Succession in a Family Business

The Chinese proverb that ‘wealth will not pass beyond three generations’ is likely to send a shiver down the spine of those who run a family business.  

Whether your business has just started trading or you are thinking about retiring and planning to hand the controls over to a family member, in a world surrounded by economic uncertainty, livelihoods and businesses are under more pressure than ever.  

While we ride out the storm and look for ways to reduce the impact caused by Brexit, the pandemic and inflation, focus and attention should not just be directed toward long-term growth and survival but additionally to succession planning.  

Running a family business in the world today is very different to what it was 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago. The entrepreneurs of today may wish to pursue their own interests as opposed to working and running the family business.  

Planning for the future is prudent, and if succession planning hasn’t entered your mind, then the subject needs to be addressed as a priority so that you know who will take over the reins when you decide the time has come to hand over the business.  

Without an effective plan, the future of the business may be put in jeopardy, or as the owner, you may suffer financial or tax consequences that are avoidable.  

Although succession planning can be simply defined as the process of transferring the control and ownership of the business, developing and executing a succession plan is not nearly as simple in practice.  

Hard questions need to be answered and it is worth discussing these with your family. These thoughts can be extremely challenging for those who have been involved in the business for their whole life where any form of withdrawal from the business feels unimaginable.  

Passing the company to the next generation isn’t always straight forward however it is also worth bearing in mind that younger family members tend to have different entrepreneurial minds. As a result they may be more willing to take risks, or perhaps want to take their business ambitions into another industry.  

There are lots of questions to be answered, and if you are hoping to pass on your business venture to your children, it is important that you don’t assume that they will want to be responsible for taking on and driving the family business forward.  

While it can be difficult handing over a company which has seen a lot of your time, effort and money invested, if you want the business to continue to grow within the family unit then it is fundamental that you discuss everyone’s expectation, as well as roles and responsibilities.  

Emotions may be running high, and no-one is denying that the issues are as complex as they can be uncomfortable. Burying your head in the sand or delaying the moment will not make it go away.  

While solutions to such quandaries exist, they certainly will not appear overnight, which is why it is essential to consider succession as soon as possible.  

It is fair to say that succession is one of the hardest challenges all family businesses can face, not only for the family but also for the staff and customers of the company.  

However, if you want to prove the Chinese proverb wrong and ensure the wealth of the business will pass beyond three generations, minimise taxes and – for family enterprises – maintain healthy relationships, it’s never too early to put a succession plan in place.  

The AAB family business team have worked with businesses of varying scales across all industries to assist in future planning. While the discussions can sometimes be difficult, when the plan comes to fruition the sense of achievement could not be greater.  

Posted by Joel Topham, Partner at Sagars on www.sagars.co.uk

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