This past week I was in Toronto for a few days, where in addition to meeting with various interesting people, I also attended an event put on by IFEA (Institute of Family Enterprise Advisors – where I gained some insights into a subject that is beginning to affect workplaces and families everywhere.

The presentation was entitled “The Multigenerational Complexities Business Family Succession” which sounded like it was going to be right up my alley, but made me almost feel like I would not be learn much of anything new. I am happy to report that I was wrong on both counts.

The presenter, Lisa Taylor, founder of The Challenge Factory, started off by asking a few questions about retirement age and life expectancy, and as soon as I heard the first few answers, I had a good idea of where this talk was going. But I had no idea how eye-opening it would be.

Let me summarize a bit by saying that when 65 became the “official” retirement age, life expectancy was 62. The fact that many people continue to operate from a paradigm of “65 = retirement” is pretty befuddling in that light.

What ensued was an in-depth discussion about how increased (and increasing) life expectancy has affected workforces everywhere, as many people who are approaching 65 are not interested in retiring, and instead wish to continue working, for a variety of reasons.

Taylor used an analogy of riding up an escalator, and looking up ahead of you, when all of a sudden the person nearing the top decides not to get off, but instead takes a step backwards in order to keep the ride going just a bit longer. (You can watch a brief video of Taylor talking about the escalator analogy on her website at

It does not take long for that one person at the top of the escalator, taking steps backwards, to begin to have adverse and dangerous effects on everyone else trying to ride to the top. This occurs in family businesses all the time, but also in many other kinds of workplaces.

In fact, the talk did not focus much on family business at all, but was actually quite interesting from a societal perspective, as longer life expectancy has created new realities for everyone, even if many people have not really noticed or begun to change their views of work lives.

On one of her slides, Taylor illustrated the difference between a typical career path using the “retire at 65” model that had prevailed through the second half of the past century, and a more recent variation that is becoming more prominent nowadays.

What struck me was her use of the expression “Transition with Purpose” that can occur at a couple of junctures in one’s work life, with a notable one (for me) around age 50. It seems that many people feel the need to make some sort of career transition at this age, and seeing this makes me feel more “normal”, as it really “fits” my reality.

If we had had more time during the discussion, I would have liked to talk about the concept of “Transition with Purpose” as it could benefit many business families.

What I am getting at here is the problem that many family businesses face when the founder keeps stepping backwards on the escalator, which results in many complications for the rest of the family and the business. My feeling is that if more time and effort is made in helping the founder find his or her “Transition with Purpose”, we would go a long way to minimize the number of these situations.

If we look at each of the two main words in the expression, I think that “transition” is the part that most people “get”, as the realities of aging and family life cycle mean that we go from one role to another over the course of a lifetime. But it is the “Purpose” part that seems much more elusive, and therefore requires more effort.

Every effort made to discover a worthwhile purpose is well worth it in the end.