Can I leave it to the children?

Albert Jan Thomassen

I often get asked this question by business owners who wonder if they should put the burden of owning and running a family business on the shoulders of their children.

They remember the sleepless nights, tough times and challenges they had to face in their own business life. In my opinion, a better way of phrasing the question might be: “Why do I want to pass on the business to my children?”

In a recent seminar this question was asked to the participants all facing succession in the near future.  Inner motives characterized most answers from the senior generation: ‘It brings pleasure and is motivating’, ‘It makes us proud if they want to continue the business’, ‘Just ego-driven: the legacy will be continued’ and ‘We want to give them the opportunities we have had’. Some gave an answer by giving advice to their children: ‘If you want to be a business owner then being an owner of your own family business is the best alternative you can imagine’ and ‘You have to work to make a living, so may as well work for yourself’.

An inner motive to pass on the business does raise the question of if you can bother your children with the business – as the desire to transition is coming from you – rather than from them.  While having this motivation is fine, it is also important that you encourage and allow your children to discover for themselves their own inner motivations and talents.  You will not be ‘bothering them with the journey’ if it is a journey of their own free choosing.  If they are eager for the challenge and equally motivated to take over the legacy, then you can really be proud that this brings pleasure to you both that the business will make a successful generational transfer.

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