Success in succession

Success in succession

The next generation taking over the family business

Situation

The son of the founder was taking over the family business.

To grow the company, he also took on a private equity partner. The private equity firm recommended me as a sounding board to the CEO.

Context

The new CEO was the oldest son and best equipped to take over the business with the skillset, knowledge and passion. He also had a vision and the mindset to get there. Some of the senior executives had been with the company for some time – they had strong relationships with the father and were used to his way of doing business. A big challenge was enabling them to shift their mindset to a new way of doing business and genuinely respecting the new CEO, an individual they had known since he was a boy. In some ways, they saw him as younger and, therefore, less experienced than them.

Approach

  • Conducted one-to-one sessions with the Senior Executive team to understand their background and assess their capabilities and mindset.
  • Identified and addressed potential threats related to attrition and politicking
  • Working with the CEO, enabled him to think through workarounds and develop the right strategies
  • Became a trusted advisor to discuss deeper family dynamics, challenges, aspirations and legacy.

Why it matters

Change can be difficult, especially when it’s related to a person’s life work. Having the time, space and insight to understand the different factors at play, what truly matters and finding a way forward can make all the difference.

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CASE STUDY

ESTATE PLANNING

Wealth transition between generations

 

CHALLENGE

An Ultra high-net-worth family had sold the shares in the family business and placed the funds in trust to secure the wealth for future generations. However, the structure was creating family friction. Was asked to look at the structure in place, how to ensure success in succession and safeguard the cohesion of the family.

INSIGHT

The business was set up by the grandfather who had two children – a son and a daughter. Believing only boys should be in business, he spent more time with his son who then took over the company. The daughter herself had three sons, all of whom were very close to the grandfather when he was alive. Their mottos was a saying instilled in them by their grandfather.

The three grandsons were all married with children. By observing family dynamics and conducting one-to-one sessions, the cause of family friction became apparent, along with a pathway to create cohesion.

SOLUTION & OUTCOME

Many underlying issues arose, including:

  • Family members and their spouses holding different views on whether they are owners vs stewards of the wealth
  • Different attitudes and beliefs around money (e.g. one family member believed the middle class were happier and was on a mission to spend the wealth)
  • Different aims on how much wealth to leave the next generation

Worked with individual family members to:

  • Define their values, ambitions, and what legacy looks like for them
  • Explored potential avenues to see which would be the best fit
  • Brought the family together to share common values and develop a shared family philosophy
  • Discussed potential avenues raised during one-to-ones
  • Leveraging the family philosophy and overlapping values, reevaluated the structure and rules around the trust.
  • Developed a framework for decision making and conflict resolution that reflected the family values and philosophy.
  • Developed a path forward that was owned by all family members, not imposed.

Ultimately the family realised that beyond the financial wealth, it is the goodwill of the family name, its lineage and heritage that is their greatest asset.

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GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR BOARD

While internal boardroom politics are the bane of many an executive’s existence, getting your board members working in the same direction can be a vital step towards a successful CEO tenure.

Corporate governance has brought with it greater scrutiny of the board, its role, its composition and its effectiveness, and we are ever more aware of the importance of independence and ethical guidelines. And when one looks at the composition of several boards, there are general rules of thumb that are followed. But looking across a number of organisations, it can be seen that although some companies’ boards have the “right” mix in terms of backgrounds and skills of the individual directors, some have more of an impact than others.

So, if it is not structure, what is it that makes a good board? Research documented in the Harvard Business Review stresses that the key ingredient is the social element as opposed to the structure per se.

Just as the chemistry in a well-functioning, successful team cannot be quantified, it nonetheless is a key, determining component that is present in effective boards.

There are five key elements that can help a CEO foster the optimum environment in which the board, and each member within it, performs at their best: creating a climate of trust and candour; fostering a culture of open dissent; harnessing the mix of different roles; ensuring individual accountability and performance evaluation.

Climate of trust

Creating a climate of trust and candour is a virtuous cycle whereby board members develop mutual respect, therefore developing trust, and hence enabling the sharing of difficult information. The CEO needs to be transparent and open in information sharing, providing documents with ample time for them to be read and digested. This will enable all members to have the same level of information and so allow for more balanced discussion and a better- informed decision process.

