In this issue
When the family hierarchy decides to sell the business, members of the younger generation are often left out in the cold. I was caught in just such a situation, which few outsiders can, or want to, understand. “You have your entire working life ahead of you,” outsiders told me. “Now you have the flexibility [that is, money] to do what you really want.”
In late march, President Clinton announced changes in banking regulations which will allow banks to make more “character loans” to small business owners, loans that are based primarily on the borrower's reputation rather than his ability to satisfy rigid lending rules. This is timely news for thousands of family businesses.
Succession planning has three objectives: to efficiently and fairly distribute assets from older to younger generations; to pass control of the business in a way that will ensure effective business leadership; and to maintain and promote family harmony.
It is quite remarkable how the effort to meet these three simple objectives results in the agony, confusion, and paralysis that characterizes so much succession planning. Yet the reasons are obvious.
Business owners tend to pussyfoot when faced with the necessity of firing a family member. They want to be loved, they agonize. They just don't like to fire anybody, let alone a relative: “If I fire cousin Charlie, Aunt Emily will never speak to me again.” And the more successful the business, the longer they'll keep the nonperforming family member on the payroll. “Oh hell,” they say, “the business can afford it.”