to have sellers back out. I wondered how an entire industry of intermediaries could so badly underestimate the emotional connection that owners have to their businesses, and also fail to understand how these emotions can scupper so much good work and extraordinary planning and lead the owner to ultimately destroy the business’s value.

 

When really bright finance experts hear the word “emotions” you can so often see their eyes roll back and the calculators shut off. Yet students of the greatest financiers of all time – deal-makers like Warren Buffett – know that these people get deals done by running the numbers and then engaging business owners in the one corner of their life where most number crunchers don’t go – their family. It is the rare rainmaker who has both the left and right brain firing on all cylinders.

 

warren buffett

Warren Buffett

Buffett and other great deal-makers know that the sale of a business will typically result in a “liquidity event” that will leave owners with more wealth than they feel comfortable consuming. Most business owners accumulate wealth precisely by denying themselves consumption. Sellers will often kill deals, blaming a low bid price, but there’s almost always much more at play.

 

Reducing An Owner’s Life Work to a Number is Depressing

 

Most deal-makers underestimate the guilt and remorse sellers feel when they reduce their life’s work to a single number. It feels so crass and empty and hollow to imagine that decades of risk-taking, relationships and earned status in their community will end the day a check is cut and control is relinquished.

 

That’s why so many business owners don’t do their last deal. That’s why so many let their death be the event that triggers the transfer of controlling interest of their business to family – typically ill-prepared family members uninterested in continuing the business.

 

With universities, associations and institutes granting so many awards dedicated to perpetuating family businesses at any cost, it’s the duty of intermediaries to serve family business owners with a counterbalancing narrative that places the preservation of capital at the center of more intelligent estate plans.

 

Preserved capital from the sale of a family business – capital a former owner can then deploy for philanthropic endeavors and for funding the next generation’s own businesses – and not an operating business that’s well past its shelf life is what pays homage to the most enduring legacy: family and community.

 

Buffet is Both Psychotherapist and Financier

 

I really wanted to tell the two guys in the airport that Buffett’s best deals had come after he cemented his own family business succession plan. Buffett can easily look into the eyes of any family business owner and talk with authenticity. He can empathize with a business owner’s struggle and can explain why selling the business is the key to securing their greatest and most enduring legacy – their family and their philanthropy.

 

I didn’t have the guts to chime in and say, “Fellas, I’ve really been enjoying your conversation but there’s way more to doing deals than running the numbers.” Deals get done based on trust and respect earned by intermediaries paying homage to the things in a business that transcend money. Intermediaries who approach this emotional subject like one more thing to check off on their due diligence list will be outed before the coffee is poured. Business owners can feel the disingenuous long before they actually hear it.

 

For most owners, the sale of their business represents the end of their professional careers and a major overhaul of who they are and where they fit in. Anticipation of the disappearance of their status as business owner, employer and boss often means the sale never gets completed.

 

Intermediaries who can honor the risk-taking that has gone into creating a business and connect that risk to something more enduring, like family and philanthropy, will themselves be participating in something that transcends money. A guy like Buffett, who is still driving hard deals while giving away half the wealth earned from those deals, tells you precisely what motivates him and his family.

 

Wealth with purpose: scoff at this soft, simple idea, diminish its importance in closing deals, and you’ll be the one sitting in an airport lamenting the one that got away.

 

PS: Most people wearing earphones in airports are only pretending to be listening to music.

 

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Why Do Family Business Owners Often Die at their Desk? by Tom Deans, Ph.D.

Why Do Family Business Owners Often Die at their Desk? by Tom Deans, Ph.D.

Everyday Business Tom Deans

 

I was speaking to a friend who owns a successful manufacturing business and asked him when he plans to sell his business”. His response echoed something that I’m hearing more and more from business owners in my audience. “I can’t afford to sell – if I sell and take the proceeds and invest in this market, I couldn’t replace half my current salary”.

 

Of course the danger with this logic is that if unforeseen risk visits the business and it fails, my friend will neither have his salary nor the equity that he’s accumulated in the business over the past 20 years.

 

Misaligned financial interests of family members

 

But here’s the real problem. My friend, like so many, has other shareholders, namely other family shareholders who aren’t working in the business who want the sale proceeds now! His family dinners can best be described as a food fight waiting to happen. What to do?

 

What we do know is that doing nothing is a plan. Do nothing long enough and we know that a business owner will die at his desk. But where does the stock in the company go? Will it go to his or hers estate, to minority shareholders?

