One of the honors that I have is sitting down with business families and helping them work through generation transfer. Just last week, for example, I was involved in a meeting between a father and son. They were discussing the logistics of passing the baton to the next generation. This was a very important and detailed discussion that would lead to the future of their company, and it reminded me how important my job is.
Having an interpreter can prevent conflict.
I’m able to spend time with each party in a family business separately. During this time, we unpack their individual goals and priorities so that when we sit down as a group, we have defined discussion points and ideas to go through. The importance of my involvement became obvious during a recent family meeting. While both father and son were heading in a similar direction, they hadn’t directly said so to each other. Tension set in and legacy communication barriers flooded the conversation.
This is where a third-party moderator becomes important, right? They both wanted the company to move forward. However, they each phrased the goal differently. This is a very common occurrence. It leads to conflict because people get caught up in nuances, like this father and son did. They began to pick apart the words that were chosen and focused on the small details instead of the big picture.
Bring your team to the table.
The beauty of this situation, however, was that these guys had the foresight to invite outside advisors into their conversation, including their CFO and myself. By bringing us to the table, we were able to work through some of the challenges inside their dynamic relationship.
With cooler heads, we were able to pinpoint what they really wanted for their company. The son is poised to take the company in an exciting new direction. The father wants this as well but doesn’t have the energy or focus to make it happen at this point in his career. He’s looking to the future and the next stage of life. By inviting other advisors to the table during their important conversations, they were able to align the strategy.
Things get real.
In the end, this family business is moving forward with their transition plans. The future of the company is very bright. An energetic young man is anxious to lead the company through an ambitious growth stage. The father is embracing a new role in the company, and is finding his identity and passions outside the business. However, getting to this point in their business relationship was emotionally challenging for both father and son. The passing of the baton became real. But having trusted advisors and resources to support the logistical and emotional side of the transition helped smooth the process for everyone.
Wherever you are at in your business journey, ask yourself one question: Who will be at your table when it’s time to pass the baton?
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