Family Business Succession, Difference of Opinion

When you’ve worked hard all your life to build something meaningful, you think twice about just giving it away. Even to your own kids. When families are split on kids taking over the family shingle.    — BadWitch

Readers Are Spellbound & Perplexed…

Dear GWBW — I’ve run a successful small business for nearly 25 years. I’m planning on retiring within the next five years. My oldest son seems to think I should automatically give him this business. While he’s worked hard for me during summers since he was 16, this is very different from being ready to step into a managerial role right now (he just graduated college). I want him to go work for someone else and learn there first, not take over mine. My wife and I disagree strongly on this.    — Elbow Grease


Dear Elbow Grease,

My first Real Job was in the skin-toughening media industry, and I was quite a bit younger than most peers with the same title. Except…a guy last named Sherman. His father, he boasted to me, owned a reputable and thriving business that he had a burning itching to join and eventually run. He was reasonable but still lamented that his dad refused him (and hard) which was why he was now working with the likes of me…!

I agree with you, Elbow Grease. Your son will do well to apprentice (preferably somewhere else first — if for no other reason than objectivity of business lessons without family dynamics possibly obscuring his clarity) before prepping to take the reins of the family business, but as that’s not really the main issue I see here. You and your wife benefit from getting on the same page about this so that, ideally (being a family business), you can present a united front to your son. It’s possible she’s simply seeing his interests through her mother’s eyes rather than the business as a full blown enterprise that needs proper tending. Talk operational details to her, and if any, highlight those that your son’s experience level clearly isn’t to par on…yet. Barring unity on the issue, as it sounds like you actually run this business, you should gather your thoughts and present them rationally and if he’s truly serious about this endeavor, he will adapt just fine.

Effectively grandfathering into a leadership role of an established business takes more than just work hours. If your son can successfully navigate potential rejection, hard knocks in this market, disciplining and/or mentoring by an objective manager or two, then he will be far more equipped to learn the ropes and rise in your family business, and eventually possibly run it. There’s no telling a BadWitch that there’s any substitute for a strong work ethic, get-over-yourself/never-take-it-personally thick skin and pragmatic stamina in the work world, to build character, put one’s mind right about one’s place in the world and the biggest lesson of all — earning your reputation and everything you’ve got — humility. Then he’ll be ready to work/transition with you, because for him by then, the business will truly mean something more than a living, prestige or other immature view of such a blessed heirloom.

The old fashioned way,



Dear Elbow Grease,

Though I appreciate your beliefs on children earning privileges and your commitment to hard work, I have to side with your wife on this one. It sounds like you’ve raised a son who is dedicated to the family business and who is no stranger to hard work. So, if you’re planning to retire and your son wants to take over, why would you want him to work for someone else to learn the ropes.

I understand that you have some trouble seeing him as a leader, as he is just graduating from college, but age alone does not distinguish one’s ability to run a business. CEOs come as young as 13 years old these days. Drive and determination are not defined by how old you are.

Your son has work experience. He wants to be involved in the family business. You are not retiring for 5 years. Why not spend those 5 years training him to take over your business. The work experience he would get from other companies will not be specific to your company’s needs. You have 5 years to give him specialized training on what he will need to know to run your company effectively after you have retired. Isn’t that better than having him work for another company for those 5 years and then trying to learn how to run your business years down the line without your guidance?

You have the opportunity to direct his training through the departments you believe he should have hands on experience. You can oversee his managerial style. You can work with him as he begins to see new ways to improve work flow through your business. You would have the opportunity to work through —with him—to manage how improvements are instituted. You have the opportunity to train the person who will carry on your family business. That seems like an opportunity that should not be ignored.

Good luck,



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