 

What usually unfolds is chaos especially when family is often left out of the planning loop. Financial advisors are doing a much better job these days of getting business owners to play the “what if” game. In fact there is a brand new breed of advisor brandishing a tough to acquire professional designation known as the Certified Business Exit Consultant — CBEC. I delivered a keynote to a recent convention of CBECs in Boston and they’re a rather impressive group of professionals committed to exit planning excellence.

 

The best advisors never stop reminding clients about the risks of business ownership

 

Asset allocation has forever been the first principal of sound investing. As investors near retirement, advisors constantly rebalance portfolios away from equity to income. The business owner who allows their high salary to cloud their thinking about the dangers to their equity in their business don’t need to travel Las Vegas to gamble – they’re already there!! Extraordinary advisors will keep this risk in focus for their business owner clients and work on divestiture strategies and timelines that meet the financial needs of both business owners today, their retirement tomorrow and the needs of surviving family.

 

Savvy advisors remind business owners that the sale process seldom unfolds quickly and even after the sale of a business, the new owners may either insist or welcome the seller to continue working and drawing a salary. It took our family 5 years to find the right buyer for our business and another 4 years to receive the full sale proceeds – that’s almost a decade from start to finish. Business owners in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s often completely underestimate just how long and emotionally draining it is to exit their business.

 

A high salary can obscure your exit

 

You can and likely will draw a salary for many more years while actively pursuing your exit strategy. So get cracking by understanding that your high salary may be clouding your exit planning judgment and carrying with it extra risk. Risk is like stress: when you think you don’t have any, you almost always have too much. And too much a good thing is almost always fatal.

 

What will you do today to put your exit plan in motion?

 

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Building a Family Business that Lasts

Building a Family Business that Lasts

 

Dr. Joseph H. Astrachan, Executive Director of the Cox Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University, speaks on on the topic of Building a Family Business That Lasts and provides viewers with four key points to walk away with. 

A Family Wired For Perpetual Dependence by Tom Deans

A Family Wired For Perpetual Dependence by Tom Deans, Ph.D.

 

Everyday Business Tom Deans

 

When the sale of a family business is all about a founder becoming wealthy and their children losing their jobs, you can see why so few ever put themselves in play and sell.

 

The CEO – the Chief Emotional Officer (Mom, and increasingly Dad) – just can’t stand to see the family pull itself apart. Killing the business with love has always felt like a better plan.

 

With a wave of aging business owners trying to figure out how they’ll fund their retirement, you can understand the temptation to simply throttle back on their day-to-day involvement and draw a salary while Junior runs the business until the final curtain falls.

 

Of course, as I’ve discussed in previous articles, with owners living longer, it’s improbable that Junior is going to hang around the business into his or her 70s, when Mom and Dad finally reach their 90s and hand over the reins of control – not operating control, I mean real control, control of the voting stock transferred when the last parent dies.

 

How About an Exit Where Everyone Makes Money?

 

But what if an advisor could frame the exit of the controlling shareholder as the day when all family members become wealthy? Far too often, death is the triggering event for the transfer of stock. Few children are offered an opportunity to risk their capital to buy the stock of their parents’ business at an early age. I recommend that when a child is 14, the parents and advisors begin the process of implanting the idea that the family business will be bought, not gifted, and that employment is different from ownership.

 

For a variety of reasons, the majority of parents signal that there’s no real or pressing need to recycle dollars in the family: “Hang around long enough, Junior, and all this will be yours – for free.”

 

Of course we know that nothing is ever really free and that while the ownership question is left hanging, there are as many underpaid children working in family businesses, as there are overpaid children. My experience on the speaking circuit is that few overpaid children ever risk their capital to buy out their parents. Why derail the gravy train? Parents who use their business to purchase and control family harmony do more harm than good and always pay the greatest price of all – a family wired for perpetual dependence.

 

Family Business Math

 

The dysfunction around the issue of compensation percolates and festers because the stakes have always been high. When Junior complains about low wages, some parents simply say, “If you don’t like what you’re paid, leave.” Emotionally and financially, it’s never been easy for a child to quit a parent’s business.

 

Child Quitting Over Compensation + Aging Business Owner = Less Inheritance For Junior. 
You can see how family business math becomes really interesting when only one child working in the business quits and one or more siblings stay and toe the family line. Trimming the family tree, hacking off a limb, call it what you want, the family business too often becomes the fault line in relationships and turns financially advantaged families into emotionally bankrupt ones.

