Business Succession Planning: As Seen through a Father’s Eyes

Those of us who have worked in a family business appreciate the rewards, but also recognize the challenges associated with transitioning a business from one generation to the next.  For some families, business succession is natural, easy, and even fun.  For others, the challenges and heartache are overwhelming. 

Those challenges typically involve either helping the next generation develop sufficient experience and technical mastery of the business…or…dealing with the myriad of emotions often associated with transitioning that business to the next generation.  Let’s focus on emotions. 

It’s very simple.  Your father (or mother) built a successful business and became emotionally attached, perhaps very attached, in the process.  We also know that entrepreneurs often experience disturbing thoughts and feelings when they move beyond their comfort zones.  

So…it only makes sense to try to see things through your father’s eyes.  What could your entrepreneurial father be thinking or feeling? Why is this transition so difficult? Here are just a few possibilities: 

  • Net worth vs. self-worth – There’s a very fine line dividing the two, and it’s blurry.  Typically, entrepreneurs strongly associate them. 
  • Fear of loss – He may fear losing the fortune he worked and fought so hard and long to build. 
  • Sense of isolation – He could be feeling isolated or unappreciated for all the years of sacrifice. 
  • Guilt – Many entrepreneurs eventually regret the time they did not spend with spouses and children.  As we all know, guilt isn’t pretty and often presents in unexpected ways. 
  • Need to prove – Entrepreneurs are known for their large egos and often have an unrelenting need to prove themselves.   
  • Competitive nature – Typically, entrepreneurs are highly competitive, sometimes particularly so with family and friends, driven by an overwhelming need to be bigger, stronger, smarter, and faster. 

Understanding the underlying motivations of your entrepreneurial parent is often an important step toward a smoother working relationship and transition.  Unfortunately, it may not be enough. 

The good news is that there are many organizations with the necessary resources and experience to help…right here in Greater Madison!  Several law firms have specialty practices, and there is the University of Wisconsin Family Business Center. 

If your family is struggling with business succession, seek the help of a qualified advisor.


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