An Introduction to Business Succession Planning

Many of our clients are smaller, family-owned enterprises which have succession concerns.  It is always important to be thinking ahead, whether it’s your overall strategic vision, marketing and sales, human resources, or any other facet of your business.  The common thread for success in each of these disciplines is having a well-developed plan, including one for exit.   Here I focus primarily on planning within a family business, i.e. regarding passing a company from one generation to the next.  This includes planning for the unexpected, as the reality is that you may not always be able to foresee exactly when you will exit your business (if you catch my drift). The sooner you develop a succession plan, the better prepared you will be.

According to the Conway Center for Family Business, “Nearly 70% of family businesses would like to pass their business on to the next generation, but only 30% will actually be successful at doing so.”  Prior to establishing the critical plan, it is important to agree on some fundamental goals and objectives not only for the transition of ownership, but also for next-generation management.  The most essential element is identifying successors, because not all heirs are really interested in what your business does.   Regardless, all family members need to be factored in, even if they are not designated as successors.  A good plan will allow you to assign active and non-active roles for each member.  Additionally, the plan should outline any additional support or privileges that will be needed by the successor from other family members.  It is critical to agree on a method for dispute resolution, document the plan in writing, and ensure it is agreed to by all family members.  Yes, that is ordinarily possible.

The work does not stop there.  After a succession plan has been decided upon, it is important to create both a business and an owner estate plan.  These will address issues of taxation upon transfer of ownership. It is important to structure the succession in a way that accurately reflects the value of the business while minimizing taxes and avoiding delays in transfer of ownership. The final piece of the puzzle is ensuring there is a trustee or executor to enforce the timeline and method for transition, when that time comes.

Family business succession plans might fail due to differing family interests, but taking these initial steps ensure that you have done what you can to avoid it.   A careful planning process promotes an open family dialogue, and ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding the future of the family business. You can do this!