On the award-winning HBO television series Succession, the heirs of corporate tycoon Logan Roy vie for their father’s approval and the right to lead his empire. Whether your family runs more like the Roys of Succession or the Bluths of Arrested Development, if you are in line to take over the family biz, you’ve got your own planning to do and a lot to consider.
The shadow of your predecessor can loom large. Tim Cook, as media, analysts and consumers constantly remind him, will never be Steve Jobs. Yet, by focusing on his own strengths, Tim turned a tech company into a blue chip global institution and the world’s first trillion-dollar corporation, with enough cash to buy Greece. Plan your own destiny.
On the prospect of inheriting the British throne, Prince Charles commented, “Regrettably, it comes as a result of the death of your parent.” Waiting in line for some seventy years, Charles knows a thing or two about succession plans. Stewarding a legacy, business and family fortune, while coping with the emotional loss of a parent can be overwhelming. Plan for a mental health break once things are settled.
In 2014, King Juan Carlos of Greece handed the sceptre to his 46 year-old son Felipe, and suavely retired. Yet, as the character Logan Roy proves, ceding control doesn’t often come easily to people who have spent their lives creating, competing and achieving corporate or market dominance. Plan a meaningful role for your retiring mentor.
Taking the wheel while your siblings, cousins, and other parental units ride in back is bound to cause some discomfort. Desires to be included, conflicting visions for the future, deep-seated childhood issues, and of course, financial anxieties, are just a few of the stressors that can surface. Plan to address the interests of family with the same respect as other key stakeholders.
“From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” warned Andrew Carnegie, the American steel magnate of the 19th century. While a weaker work ethic is often blamed for business failures, there can be long-hidden problems in the company that a new leader inherits, as Kendall Roy learned in the first season of Succession. Plan for surprises.
The advantage of a formally documented succession plan is that it can be shared with family, executives and management teams well in advance of needing it. This allows for any contests of power to play out beforehand. Ideally, when the time comes, your team will be unified and prepared. Plan to brief your team on what the succession strategy means for them.
Finally, find an expert to help you navigate the legalities and complexities of family business succession plans. As Roman Roy said to his family’s corporate counsel, Gerri Killman, “I’ve always thought of you – and I mean this in the best possible way – as a stone cold killer bitch.”
You got this.