“I need to tell you something?” Those words set off alarm bells in most parents’ heads, but the ringing can be deafening when those words come from the child you always dreamed would take over the family business. That dream is smashed when the words that follow are “I’m sorry but running this company is an amazing opportunity for someone, but that someone just isn’t me.”
We get it. You are far from alone if it’s been your dream to put the successful business you’ve built into the hands of your child(ren). It’s common for “disappointed” or even “angry” to follow a conversation like this. You may have already started working together in the business and you were having a great time passing your knowledge and wisdom to the next generation.
If you find yourself in this situation and begin to make assumptions about why your child is crushing your dreams or try to change their minds, we hope you’ll think about how one of our clients handled this situation.
“Liam” (not his real name, of course) was an engineer who had built a successful cellular company and his daughter (“Megan”) was not an engineer but was an excellent salesperson. When Megan told her father that she didn’t want to take over the company, he was crushed and called us to see if we could change her mind. Persuading people to take actions they don’t want to take is not something we do or any succession planning consultant should do. But exploring why people make the decisions they do is.
When we met with Megan, she was quite candid. “To be successful, this business needs an engineer like my dad at the helm. I’m not going to be the child who runs his company into the ground. I don’t think either of us could recover from that.”
Megan had put her finger on two critical issues: 1) Her relationship with her dad was more important to her than the opportunity to run a successful business and 2) She believed that only an engineer could run the company.
We brought Liam and Megan together, we asked them to imagine what might happen if Megan became CEO and Liam recruited a skilled engineer who would be happy to run the product development and service departments. At first, Megan could not imagine a successful restructure, but promised to keep an open mind for as long as it would take for us to develop a transition plan.
When we presented that business transition and succession plan—complete with timelines and task lists—Megan agreed. We initiated the two-year transition plan and within several years, Megan had paid off the promissory note to her dad. After twelve years of growth, Megan sold her business to a large engineering company. Both father and daughter were immensely proud of the company they had created and grown, and having shared that experience, were closer than ever.
There are several morals to this story.
The first one being: Put relationships first. No business transition is worth damaging your relationships with the people most important to you.
Second, avoid assumptions. Liam assumed that his daughter’s “no” was the end of his dream and was determined to change her mind. He never asked why she said no. Megan assumed that the company had to be run by an engineer. She never even considered an alternative structure of leadership.
Third, communicate! Probe your own feelings and objectives. Why do you want to pass the business to your child? Is it to build family wealth, have fun working together, provide your child a job? Then probe your child’s feelings and objectives. Do they expect that running the business will be what they saw growing up; a parent who misses their kids’ activities because they work long hours and when they are home, talk only about the day’s problems at the dinner table? Just as an example.
Finally, remember that you are offering—not ordering —this opportunity to your child. If a child declines your offer, explore their reasons, find out what makes them happy, and explain that the boundaries for your working relationship will not be the same as those for your parent-child relationship. At the end of the day, understand that a rejection of a job offer is not a rejection of your love. In fact, a rejection from a child who is unwilling or unable to run your company could be the very best thing for your company and your family.
Want to chat more about your family dynamics and see if there are some scenarios we can talk through together? Let’s connect! Schedule a complimentary consultation here.