LETTING GO

Bernie Kliska

By “letting go” we mean relinquishing control and leadership of a family business, and it can be one of the most emotional difficult experiences of a individual’s life. He or she has the power to handle the shift roughly or smoothly,reluctantly or reassuringly. They set the tone for the rest of the company. Yet more often than not CEO’s find this difficult to do well. It is so difficult in fact, that many can’t bring themselves to do it at all. Research shows that about 11 percent of incumbent family business leaders say they will never retire and about 23 percent say they will “semi-retire.” That means that a third of all family business leaders aren’t going anywhere and therein lies the trouble with many attempted succession plans. Craig Aronoff, in his book Letting Go: Preparing Yourself to Relinquish Control of the Family Business stated “if leaders truly want their company to last into the next generation and beyond, the out going generation must remember that their main job is to relinquish the company—and support successors in their new positions.” Business leaders who actually look forward to retirement handle successions much better than who don’t. Key to this attitude is enthusiasm for some new activity. This may be real estate development, writing a book,starting a new business venture or just going fishing. Whatever the new activity is, it needs to be planned for in advance of leaving the company. John Ward has suggested “that a good transition plan may take five to seven years.” The outgoing leader should be willing to set a final date and stick to it. There should also be a date set for the transfer of voting stock. When it is over, it should be over. The wisest senior generation  leaders embrace the necessity of letting go and the responsibility and preparation that it requires.They find joy in knowing that they have built businesses that not only will outlast themselves but that also have been preserved for the next generation of their families.

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