The odds are pretty staggering – only 30% of family-owned businesses succeed in transitioning their business to the second generation.
For those transitioning to a third generation, the odds are even worse – only 10% succeed.
There’s a way to beat the odds – prepare. The best business transition plans happen over many years, both to allow the next generation to learn the family business and move up the leadership ranks and also to best prepare the business financially.
“A business needs a team of advisors to help them get through the transition,” says Tony Deutsch, CPA, MT, CGMA, a shareholder at Concannon Miller. “When developing a client exit plan, we partner with a business owner’s existing advisors, and/or bring in experienced advisors, such as Compass Point, a strategic partner of Concannon Miller that focuses on family business."
“How the business is transitioned will affect the livelihood of both the current and future owner, as well as the future success of the business as a whole, so it’s important that we start early and get it right.”
Leadership training and developing financial skills are the top two skills you need to succeed in taking over your family business.
A rising family business owner needs two types of financial training to be successful – skills that will help in the transition and sale of the business and skills you will need to run the financial part of your business.
Financial Skills for Business Transition: Purchasing your parents’ business may seem daunting unless you’re particularly cash flush. The good news is that transferring ownership of a business over time provides a lot more options. Also, selling or gifting an entire business in too short of a timeframe can result in unnecessary tax implications. A good first step is obtaining a high quality valuation performed by a Certified Valuation Analyst and then working with a CPA on the most tax advantageous options for your particular situation.
Financial Skills as the New Owner: Financial responsibilities are among the most crucial to the strategic success of your company. Will you make your budget? How will you find new revenue opportunities to expand your company? What are your most profitable products or services? How do you manage cash flow cycles? How do you time strategic purchases?
Whether you’ll have a daily role in the finances once you take over as CEO or whether there’s a CFO, controller or a whole financial team to handle those duties, there’s high value in you having business financial knowledge. These skills include how to understand financial statements and weighing tax planning strategies.
Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways and no two leaders are alike nor will they drive the same results. We see time and again in professional sports, a new coach can often have vastly different results with the same team.
There are great benefits to taking an in-depth personality test such as a Myers–Briggs Type Indicator or a DISC assessment. In addition to discovering your own personality and leadership traits, these tests can tell you how you best work with others. A major part of managing a business is managing its people, and the better you are at that, the more successful your company will be.
Transition Talks with Your Family
Well before you start working with your new executive team and employees, you’ll have to learn how to successfully navigate a possibly more challenging relationship – the one with your family.
“Love, power, and money. As Dean Fowler, a leading family business advisor and president of Dean Flower Associates, points out, these three forces shape the essence of the family business journey,” notes Tom Garrity, Compass Point’s managing partner. “Only with eyes wide open, will a family business legacy pass to the next generation. If I could point to one single factor that leads to a successful family business succession it would be the ability to discuss the undiscussables – love, power, and money.”
It’s a hefty conversation to have. The most effective family business transition conversations involve a lot of pre-planning before they’re undertaken. Some planning strategies to consider include:
- Implementing best practice governance structures to provide a forum for communication and accountability.
- Alignment as a family around values, purpose, and direction.
- A focus on reviewing the business results and what it must do next to remain competitive.
- Engaging a third party business advisor to facilitate the meetings and provide coaching when emotions run high.
Gaining Experience in the Company
The most successful family businesses don’t give out CEO titles based on last name alone – they make their successors earn them.
Your position in the company should match your skillset – if you’re a recent college graduate, there is likely value in you starting in an entry-level position. If you’ve already worked in the family business for several years, moving up the ranks – especially serving in a COO or other second-in-command position – is the best on-the-job training you can get.
Some incoming family business owners find a lot of value in pursuing leadership training or even higher degrees, such as a MBA. It also can be valuable to connect with other rising family business owners, possibly through your local Chamber of Commerce or other business networking organizations.