Getting started with your family business with the right advice

The start icon. Start symbol. Flat Vector illustration

Most of us usually have a pretty good idea of “what to do” in situations, and we think about our motivations to clarify the “why” as well. Today’s post is going to look at the “how and when”, and getting started on the important steps in generational transitions.

Timing can so often be crucial in life; how often have you either just been “in the right place at the right time”, or just missed an opportunity because an open door suddenly shut? Of course there are also occasions when we are too early as well.

For every “early bird” who gets the worm, there is a “second mouse” that gets the cheese. My bias is to move early, and I know that if anyone could ever convince me to try parachuting, I would likely pull the cord too early rather than too late.

In a business family, there is often a desire to have the hard work of a generation carry on into the next, and hopefully to subsequent generations as well.

One of my favourite expressions is “things don’t just happen by themselves”, and maybe that’s because working with these types of families has underscored the importance of taking action.

Inter-generational transitions are complex matters. The more people involved and the larger the asset base in question, the trickier things get. The more complex things are, the longer it will take to get things right.

So the “what” in this case is preparing the inter-generational transition, the “why” is because we want our hard work to benefit future generations of our family, and the “when” is, well, whenever I get around to it (!?).

Hopefully you caught the problem in the previous sentence.

As mentioned above, my bias is that it’s better to start too soon than too late. Complexity can slow things down more than you can ever imagine, and when important questions come up, and they always do, more time to get things right is very helpful.

When is the right time to start?

Sometimes you just know, and sometimes you need a push. Divine inspiration is not always forthcoming.

The two main generations, let’s call them NowGen and NextGen, don’t always see eye to eye on the timing.

In many cases the NextGen pushes for action but is met with resistance by the NowGen, but it can also be some variation of the reverse situation. Sometimes the NowGen is met with disinterest from the rising generation.

The biggest causes of delaying action on these key matters are: fear of conflict, fear of mortality, not knowing how to begin, not having anyone in charge of the process, and being too busy with more urgent matters.

Fear of Conflict

“We can’t talk about that, because it will cause a rift”. If that is your case, are you assuming that the underlying issue will just go away, or that the kids will figure it out after you’re gone?

Better to talk about it and smooth over any potential conflict while we can still modify whatever we have planned and explain all decisions. If you suspect conflict, getting out in front of it is better than the ostrich approach.


Talking about sex never got anyone pregnant, and talking about money never made anyone rich, so talking about your eventual death is not going to kill you either.

Get over it. If you are equating your exit from certain roles in your business with your death, that is another issue, and there are ways to deal with that too.

How/Where to Begin

Start talking about the subject and ask questions of other family members to get their ideas about what the future might look like when the next generation is in charge. Listen, and then ask more questions, and listen some more.

Who’s in Charge?

If you are reading this and liking what you see, then please go and take charge of the process. Then bring someone in from the outside who will help keep you on track.

Too Busy Putting Out Fires

Not everything that seems “urgent” is that important. Prioritize, delegate. Learn to work on what is truly important to the big picture.

You probably should have started a while ago, so get moving already.