 

The equation for this scenario looks like this:

 

The Value of the Family Business When Child Leaves Over Compensation = More Money for Remaining Children

 

The Link Between Compensation and Wealth Protection Is Profound

 

What if the mathematics of a great exit has always been rudimentary? What if advisors could convince clients that all family members, both inside and outside the business, can build a great exit plan collaboratively? What if the key to this plan is asking children to risk capital and perpetuate the business for the right reason – because they think they can grow it and make money? Now there’s a novel idea.

 

For this to be successful, family members working in a business need to be paid for the value they add. There are significant risks to an owner’s successful exit when compensation for family members is too low or too high. Getting compensation right is one of the pre-conditions for leading a business to be sold to someone, either inside or outside the family – but sold nevertheless.

 

Dynastic Families Understand This Equation

 

Business Owner Paid Appropriately + Children in Business Paid Appropriately + All Other Relatives Outside the Business Not Paid at All by the Business = Business Sold, Wealth Protected, Happy Family

 

It’s simple addition – so simple it’s often overlooked. Treat your family business like a drive-thru ATM and pay family members not involved in the business for work not done, and your exit will be a tad complicated and painful. Keep treating your children as indentured laborers and you’ll get to the same place. If you’re a business owner, all of this can seem difficult. It is, but it’s not impossible and it’s definitely worth getting compensation right.

 

If you are an advisor, are you really prepared to leave your spreadsheets in your briefcase and talk to clients about important issues like compensating family members appropriately? Can you see the link between compensation and protecting your client’s wealth is an emotional issue? Can you see that the hard emotional issues are where advisors earn client trust?

 

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Long Odds That Family Is Best Suited to Lead Your Business – Tom Deans, Ph.D.

Long Odds That Family Is Best Suited to Lead Your Business – Tom Deans, Ph.D.

Everyday Business Tom Deans

It was on the 18th green that a friend who owns a successful executive search firm answered a question about family business leadership that had challenged me from the very first day I sat down to write Every Family’s Business. Finally the penny dropped.

 

As he stared at his improbable 60-foot putt he opined that his chances were about as good as filling a CEO position in only a week. His comment got me thinking about how difficult it must be to find the very best talent for the most important position in a firm – the CEO.

 

Picking up the conversation after he completed his painful third putt, I asked him how many candidates he would interview for a CEO position. His response surprised me. He explained that his staff would typically review more than 1,000 resumes, creating a shortlist of 100. A fresh set of eyes would then whittle that list down to 25 and subsequent telephone interviews would narrow the field further to 10 to 20 candidates selected for face-to-face interviews.

 

When I think about a process that starts with more than 1,000 candidates in a non-family business and compare that with a family with, say, four children, often with only the eldest male destined (ordained) for the corner office, the math seems a little lopsided.

 

You don’t have to be an expert in probability theory or regression analysis to discern that non-family businesses have the best chance of finding the very best talent. One only need look at the hyper-growth in the number of family business institutes and consultants obsessing over the grooming of talent to understand the magnitude of the problem, if not the futility of trying to hire the CEO exclusively from within the family.

 

The Family Still Needs to Oversee the Professionals

 

When the management gene pool in a family is shallow, you’d think that the obvious solution would be for the controlling shareholder to sell the business and protect family wealth to fund his or her long, expensive retirement and the financial future of the heirs. Instead, it has become fashionable these days for well-intentioned consultants to pander to the founder’s lust for legacy and to recommend that the family hire professional managers, thereby creating space and time for junior to grow into the position.

 

The juniors I meet in my audiences – who are often in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s – tell me their hired-gun CEOs are there to stay – permanently.

 

The fatal flaw with this plan lies in the question of who will manage the hired gun. Thrusting the succeeding generation into positions of oversight when they have, or more precisely because they have, failed to demonstrate success in the leadership of the firm has got to be one of the most dangerous threats to a family’s wealth.

 

When a family has concentrated its wealth in one stock – the family business – you can see how high the stakes become. And just like a 3-putt, there can be no joy in placing children in positions of leadership and oversight for which they are ill suited.

 

Leadership succession planning is often confused with ownership succession planning – whether a leader is hired from within or from outside the family, the risk to wealth does not abate. The concentration of family wealth in one business remains a clear and present danger.

 

As a trusted advisor, how would you caution a family business client about their leadership choices, especially when it’s obvious that when the odds of landing the very best CEO are 1 in 1,000 with a proper search, the likelihood of finding that “one” when the search is limited to just the family is about the same as hitting a hole in one.

