An Eventual Succession of Business

July 18, 2018


If you don't mind, I'd like to get ahead of myself for a bit. I can't help thinking that there'll come a day when I'll want one, if not all, of my children to take over the family business. And I want them to be ready to do so.


When people say family business, I think of some large enterprise in which I sit in a room at the top of a skyscraper and make decisions while my underlings scuttle about in terror. To my side sits my dutiful child who is miraculously competent enough to take over an organization that it took me years—years!—to build.


There's also some sort of a criminal element to it all. Not because there has to be, but that's just what comes to mind when we're talking family business. I know it doesn't reflect well on me, but I just can't dream up a scenario in which nobody finds a horse head at the foot of his bed. The "business" needs to have some element of excitement.


But a family business is usually a bit more mundane. In fact, according to Joyce M. Rosenberg's article in The York Dispatch out today, "the government estimates that nearly a fifth of U.S. companies are family owned. So either what I'm imagining is off or almost one out of five American businesses are engaged in monstrous criminal activity. That would be a lot of people waking up to a lot of horse heads.


No, my guess is that most family businesses are fairly normal. Then why am I romanticizing about having my children take over? Why not let them seek their own adventures elsewhere? Still it's so tempting to want to reign them all in. After all, with my current insurance practice, a podcast, a consultancy, and and a touch of law, I've got the perfect amount of business to spread among my four children.


It says something about the power of carrying on a legacy. There's a real pull for us to want to see what we've worked so hard to establish move forward. No wonder so many boomers, as Rosenberg observes, are so anxious to make sure that the next generation is capable of doing what is required.


That being said, it's critical that we loosen up a little on what we expect from our kids. Rosenberg cites Lauri Union, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, as recommending that parents allow their children to be able to say, "I don't know if this is going to work for me. I may need an offramp."


In reality, I'm quite content that my children will pursue different paths in life. I expect them to think for themselves. But I do want for them to know that should they see the excitement in what I do, I am happy to train them, to work with them, and then to listen to them as they make the changes necessary to our business to help it thrive in the next generation.


Ultimately, I'm going to have to hand off my business at some point, even if in the distant future. Whatever my children eventually desire, I can at least start now to make that hand off appealing by smiling as I work, with or without the crime.

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