The month of May has been quite challenging. An ugly feud erupted for control of a family-owned business in country A and I have been requested to intervene.
The sons of the founder are attempting to wrest control of the company from their father. Several thousand miles away in country B, another scenario has befallen another company, this time pitting siblings against siblings after the sudden demise of the matriarch. In both cases, my intervention posthaste was due to recommendations from associates that felt there was still a glimmer of hope for mediation.
The caveat is that should my initiatives fail in the next 12 months; a litigious process pitting lawyers from both sides will ensue. I can almost anticipate a very public mud-throwing spectacle between the warring parties much like the Lotte Group conflict in South Korea and the Philippine’s Ilusorio and Romero family disputes.
In my initial research, the problems started manifesting when the children were forced to join the business without any clarity related to their roles and responsibilities. After the ownership structure was distributed to the children, the plot to unseat their father intensified. I cannot pass judgment nor speculate on the motivation of the four siblings why they rebelled against their father. One thing is clear –– the issues are deep-seated and have created so much strain on the family. The children are now in their early 40’s.
Theoretically, I refer to the first case as rebellious. It is one of the three patterns of ineffective succession where the next generation launches a clean slate approach to the organization as an overreaction to the founder’s control of the firm. As a result, traditions, legacies and even the business model are rejected and discarded.
This case is just one of a handful of unwarranted family squabbles where the children would attempt to dislodge their parents from controlling the companies that the older generation founded. Predictably, these conflicts implode when governance, succession and ownership processes are set aside. And these same type of issues can happen to any family owning business, big and small.
As a family business advisor, I have never been remiss in constantly reminding leaders to initiate the process of succession immediately. Unfortunately, procrastination, an air of invincibility (superman mentality) and an inflated ego can oftentimes obfuscate the founder’s rational mindset.
The facts are clear, seventy percent of wealth and ownership transitions are not successful and seventy percent of family wealth ends with the 3rd generation.
So I am posing a direct challenge to family business owners: Be among the thirty percent who have successfully transitioned their wealth and ownership to the next generation.
One of the worst mistakes entrepreneurs can make is to postpone naming a successor until just before they are ready to step down or when death comes knocking.
Sometimes founders avoid naming successors because they don’t want to hurt family members who are not chosen to succeed them. Yet, both the business and the family will be better off if, after evaluating the candidates as they work in the business, the founder picks the successor based on that person’s skills and abilities, early enough.
So my advice to business owners in their 60’s and 70’s is to have an open mind on the topic of succession planning. It can be both exciting and daunting at the same time. Daunting as the “letting go” phase for someone else to take over can be initially tough on founders. However, for visionaries dreaming of perpetuating their businesses, they must recognize that this leadership transition is both critical and indispensable.