The CEO should also give board members free access to people who can answer their questions, such as creating opportunities to meet key company personnel and inspecting company sites. Encouraging different board members to engage in this kind of activity and spending time together creates more unity and minimises the exposure or risk of factions. Providing free access to information and key personnel also eliminates the need and/or desire of individual members to create “back access” to information leading to them breaking away from the team and creating possible factions.

Open culture

In an environment of trust and mutual respect, healthy debate is encouraged where assumptions are challenged. This ensures issues are thoroughly discussed and each member has the opportunity to voice his viewpoint.

The CEO should not punish or discourage rebels or nonconformists, but instead use the opportunity to learn. It is through these interactions that people’s perspectives are challenged and horizons expanded. The CEO should leverage the knowledge and wisdom of the members of the board. Having a thorough understanding of members’ positions and their justifications opens opportunities to new conclusions and stronger decisions.

Research conducted by Eisenhardt and Bourgeois, found that the highest-performing companies have extremely contentious boards and regard dissent as an obligation, treating no subject as a taboo topic.

Roleplay

CEOs, along with other board members, should encourage members to play a variety of roles thereby giving them a wider perspective of the business. Viewing a scenario from a different perspective and developing alternative scenarios to evaluate strategic decisions not only broadens the number of possibilities and opportunities but also inhibits members developing a rigid point of view. Hence, members should be encouraged to play devil’s advocate, at other times delve into the details of the business and also be given the opportunity to act as the project manager. A case that demonstrates the impact this can have on a business was at Pepsico in 1997 when the board decided to sell the various components of its well-run restaurant group.

CEO Roger Enrico had previously turned around the unit which had been the brainchild of two of Enrico’s predecessors and must have had great pride in the division. Yet, he eventually convinced all that the restaurant unit should be sold and so that it could flourish freely beyond the controls of the parent company. It proved to be a brilliant idea.

Accountability

Ensuring accountability is probably one of the toughest challenges a CEO faces. In a survey conducted by the Yale School of Management and the Gallup Organisation, 25% of CEOs claimed that their board members did not appreciate the complexity of the businesses they oversaw. In recent history we have seen cases of individuals blaming others, proclaiming ignorance, Enron being a case in point.

Directors should take their duties seriously and encourage others to do the same, setting the tone for acceptable behaviour and performance.

Behaviour breeds behaviour and although the CEO and chairman of the board can assign tasks to get individuals fully engaged, peer pressure will play a major influencing factor in further enforcing positive behaviour.

Tasks can take on various formats and could involve collecting external data, meeting with customers, anonymously visiting plants and stores in the field and cultivating links to outside parties critical to the company. The exercise will then require members to impart knowledge and findings to the rest of the board and allows them to become better versed in strategic and operational issues the company faces.

GE’s board members for instance, dine with the company’s largest suppliers and distributors the night before the annual meeting while Home Depot’s board members are expected to visit at least eight stores outside their home state between board meetings.

Evaluate performance

Not giving feedback to a team is self-destructive as there can be no learning without feedback. Findings from a combination of research and surveys show that directors rate their board’s effectiveness significantly more positively at companies where individual members are evaluated. Although, when individuals are in an interdependent group such as on a board, it is better to conduct a formal evaluation on the performance of the overall group rather than its individual members.

One reason for this may be that, as it currently stands, board members are typically replaced for performance reasons only in extreme circumstances (e.g., criminal misconduct, conflict of interest, active disruption, very poor attendance/participation record) – and if they are replaced, they are rarely given an early warning and a chance to improve. In most cases, boards wait for under-performing directors to retire, a more reactive than proactive approach. Since the Board is in effect a high-level team, no matter how good it is, it is bound to get better if  there is an evaluation process in place.

A good first step in director evaluation is to have directors assess only themselves. After two or three years, a peer assessment can be introduced, with directors evaluating one another. A simple pass/fail along several dimensions will ensure that the process is not too time consuming. The evaluations can be handed over to a trusted board advisor, such as outside legal counsel, who summarises the findings and provides individuals with their results. A next step is for the assessments to be turned over to the committee charged with director nominations, so that under-performing directors can be identified and action taken. Overall, this is good way of identifying who is truly adding value to the organisation, as well as making performance expectations clear. In evaluating directors, ask yourself the following questions:

• Do they understand the company’s strategy and business?

• Do they keep up to date with issues and trends affecting the business?

• Are they willing to challenge management when necessary?

• Do they have special expertise that is important to the company?

• Do they have an appropriate level of involvement in CEO succession and assessment?

