Succession Planning - The Family Factor

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Most CEOs do not seriously start contemplating who their successors would be till...well, the 11th hour. Who could blame them? Nobody wants to think of retirement, let alone mortality, really.

But life, as we all know, is quite unpredictable. And sh*t happens, whether we're ready for it or not.

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I say it's always better to be prepared. And in the volatile landscape of commerce and business, that could spell the mighty difference between success and failure.

"Succession Planning: The 411"

Dr. Neal Burgis, PhD, an Arizona-based executive coach and the President/Founder of Burgis Successful Solutions, said in an article published in the winter 2010 issue of Nozzle Chatter, succession planning is all about developing a group of people who can and want to move into key roles to manage change and complexity.

However, he stressed that it is only after we visualize the success criteria for every key role that we can identify the real stars.

Why, oh, why?

Your business would not have run in the last 30 or so years without sound fundamentals and some form of business plan. The uncertainty would have probably driven you insane if not bankrupt already. But the mere fact that you are doing regular visits to the ADS conventions and reading this publication is a sure sign that you want to make it grow and last at least another 30 years.

Whatever reason you have for running your own business, no matter how successful, your company will at some point in time experience a loss that can destabilize it and the family. Every time an employee travels, a talent recruiter calls the office, or you have hiccups, there is risk. What if the heavens decide that you retire tonight?

So succession planning is like figuring out how you, the parent, can enjoy the fruits of your labor earlier than normal.

The family factor

Family businesses are very powerful because of connections brought about by the relationship based on, well, you guessed it, love. But pre-succession and the actual succession can be a period of considerable instability for the family and other stake holders. It can test the relationship as it is very difficult to take the emotion out of succession. That is the real reason why it is planned way ahead.

In our family, we never challenged the position of the father, as his role as the head of the family is reinforced by the role within the business. But we were encouraged to speak up and express our feelings and opinions, and we did that in constructive ways. Over time, father reduced his patriarchal position and gave greater control to us, which I think generated confidence in us to lead the business.

Empowering the leader in us

My siblings and I are now third generation owners and with the way the industry is changing, managing continuity is getting much necessary but more difficult. Our early exposure developed our opinion on the business. Summer jobs allowed us children to decide if we really wanted to join boss dad in the business that brought very good food on the table, a new truck every couple of years, and eventually, got us through college,.

Our parents started teaching us early, and most of our knowledge about the business came from them. I remember father’s many stories of grandpa bringing him to meetings with suppliers and customers. We often took trips to memory lane browsing his old photos with grandpa. And you will see smiles on his face every time.

Not surprisingly, our parents believed in the same approach. Starting as early as grade school, my siblings and I would report to the office during school breaks doing small tasks like encoding on the computer, sorting files, and filling up checks. Then the clerical stuff became trips to customers where we gained exposure to their networks and processes. As we grew older, we were given month long incentive trips to visit foreign offices and do on-the-job training in factories of our suppliers. It was a nice way of getting actual experience that formed the basis for what we want to do when we grow up. It also made us appreciate what our parents were doing.

We don’t mind that until now our father casted generational shadows that provided us with clear but set values, directions and standards that we all followed. After all, it’s the fundamental system that we were used to, and we know worked well.

Little by little we saw our future. The experience motivated us to bring out the best -- from the truth we know, from the courage to become like dad and ma.


It is interesting to know that studies have shown:

  1. Daughters and wives are rising to leadership positions in family businesses.
  2. Daughters taking over the business in traditionally male-dominated industries are increasing.
  3. Founders are likely using informal, subjective and paternistic style of managing.
  4. While the 2nd and 3rd generation leaders are more formal, objective and professional, likely to take a team-management style, and use outside consultants and advisers.

Browsing articles, we found out that there are two types of succession planning – managerial and technical. Managerial focuses on “who”, or the person that will be making the decisions, mobilize resources and direct others to action. On the other hand, technical focuses on the “what”, or the experience to run the company. What every family should consider can be a nice follow up article on the topic of succession.

We are grateful that our parents worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to leave us this business. If we children are like the new eagles in the sky, then our father and father are the ones who will blast the wind beneath our wings.

Thank you for the trust boss dad. We salute you, and hope the wind takes us to where ever we want to go.



This article came out in the Spring 2012 issue of the Nozzle Chatter. Download the actual article by clicking here .

The issue of Nozzle Chatter where this article was published was awarded an 18th Annual Communicator Award of Excellence for its Spring 2012 issue -- receiving top distinction in the association print newsletter category. The Communicator Awards, an international awards program, is an annual competition honoring creative excellence for communication professionals in advertising, corporate communications, public relations and identity work for print, video, interactive and audio. See press release here .

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