Succession in a Family Business: Blessing or Curse?

By Marc-André Alary / Unison Workplace Strategies

Do entrepreneurs who are passionate about their work ever retire? Well, why wouldn’t they? The only difference between an employee and an entrepreneur is that entrepreneurs must plan for their succession—in fact, it is crucial that they do.

Developing a succession plan forces you to build a team of leaders and create robust management systems, thus offering the added benefit of increasing the value and potential of your company.

Three years ago, I decided to begin preparing for my own successor. Naturally, as a father of four, I looked to my children to see if one of them might be interested in taking over. I asked them, and bingo! My son Christian was interested.

Many people have told me how lucky I am that I have a child willing to take the reins, but what is odd to me is that none of those people are entrepreneurs. My response to them is yes and no. Yes, because I am thrilled to see one of my kids take over, and no, because I know that the emotional waters will be trickier to navigate. Will there be challenges? Of course! Will I—and Christian—have to temper my expectations? Definitely. But how do we achieve a successful transition while maintaining a healthy father–son relationship? How do I make the transfer fair and equitable for my other three children?

We are now in year four of our 10-year plan. Christian spent the first three years gaining work experience in manufacturing, and for that, I have Robert Savoie of Maisons Suprêmes to thank for giving my son the experience.

That leads me to the first of several tips that I will be offering over the next several months. Whether you have a five- or 10-year succession plan, if the buyer of your business is a family member, it is imperative that they acquire experience outside of the company. Why? To gain exposure to and an understanding of a different company culture and leadership style.

In this blog, we will be relaying stories of our adventure, sharing tips and ideas in case you are in a situation like ours. My top priority is preserving my family relationships, and my second is to hand over the running of part of my family business to one of my sons.

The reality is that Christian is it, and when he takes over, despite all of our preparations, he will make mistakes, just as I did when I bought out my associate and became CEO.

Some errors are costly, others less so. It is too much to hope to avoid them all. After all, every entrepreneur has to take risks, and mistakes are inevitable. This is why it is essential to prepare my company to face future storms. The ultimate goal is to build a company and sell it.

In the next post, I will talk about my family meeting.

Thanks for reading!