Out of Time

There is no one size fits all framework to succession planning.

Take the case of these families.

Emile is a third generation French-American from a family of jewelers. He stepped into the CEO position when his father decided to retire at the age of 50. Emile’s grandfather built the family jewelry business and trained his father at the age of 18. Emile’s father had spent decades learning and mastering the business. Emile, on the other hand, knew nothing of the business and was actually thinking of setting up a viennoiserie across the family’s flagship store. A succession planning advisor came in, assessed the situation and determined that Emile was not fit for the CEO’s position. The advisor did a robust talent search within and outside the company and found a fitting CEO who was Emile’s father’s VP of Operations. A succession plan was created. It specifically included skill-building and leadership development through coaching and training for Emile to properly prepare him to someday take up the reins of the business.

A Finnish family famous for their log cabin business was struck with disaster. The head of the family and business was tragically killed in an accident together with his heir-apparent son. The widow, Helga, took over the business while still grieving and distraught. Months passed and the employees and board members felt that Helga’s grieving was pulling the business down. Although Helga had been involved with the business working side by side with her husband for as long as they were together, her emotions were getting the best of her, and she couldn’t function well enough to keep the business afloat. Together with the remaining family members who were also members of the board, a succession planning advisor drew up a succession plan that allowed Helga to get back on her feet and focus on herself. Her brother-in-law who is in the timber business took the helm of his brother’s log cabin business for a couple of years while Helga underwent self-discovery, coaching and entrepreneurship development. When Helga was ready, her brother-in-law stepped down and handed back the company to her.

Kristoff comes from a restaurateur family. He is a fifth generation of the family in the business and manages 15 restaurants globally of which three have Michelin stars. Kristoff has three kids who all have interests in the restaurant business. Banking on his kids’ interest, he sought advisors to help prepare a succession plan. The advisors identified which part of the business the kids were each most interested in. Then they worked with them to create an education and career plan aligned to their interests. This included an entrepreneur development program for the younger generation to learn the ropes of the business. By the time Kristoff retires, he will have a ready successor to hand the restaurant business to.

The approach was not the same in these cases but a common denominator is timing. Earlier is always better when it comes to succession planning. Doing it early will give your family business time to name and prepare a successor or successors. The transition will go smoothly with no disruption to the business or the family.