My Dad won't talk about Succession

family business in five Dec 30, 2021

You’ve worked in the family business for many years now. Perhaps you got some experience elsewhere first and then came and joined your parents with a view to taking the helm one day. Or maybe you’ve literally been in the business since you left school or university. Either way, you know the company inside out, you’ve spent years and years training, learning, developing. Getting ready for when the time comes that your Dad wants to retire – step back and let you take the company forward into the future.

The only problem is…your Dad won’t talk about the future. He hasn’t shown any signs of wanting to retire or given you any indication that he wants you to prepare to take over. Every time you try to talk about it he just says ‘We’ve got so much going on at the moment, we’ll talk about that nearer the time’…. Or ‘Do I look like I’m ready to just sit back and spend my days playing golf?!’ 

Whilst your Dad may not be ready to think about the future, YOU are. You need to know that you’ve got a real purpose in being here, that one day it will be YOU running the ship. You’ve got your own family to think about – their financial security and stability. If you wanted to just spend your life working for someone you could have done that anywhere else (and probably earned a lot more money for a lot less stress!). But you’ve put the years in because you KNOW that you can take this business to the next level. But the thoughts start to creep in.. ‘Does my Dad not trust me with the company?’ ‘Does he think it’s going to fail underneath my leadership?’ ‘Do our staff trust me to do as good a job as my Dad?’

So how can you get the conversation started and, more importantly, get the process of succession started?

The first thing is to try and understand WHY your Dad doesn’t want to talk about succession. You need to sit him down and have an honest and frank conversation, no matter how uncomfortable it is. In my experience there are usually a few common reasons why the older generation don’t want to talk about succession (but he will have definitely been THINKING about it, trust me). The primary one is because he’s worried about not having a purpose. His blood, sweat and tears have gone into building your company and in the early days he would have sacrificed everything to make it a success. He would have worked every hour God sent, missing out you growing up, not having much time for a marriage or friends or hobbies. He would have been the first person in and the last person out (in fact I bet he still is!). He doesn’t know anything else and so the thought of waking up one day and NOT being the captain in charge of the ship will terrify him.

The second approach is to think about it practically in terms of the good of the family business. If your Dad got hit by a bus tomorrow what would happen to the company? Without a plan of action (some people call it a drop dead plan!) there is a REAL risk that everything could collapse. So talk to him about the need for a robust succession plan so that the business could continue if anything were to happen to him. In what would be a time of utter turmoil, you and he could rest assured that there is a clear plan for the business, your staff, your customers and everyone else who currently relies on your Dad to make things happen. By taking this practical approach it will start your Dad thinking, and hopefully talking about the future and what he really wants for the rest of his life.

The final thing to think about is giving your Dad a new focus. Even if he’s not ready to completely step away from the company, perhaps there is a new ambassadorial role for him so he’s not bogged down with the day-to-day running? It might be going to see your customers and finding out what more you can do to service them better? This in itself is a fantastic PR opportunity with your customers and a chance to get closer to them (and maybe even get some new business!). Perhaps he’s always wished he had more time to get involved with your local community or charities? He would also make a brilliant mentor to other young entrepreneurs – he will have so much wisdom and experience from his time building his own company and they will find it absolutely priceless.

Succession Planning isn’t just a one-off project. It’s a journey over a period of time and there will be tears of anger, sadness and joy along the way.

But let’s recap on the three simple things you can do immediately to get things moving –

ONE – Understand why your Dad doesn’t want to talk about succession. Allow him to share and get to the bottom of what’s holding him back.

TWO – Think about it practically. Succession planning is crucial for the future of the staff, your customers and everyone else who would be affected should anything happen to your Dad.

THREE – Give your Dad a new focus. Create a new role for him – allow him to enjoy doing the parts he loves and leave the day-to-day running to you.

You may have to have some difficult conversations and your Dad will have to face his own mortality. But when all is said and done, you absolutely do not want to see the business that your Dad has built disintegrate because of a simple lack of planning. So be brave and start the conversation.

I’ll leave you with one final thought – the more successful your family business, the bigger your family’s impact.

 Author: Amalia Brightley-Gillott, MD & 2nd Generation

Family Business Place

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