Succession Planning in Business

There was plenty of attention on Queen Elizabeth this week, celebrating her sapphire anniversary on the throne. I laughed to myself, thinking about Prince Charles and how he must feel. “Mummy, when do I get my turn?”

If you are unfamiliar with the “sapphire” anniversary, join the club, but that’s probably because not many people make it to their 65th anniversary of anything. Of course not many people get to be called “Your Highness” for their entire adult life either.


Sticky Baton Syndrome

Back in 2015, I wrote a Quick Start Guide (whitepaper) called “Sticky Baton Syndrome (ask Prince Charles)”. So this week when we heard about this anniversary, it brought back the plight of this ultimate “heir apparent”, who unwittingly served as my illustrative sub-title

I don’t normally write about the Royal Family, preferring to share my thoughts on family business and business families, but some overlaps with the monarchy are inevitable.

The Sticky Baton Syndrome piece in fact mentioned Charles in the title only, and I chose him because he is the best known “poster boy” for it.

I recall fifteen years ago, when the woman who adorns every Canadian coin and our $20 bill celebrated her golden anniversary, and part of me thought that she should take the opportunity to walk away on top, sort of like some people were hoping Tom Brady would do this week after winning his unprecendented fifth Super Bowl.

But alas, no, she decided to hang on, and who can blame her, well, besides Charles, I mean?


Empire versus FamBiz; Career versus Birthright 

Family Businesses are known for their tendency to look at things with a very long-term view, compared to non-family companies who often only look out as far as their next quarterly earning report.

Age 65 used to be the “retirement age”, but 65 years “on the job” is almost unheard of, and when we do hear about it, it’s rarely in a complimentary way.

So how should we look at family business careers and what makes sense? Well every family is different, and each family business leader is too. But part of my answer lies in the word “career”.

What if the one holding the baton thought about their role as though it were a career, rather than a “birthright”?


Different Strokes

There is an old maxim about a 75-year life, divided into 3 periods of 25 years, where you start by learning for 25 years, then working for the next 25, and then giving back for 25.

That framework can work for some, though admittedly not that many people can afford to stop working at 50.

This idea that reaching a point in one’s life where there is a shift in focus fits with Andrew Carnegie’s modus operandi as well. He is quoted as saying “I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution”.

A shift in focus is required, and not everyone knows how to properly prepare for it.

My book SHIFT your Family Business STOP working in your Family Business, START working on your Business Family is all about that shift.


Dying at your Desk

Some people will actually “die at their desk” and a percentage of those would not have it any other way. I hope that those who are waiting for those folks’ batons fully understand what they are in for, because “business succession via death” has never been considered a “best practice”.

Even the papacy may have finally figured that out, with Pope Benedict actually becoming the first Pope in several centuries to actually retire instead of dying on the job.


The “Ideal” Way to Phase Out

Here are some suggestions on what a good situation might look like:

  • Scaling back the number of days worked each week
  • Gradually delegating tasks AND decision-making
  • Giving up the CEO role and remaining Board Chair
  • A gradual transfer of ownership to NextGen leadership

If you can start down each of these roads over staggered timeframes, even better.

A key element reported by those who have done this successfully is that they have something else that they are excited to go to, and that they never feel like they are being forced away from their role.

What are you excited to go to next?