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Mentoring the Next Generation to Take Over the Family Business


Many owners of small businesses would love to see a family member take over their business. If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews that you think might be interested in running the business in the future, you can help lay the groundwork for that potential transfer of ownership in several ways. Use the following strategies and tips to encourage the next generation to become part of the family business.

See Who Is Interested

One or more of your children may already have shown some interest in the family business and asked about its operations. It's important to encourage that interest. Talk about the company's history and your vision for its future. Share the excitement you experience as a business owner.

Over time, you can teach an interested child more about the business's operations. Consider putting the child to work doing various tasks around the business on weekends and over school holidays.

Education Is Key

Over the years, the child's interest in the business may wane or it may become more intense. If the child (or children) continue to express an interest in working for the family business, you might want to bring up future education plans. You can suggest that the child should consider obtaining a degree that would be beneficial in running all or part of the family business. For example, a degree in engineering could be a huge asset if the family business is involved in property development, construction, or design/build. A degree in accounting or finance can be helpful for businesses of all types. In addition, a degree in a related field would give your family member credibility when it comes to interacting with clients, bankers, and employees.

Insist on Outside Experience

Promoting a family member to a leadership position within the family business when that person has little experience can be a recipe for trouble. It can cause discord among employees, especially those who have worked hard with the expectation that they could move up in the ranks. Additionally, it can undermine the family member's credibility in the eyes of clients and other business owners.

It often makes more sense and can be hugely helpful to have the family member obtain a post-college job outside the family business. Working in a different company in a similar industry to yours can give your family member a level of experience, confidence, and credibility that would not be obtainable by simply transitioning to the family firm. The skill set established through working elsewhere may help propel your family business in a new, more growth-oriented direction. Family business experts suggest that a child expected to take the reins of a family business should spend at least five years working elsewhere before joining the family firm.

When Multiple Children Are Involved

What happens when more than one family member is interested in becoming part of the business? Encourage them to follow the areas of the business that interest them most. With the appropriate education and experience working for other firms, they may be ready to run their own areas of the business when they rejoin the family firm. This is when their talents can develop and shine.

Bring in Outside Experts

The input of outside professionals who are skilled in different business areas, such as operations, finance, manufacturing, logistics, or marketing can be invaluable to the upcoming generation of family members joining the business. Mentors can guide and serve as a sounding board for the ideas of the child or children working for the family business.

Consider Staying on as an Advisor

You could consider making yourself available as an advisor to the incoming new generation of family members. Whether the arrangement is formal or informal, it should not be open-ended. Determine how long you will offer your services. The goal is to ensure that the new generation of leaders in the family business will be able to run the business independently.

Successfully transitioning a family business to the next generation takes time and planning. For planning assistance, consult an experienced financial professional.