• Do they attend boardroom meetings and discussions?

• Are they readily available for committee meetings?

• Do they contribute to board and committee agendas?

• Are they well prepared for meetings and discussions?

• Do they actively participate and contribution to the committee and boardroom deliberations?

• Are they available outside meetings to advise management?

• Do they effectively inquire about major performance deficiencies?

Although there are guidelines in how to formulate a board, the attitude a CEO takes towards the board is key in the tone that is going to be set. If a board is to truly fulfill its purpose of monitoring performance, advising the CEO, and providing connections with a broader world, it must become a robust team. Its members need to be actively engaged in seeking the truth and challenge each other to broaden their perspectives and viewpoints. The CEO should work in collaboration with the Board and all its members as opposed to viewing it as an obstacle that needs to be managed. Adopting an approach of transparency, honesty and respect will go a long way to building and nurturing a strong team, and a robust and effective board.

ENABLING THE NEXT GENERATION TO THRIVE

I love studying, working with and sharing stories about the next generation for it is a subject that encompasses defining wealth, the impact of our actions and indeed our purpose. In a nutshell it incorporates the purpose of our wealth…the purpose of our lives…and how we maximise both.

But how?

John F Kennedy had said, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”

And we have in the large part great expectations of the next generation.

And yet, one of the greatest fuels of disappointment is expectations.

Seneca, the Roman philosopher and senator, attributed anger to frustrated expectations.

So here we have one of the dichotomies faced, not only by wealthy families but also by human beings at large.

And it is our humanness I would like to focus on for the next few minutes in determining what we pass on to the next generation and how.

Some time back, I was at a conference and was asked, “What is the responsibility of the family?”

Any thoughts?

In my opinion, the primary responsibility, regardless of your level of wealth is to best prepare your children to survive and thrive in this world, to be good human beings. You may give them lots of money, but do they have the wisdom on what to do with it? If there is a downturn in the economy and fortunes are lost, do they have the ability, fortitude and resourcefulness to rebuild it? What about if they grow the wealth or forge a path that is away from the ethos of the family? What if they are fantastic in their business but are terribly unhappy in their private life?

There is so much written about succession, legacy, constitutions, and governance that I sometimes think we have forgotten what it’s all about and left out the greatest aid in our cause – the love and respect we have for each other as family.

But do we?  Do we truly understand each other?

Do we empathically listen to each other?

Do we really endeavour to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes?

Or do we adopt an attitude of – this is how we have always been, this is how things are done in our family.

What do we really want for the next generation?

Isn’t it really about them growing into the people they have the potential to be?

Every family is different and every human being is different too.  It is not for me to tell you how you should or shouldn’t do things. My intention is rather to provide you with a framework to see where you are right now, to contemplate where you would like to be, what matters, to consider if your current strategy will get you there, and the steps to course correct.

We are all familiar with a tree. But the tree didn’t come out of nowhere. You first need the seed, you need to prepare the soil, you need to plant the seed in the right environment to ensure its roots take hold, and you need to provide it with the appropriate amount of water and sun to ensure it grows. It is the same with the next generation and it is these elements that we will extrapolate to practicalities in nurturing and developing the next generation.

There are three 3 core areas:

  • Mission & Purpose;
  • Values & Self Awareness;
  • Actions
Mission & Purpose

Most businesses have a mission statement and a purpose. It is well articulated, often hung in the reception, in the corner offices, on the fronts of prospectuses, on the website.

But how many families take the same care in developing and understanding their own family’s purpose, what they stand for, what is important to them, their raison d’etre? This is not a nice to have but a must have – a unified philosophy that instills a sense of identity and direction in the family. This is not something that is imposed by an outside adviser, marketer or lawyer, all scenarios I have heard of, treating it as a check box on the path to governance, but rather a process of exploration and discussion.

This is not too dissimilar to building the foundations to a building – do you want a shack or the ability to grow into a soaring tower? It is the same amount of depth the family and its members need to go through if they want to grow as a family and instill growth in the next generation. It is an essential process that provides an opportunity for other family members to voice their perspective, dreams, hopes and desires in co-creating the environment which is most essential for their development and growth – their home.

The Purpose & Mission become the bedrock upon which the next generation understand the character that was weaved into the family through the generations, the moral compass that will help them determine the right path to choose, in discerning the multitude of options presented to them. It provides them with a backbone, a support mechanism upon which to draw wisdom. As long as it is done correctly, with the appropriate level of exploration and discussion it requires, and deserves.

