MEMBER TIP: How to tell your Dad to bugger off!

Amalia is Managing Director of Family Business Place and has been working with families in business for over 13 years. Here she shares tips on how to tackle one of the biggest problems for any family firm - how to get the older generation to 'let go'.

Succession. It’s a tricky thing for family businesses to start talking about. Let alone actually implement. But even when the reins have been officially handed over, it’s not always the end of the story. 

On one hand you’ve got the parents. The business is all they’ve ever known. They’ve sacrificed time with family and friends and probably all the big occasions because the business came first. It provided a livelihood for the family and it’s employees (who are basically family too). They eat, sleep and drink the business. It’s 24/7. 

So for them, retirement is pretty daunting. The thought of waking up tomorrow and not having a reason to get out of bed is terrifying. You might think they’d be happy to offload the stress and just play golf or go on multiple holidays? But handing over your business to someone else to care for is like asking someone to look after your first-born child...for the rest of its life. 

No matter how successful the business becomes, it’s a machine that needs feeding. As the leader it’s on your mind every minute of the day. You remember every mistake you made, every gut-wrenching risk you took. The business that stands in front of you today is there because you made it happen. Whether you started the company or are the fifth generation at the helm; under your entrepreneurial leadership it has grown and flourished. 

In the other camp we’ve got the next generation. The young, hungry, ambitious children of afore-mentioned entrepreneurs. They’ve been waiting in the wings; soaking up everything they can from their parents. But now is their time to shine. 

They’re in their 30s, they’ve been working for the company for some time now (or they’ve been working in industry and are ready to bring their skills back to the family firm). They’re capable, they’ve proven themselves, and most importantly - despite seeing the sacrifices their parents made - they still want it. 

So the stage is set, the paperwork has been sorted, the staff are on board, the ‘bedding in’ time has finished…. the business has a new leader. 

… except here’s Dad. In the office, chatting to staff, wandering into his old office, answering the phone. 

The man who’s supposed to be enjoying retirement. The man who said ‘Now it’s over to you, son’. 

He’s still ‘popping’ into the office several times a week. At first it seems sweet - a bit of a novelty for everyone. But before you know it he’s telling staff ‘Don’t do it that way, do it like this.’ They don’t know who to listen to. Who’s their boss? 

Sound familiar? I’m not surprised. Because ‘letting go’ of their baby is one of the hardest things to do. I see it day in, day out. It’s actually one of the biggest reasons family relationships break down. You’ve made it through the entire succession process without any major arguments yet when it comes to your Dad finally stepping back he just can’t do it. And that causes tension and frustration between you which spills into family life outside of the office. 

For everyone’s sake you just want to say ‘DAD, BUGGER OFF!’

But it’s not that simple because you love him and you don’t want him to feel you don’t value and appreciate everything he’s built. So if he’s still got a fire in his belly and he’s not quite ready to kick-back and retire just yet, why not help him to find his new purpose in life? Here are a few ideas which I’ve seen work in many family businesses -

  • Make him an official ‘ambassador’ for the company with a proper job description so he knows where he stands, and what’s expected of him.
  • Ask him to write your company history and produce a beautiful book to give to staff, clients and family. 
  • Set up a monthly/quarterly forum whereby you sit down together and ask him to help you with some of your biggest business challenges. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen so make the most of having his experience on tap. 
  • Encourage him to volunteer as a mentor - there’s so much he can teach young, budding entrepreneurs
  • Help him find a Non Executive Director position - there will be lots of companies out there looking for his wisdom 
  • Set up a foundation or charity together that he can run to help causes close to his heart

However you chose to manage your Dad’s reluctance to let go, remember that you wouldn’t be here with this opportunity in front of you, if it wasn’t for him. 

My Mum has a wonderful saying - ‘You can always get another business, but you can’t get another family.’ 

Ain’t that the truth.