 

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Should your son die at his desk too? by Paul Cronin

Should your son die at his desk too? by Paul Cronin

 

 

stpi_clarity2

 

Whenever I read about people who say that they love their business or career and “will never leave”, I wish I could ask them, “so, you want to die at your desk, eh?”  Some might say “yes”, or the equally foolish, “carry me out boots first”.  I wonder, would they give that same advice to their son or daughter?  Would that be the best that they could offer?  “Son, I know you love your work as much as I do mine, I hope you get the pleasure of dying at your desk too”.

 

I rather doubt many fathers (or mothers) would be offering up that one.  But if that is how you live and work (and you are undoubtedly your son’s or daughter’s role model), why wouldn’t they follow in your footsteps; right into the grave.

 

We know that many people equate retiring to a form of death, or at least a kind of withdrawl to a boring, meaningless life.  There is no need for that.  You need to spend some time planning various aspects of your life:  volunteering, philanthropy, faith, income-producing work (notice I did not say a 60 hour/week JOB), leisure activities, activities with family, activities with spouse/partner, intellectual activities, etc., Next, you need to identify and learn to counter-balance your fears.  Last, you need to learn how you make key decisions (your decision-making style), and realize that each style can bring limitations that lead to short-sighted, even dangerous outcomes.  If you learn to do all three of these, you can (irrespective of income level) start to plan for a meaningful life, full of purpose.

 

Jack Beauregard, (my business partner), has written two books in this area, The Power of Balance (2001) and Finding Your New Owner (2011), in each he describes a specific process anyone can use to learn the transition from “working all the time, because that is all you can think of doing”, to a “life in balance”: work, faith, family, leisure, etc..  In fact, if we think of the many transitions we have already made in life:  school, marriage, parenthood, career change, etc., we all have the skills to make successful transitions.  Mostly, we need the courage to do so, and permission to think about it as well (we control our own courage and may grant ourselves permission).

Family Business Owner Driving the Kids Crazy – Someone Call Security – Tom Deans

Family Business Owner Driving the Kids Crazy – Someone Call Security – Tom Deans

 

Everyday Business Tom Deans

 

Last month I was speaking at a convention in Vancouver and took a question from the audience that made me laugh, even though I’d heard versions of the question before: “How do I get my 85-year-old father to stop coming to the office and causing all sorts of disruption?”

 

Before I could answer someone in the crowd shouted, “Remove the wheelchair ramp to the office!” The place went crazy. Laughing uncontrollably myself, I tried to get the room back on track by sharing my own family business story.

 

Now we all know it’s the prerogative of business owners to work as long as they choose – it’s one of the great perks of owning a business: voting control = management control. The great casualty is most often the succeeding generation, who are forced to walk the fine line between respecting a parent’s right to work and maintaining responsibility for driving profits through innovation.

 

But sometimes those profits are elusive precisely because parents never, ever leave and change is discouraged.

 

Fortunately, there is a simple and often overlooked solution that can channel the abilities and desires of both generations while keeping the fundamental goal of making money in focus – it’s called the Honorary Chairman.

 

Honorary Chairman: Complete with Job Description

 

I still have a vivid memory of my grandfather’s last business card, carrying the title “Founder and Honorary Chairman.” I loved that title and looking back, I think he did too – the title and the role he carved out for himself was that of wise counsel. It was a job that in some peculiar way suited him, as the founder of a significant manufacturing business, perfectly – a job he was driving toward his entire career. He was a naturally inclined philosopher and contrarian who loved provoking debate – the “why” was always more interesting than the “how” for him. Most importantly, in the last chapter of his life this role was carved out, respected and resourced but was really limited to board meetings and special projects.

 

The idea of the Office of the Honorary Chairman – and the literal office – always remained a safe haven from the threat of a mundane retirement (code for being relegated to staying home with my grandmother). The title was not, however, a license to wade into the details of ongoing operational issues. Rather, it was a place and a space for the founder to think and offer historical context and principled counsel without all the background noise of everyday business issues that too often cloud judgment.

 

Interestingly enough, I watched my father do precisely the same thing when I assumed the position of president of his manufacturing business. Culturally, the notion of wise counsel has resided in all our family businesses.

 

Business owners should be encouraged to establish truly independent advisory boards. Your freshly minted Honorary Chairman ought to be charged with the task of creating that board and chairing the meetings. This is precisely where his or her energies can best be leveraged – for everyone’s personal and professional sanity.

 

Advisors who ask their business owner clients, “When do you see yourself disengaging from the operations of the business?” can bring much-needed relief to the succeeding generation. Advisors who can encourage the establishment of an advisory board can themselves participate on these boards and thereby gain a front row seat to help families with their transitions.

 

Are you a strategic advisor offering new ideas or one responding with technical solutions after the fact?

 

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