One family of noble lineage stemming back to the 800s epitomised their family philosophy in the following way: our family is like a chain along a wall, attached by a nail. Some nails are lower, others higher, holding the line of the chain. Your responsibility is to ensure you place a nail. It doesn’t matter if up or down, but ensure you place a nail. It is this simple philosophy that enabled this next generation member to muster the courage to reshape himself and move forward after losing everything in the financial crisis. This simple phrase enabled him to remember the character instilled in the family, the courage and resilience of the family, and the standing of their good name. This went on to determine how he handled the situation he faced, how he interacted and engaged with others, how he conducted his business affairs, how he severed the ties he needed to, all with the dignity, grace and integrity instilled in him along his line.

That is the power of Mission & Purpose. The ability to thrive in the face of challenges.

Values & Self-Awareness

Has anyone ever upset you, even perhaps made you angry?

It probably wasn’t the person’s intention to make you angry. But their actions or what they said happened to impinge upon one of your values. Moreover, their behaviour was also linked to their values. We see people like icebergs. Not from a temperature perspective but from a depth perspective. We only see the tip of the iceberg, the one-eighth peering above the surface, people’s behaviour. But the majority of the iceberg lies beneath the surface, in the depths of the water it occupies. And this is where we have our beliefs, perspectives and values, lying beneath the surface and façade of our actions, often lying within our unconscious mind.

Failing to be aware of, or sensitive to, what these are is like being in constant autopilot.

Imagine being in a plane, relying on the autopilot but you don’t know the controls, navigation system or even what all the parts are called. Do you think that journey will end well if something unexpected comes into sight? And when life happens, it is values and perspectives that are affected.

Let me share a story to illustrate: One family had built a significant investment company and it was understood this was a family business to be grown and transferred to future generations. Then tragedy struck. The father was diagnosed with cancer and, shortly afterwards, his wife also. They underwent treatment and, thank goodness, they survived. The experience shocked the family and all were immensely grateful the parents survived. The experience affected the parents profoundly, driving in them the desire and will to found and endow a world-class medical research facility dedicated to uncovering the causes, treatment, prevention and cure of the genetic cause of cancer and other genetically based diseases. In addition, they tithed 40% of the family business’s annual profits to fund the facility.

That is how values are shaken and reshaped – when life happens.

Actions

The third is Actions. All the goodwill in the world, all the lovely statements and words will do no good if we do not follow through with our actions. We are pulled in a million and one directions with many demands on our time, and mostly looking forwards not back. We have all heard the expression ‘with the benefit of hindsight’.

So it is the ultimate hindsight I would like to touch upon – the topic that is rarely talked about – and that is death.

It is ironic that as human beings we avoid the topic. How many times have you heard a patriarch, even yourself say, “if I die…”? We love guarantees, certainty, and yet we shy away from the ultimate deadline. But through this lens, we can glean much insight into what is truly important to us: Where we focus our time and efforts; What we put off for another day; Who we say no to; What and whom we say yes to; What we don’t say waiting for the right time or holding on until the other makes the first move.

Consider this if you will – imagine you had a week to live:

  • What would you do differently?
  • How would you behave differently?
  • Who would you choose to share time with?
  • What conversations would you ensure you had?
  • What can you now see that you couldn’t see before?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What really matters?
  • When you are no longer here, what do you want to be remembered for – the empire you built, or your character, how you conducted yourself, how you treated others?

One family’s experience that resounds in me is the story of a beautiful woman, now with children and grandchildren of her own. She is a humble and soulful lady, doing her best to be a steward for the wealth as well as being a loving wife, mother and grandmother to her family. In sharing her story she revealed that her father worked very hard, committed to the company and what he was creating. His focus on his work, as well as his belief that women had no role in business, meant that he shared very little time with his daughter, to the extent that she learned who he was and his accomplishments through a book. On the other hand, he did share a lot of time with his grandchildren who can now forge their own path instilled with the grandfather’s philosophy.

Nelson Mandela said “In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education…but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being.”

So in considering what we leave the next generation and how, I would impress on you the importance of focusing first on the foundations. This enables the next generation to have the capacity to delve within themselves to grow and have the impact they are capable of. It also enables us, to understand and embrace what matters and to be the best we can be. For it is in our own life’s example that we leave the ultimate testament to our legacy.