Tag Archives: retirement

Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?

JoAnne Norton
JoAnne Norton

My nearly ninety-seven year old mother-in-law has an intriguing quote displayed prominently on her refrigerator at her home in Calgary. “One of life’s most important decisions is when to begin middle age,” it reads. My husband’s young-at-heart mother often reminds me on our evening phone calls that we’re only as young as we feel.

Today we can work as long as we want to, especially if we are blessed with good health, a clear mind, and our own business. But how long should we? That’s one of the many questions members of the senior generation sometimes ponder in the middle of the night and sometimes discuss with their spouses in the middle of the day.

Would the business be better off with or without me, they wonder. Do I continue to add value? Are my ideas still relevant? What if I raise the subject of my retirement and then change my mind about leaving?  How do I deal with the pain in my heart as I consider letting go of something so dear?

The next generation grapples with its own set of challenges. How long can they afford to carry someone who they perceive is no longer pulling their weight? How do they bring up the topic of a parent’s retirement without sounding ungrateful or uncaring? How do they ignore the gnawing in their gut as resentment grows and the silence between the generations becomes deafening?

The good news is that we’re living longer, we’re staying healthier, and we’re looking better than at any other time in history. So we must now wrestle with the question of when or even if to begin a new chapter away from work—a better chapter than our parents and grandparents have ever had the opportunity to write. This is new stuff for both generations, and we’re short on role models, experience, and theories.

Barbara Walters was still working at age 84, but could we? Should we? In a family business both generations need to have candid discussions periodically at both the family and the board levels regarding retirement. The decision about when a parent should move on drastically depends on the industry as well as the desires of both generations for the future.

Sometimes these conversations are already taking place, not with family members in the senior generation who are mulling over what they might do next, but among frustrated future owners. Whether they are thinking about grandparenting, golfing, starting a charity, or beginning to play Chopsticks it is crucial for parents to share their plans, so their adult children can make theirs. Both generations will be much more open to this discussion if it is approached with patience, appreciation, and love.


What’s The Best Way To Say Goodbye?

JoAnne Norton
JoAnne Norton

Barbara Walters was one of my earliest childhood heroes. I remember watching her on our first black-and-white television set very early in the mornings, the only woman in a large cast of men. I cheered when she became the first female anchor on an evening news program, though ultimately that did not turn out well for her, and I was absolutely delighted when she created “The View” featuring strong, articulate, funny women.

Like millions of viewers, I’ve watched her retirement process over a number of years as she slowly cut back the number of hours she worked and the programs she did. Last week, I saw her final regular appearance on “The View,” which featured much fanfare as everyone from heads of state to international celebrities paid homage to Walters, who has changed our world in so many significant ways.

Saying goodbye and thank you to people who have had a profound affect on us is crucial for them and for us because the impact has ramifications on those who are leaving as well as those who are left. Nowhere is this as important as in a family business. When the family leader of a family business retires there most likely will not be appearances from celebrities nor buildings named in their honor, but it is vital that they have a proper send off.

When I began studying Murray Bowen’s Family Systems Theory at the Georgetown Family Center in the late 90s, psychologist Dr. Polly Caskie presented research suggesting that the future health of the retiring leader and the family itself was dependent on the celebration at the end of the career. For that reason, Polly said there should be presentations made from representatives of three specific groups: the business, the community, and the family. Leaders, like all of us, needed to know that their lives mattered, that their many sacrifices had been worth it, that they had made the world a better place, and that their family, especially the spouse and children, appreciated them. She hypothesized that the time, energy, and expense would be more than worth it to the future health and happiness of the retiree.

What reminded me of Polly’s sage advice after so many years was something Barbara Walters said on Friday, May 16th, on “Good Morning America.” She commented that she had remained dry-eyed as she had listened to all of the accolades from state heads and stars until she had received a message from her daughter, Jackie, who had written the night before:  “I just wanted to say I was thinking of you tonight. Tomorrow is a special day. You have impacted this world as very few can. This is a transition towards a new journey. I love you and wanted you to know how proud I am of you.” That’s when Barbara said she finally cried.

At the end of the day, no matter how big our business is, how many lives we’ve touched, how much we’ve changed the world, it is the love of our family that matters most. That’s why it is so important to say goodbye and thank you at the right time at the right place in the right way.


Spring Cleaning- Parting with Treasures

Jennifer Pendergast
Jennifer Pendergast

Spring cleaning is a time to go through everything that has accumulated during the year (or years, depending upon how often you go through the ritual!) and determine what is still relevant to your life.  This ritual can serve as an analogy for the important process of evaluating people that support your family business –  board members, advisors, service providers – to ensure they are still the people you need to achieve your goals.  Family business owners are often challenged by the prospect of replacing someone who has been invaluable to the business over the years but who may be ready personally to move on or who is no longer a good fit.  Often these individuals stay on longer than the family or they would like because no one is willing to broach the subject.  Recently I watched a client deal with the retirement of a long-time board member in a courageous and honorable way.  The family members on the board informed this gentleman, a board member with well over a decade of service, that they felt it was time to refresh the board.  They asked him how he would like to handle the announcement to the board – Would he like to retire or resign? Would he like to tell the board or would he like them to tell the board?  Then they planned a dinner honoring his service. They worked with his wife to identify a gift that would be special – in this case tickets to a sporting event and an opportunity to meet the owner of the team.  All of these steps showed respect for the director’s contribution and allowed the process to unfold in a way that made him comfortable.  The result – the board members and family involved felt good about the decision.



Bernie Kliska

For most family business senior CEOs, the prospect of relinquishing control is a troubling one. It presents many fears—the fear of mortality, the fear of not having sufficient funds and the fear that one’s adult children won’t get along. These business leaders have put their hearts and souls into the business for all their adult lives; yet, as most seniors recognize, they must let go if the business is to make a successful transition to the next generation. In fact, they need to be thinking about giving up both the CEO role and voting control.

The process of letting go should begin long before the CEO’s retirement takes place, even before actual succession plans are drawn up. Ideally it should be the function of the board of directors to determine the appropriate time for the CEO to retire.  While clearly the CEO needs to have a voice in this process, if they are the sole decision-maker on when they should let go, they may well be tempted to stay on longer than they should —past the time when they still are an effective leader.

In order to prepare for the challenging transition away from the leadership role, CEOs need to develop security and confidence in a number of realms.  First, they need to ensure the company is sound enough to sustain itself without the senior CEO at the helm.  In addition, they need to take steps to achieve personal financial security – so they are not financially reliant on the business going forward.  Third, ensure the children really grow up by giving them the opportunity to succeed or fail without their parents’ protection.  And finally, often overlooked is the importance of developing meaningful other interests that you believe will keep you engaged and excited to face every new day.  The CEOs who are able to let go are those who know that even without the business, they still have value as human beings.

Entrepreneurs who truly retire and turn over authority can find joy in knowing that they have built a business that not only will outlast themselves but that also have been preserved for the next generation of their families. If you are interested in learning more about this subject matter I would like to suggest you read ” Letting Go; Preparing Yourself to Relinquish Control of the Family Business” by Dr. Craig E. Aronoff.