Family business succession planning process

In the world of business, few things are as emotionally charged and challenging as succession planning for family-owned businesses.

The transition of ownership and leadership requires careful consideration of the past, present, and future, along with open and honest communication. Succession planning is not only inevitable but also crucial for the long-term success of a family business. However, despite its significance, only about 30% of family-owned businesses have a formal succession plan in place.

In this article, we will explore the importance of succession planning for family businesses, the process involved, challenges faced, and the various transition options available.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning can be defined as a written plan for the transfer of ownership and leadership of a company. While it is commonly associated with the voluntary retirement of owners, it also addresses unplanned and involuntary exits such as death or disability. The primary goal of succession planning is to determine who will own controlling shares of the business and who will assume leadership roles. In the case of family-owned businesses, the natural choice is often the owner’s heirs. However, it is essential to consider all possibilities and select the best-suited individuals to continue the family business.

The importance of succession planning for family businesses

Succession planning plays a vital role in ensuring the continuity and long-term success of family-owned businesses. Unlike larger corporations with professional management teams, family businesses often lack a ready team to step in when a leadership transition occurs. Without a well-prepared succession plan, the sudden absence of the owner can lead to business failure. By implementing a succession plan, owners can mentor and train the next generation of leaders, ensuring they are ready to take the reins when the time comes. Furthermore, a succession plan minimises disruption to the business and provides a sense of security to family members, employees, shareholders, customers, and the local community. It also offers tax benefits and allows owners to retain control over how the business is passed on and who will lead it in the future.

Read more: Why all businesses need to plan for succession

The process of family business succession planning

The process of succession planning for a family business follows a similar framework regardless of the industry, value, age, or size of the company. Successful succession plans consider both the business and family dynamics. Let’s explore the key steps involved in this process:

1. Family discussion

The first step in creating a successful succession plan is to have a comprehensive discussion with all family members involved in the business. It is crucial for everyone to recognize and accept the need for a formal succession plan. This discussion should encourage open communication and ensure that all voices are heard.

2. Set goals

Once the decision to create a succession plan has been made, the next step is to identify the goals of the plan. These goals should align with the personal aspirations of the owner, the well-being of the family, and the overall objectives of the business. It is essential to involve all family members who will be affected by the transition to ensure that every necessary position and needs are considered.

3. Identify key players and define roles and responsibilities

After setting goals, it is crucial to identify the key players who will be responsible for leading the business in the future. This step involves assessing the capabilities and interests of the next generation of leaders and defining their roles and responsibilities within the organisation.

4. Obtain an independent business valuation

To make informed decisions regarding the transfer of ownership, it is essential to determine the value of the business. Obtaining an independent business valuation provides a clear understanding of the company’s worth and helps in selecting the most suitable transition option.

Read more: The importance of business valuation

5. Explore transition options

There are various transition options available for family businesses, and each option has its own implications. It is important to explore these options thoroughly and understand how they will affect the business, the owner, and the heirs. Some common transition options include transferring ownership to family members, entering a buy-sell agreement, selling shares via promissory notes, gifting shares, creating a trust, management buyouts, selling to employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) or cooperative, selling to a third party, or liquidation.

6. Inform management succession

Once the succession plan is formed, it is crucial to inform the company’s management about the plan and address any concerns or questions they may have. Obtaining their support and buy-in is essential for a smooth transition.

7. Communicate the plan

Effective communication is key to a successful transition. The concretised plan should be communicated to all stakeholders, including family members, employees, the board, and shareholders. Transparency and clarity are crucial to minimize uncertainty and ensure a smooth transition.

8. Start early

One of the most important pieces of advice for family business succession planning is to start early. Succession plans can take years to develop fully, so it is essential to begin the process as soon as possible. Starting early provides ample time to consider all possibilities, explore different options, mentor new leaders, and get the rest of the company comfortable with the idea of a transition.

Challenges of family-owned business succession planning

Although succession planning is crucial for family businesses, it comes with its own set of challenges. Let’s explore some of the common hurdles faced during the process:

1. Choosing a leader

One of the most significant challenges in family business succession planning is selecting the right individual to take over the business. This decision can be emotionally charged and may lead to conflicts within the family or among senior leaders. It is essential to communicate openly and involve all stakeholders in the decision-making process.

2. Lack of interest or suitable heirs

In some cases, family members may not have an interest in running the business or may not be the best choice for leadership positions. It is important to consider alternative options and explore external candidates or management buyouts if there are no suitable heirs within the family.

3. Employee concerns

Transitioning ownership and leadership can create uncertainty among employees. It is crucial to address their concerns and gain their support to ensure a smooth transition. Open and honest communication is key in alleviating any fears or doubts.

4. Time constraints

Running a family-owned business can be time-consuming, leaving little bandwidth for succession planning. However, it is essential to dedicate time and thought to creating an appropriate succession plan. Procrastination in this area can lead to significant consequences in the future.

5. Legal and financial implications

Succession planning involves complex legal, tax, and compliance issues. It is crucial to seek professional advice from attorneys and accountants who are familiar with the specific succession plan being implemented. They can ensure that the plan is legally and financially sound and assist with the necessary documentation.

Read next: Tips for a smooth succession in family business

Our advisers at KMT Partners are here to help you create a strategic succession plan tailored to your family business. Contact us today to embark on your journey towards a prosperous future for your family business.

About our adviser: Michael Fox has been dedicated to the success of his clients, devising comprehensive wealth strategies for both personal and business growth for over 30 years. With extensive expertise in business governance and family business succession, Michael specialises in empowering emerging businesses and family enterprises by fostering renewal, enhancing value and smooth transitions to the next generation. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need assistance with your business succession planning for your family business.

This is general advice only and does not take into account your financial circumstances, needs and objectives. The article should not be relied upon as specific information or advice without obtaining appropriate professional advice after a detailed examination of your particular situation from a qualified KMT adviser.