Planning to lead the family business – Top Ten Tips

by Martin Cowie, Partner, PwC, Belfast

PwC Family Business SurveyBeing the ‘boss’s child’ throws up some unique challenges for the next generation of family business leaders.  There are a number of ‘gaps’ that the next generation face: the generation gap between their experience and expectations, and those of their parents’; the credibility gap, which they have to surmount if they’re to establish themselves; and the communications gap, which can arise both within the firm, and within the family.  So how do you plan for succession?

Get outside experience first.

These days, it is less expected that next gens will go straight into the family business after school. Getting outside experience first means you can make a more informed decision before joining and then come to the family firm with valuable skills. It will help manage the assumption that you’re only there because of your family name.

‘Try before you buy’

When you’re at university, and in your first jobs, try to keep your links with the family business. Keep in the loop about how it’s developing, and the trends and issues it’s dealing with. Find ways to ‘connect without committing’ – in other words, get some experience of what it’s like to work there, the culture, and the sort of role you might aspire to eventually

Don’t put pressure on yourself

Don’t let the family name create unrealistic expectations (either yours or anyone else’s).

Insist on a proper appraisal

How can you grow and develop if you don’t receive honest, balanced feedback? I’ve seen many family bosses who give their children mainly negative criticism – either out of fear of favouritism, or because they assume they already know the positive things, when in fact they’ve never actually articulated them.

Handle change with care

If you aspire to make big changes then you’ll need to manage that sensitively. Family firms pride themselves on their quick decision-making, but there will be personal factors in play if you want to change something your parents spent their lives building.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

The challenges of balancing the personal and the professional make it even more important to be able to talk openly and honestly about business issues. Succession is the most obvious one – many of the older generation just don’t want to think about this. But these issues need debating and they need planning for, and the longer you leave it, the harder it will become.

Make sure succession is a process, not an event

Succession needs to be planned a long time ahead. That gives you, your family and the rest of the business time to adjust and prepare for the transition. It’s an important period where you can make sure you have the skills you need, and plug any gaps with a proper development programme

Enjoy it!

If the conditions are right, working in your own family business can be the most amazing opportunity. You can be part of something you really care about, become a guardian of it, and perhaps, one day pass it on to your own kids. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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