Succession Planning

Co-leadership may be equitable, but it's a tough act to pull off

By Benjamin Benson

Charley Jones has a problem. He's nearing retirement age and must find a successor in the business that has taken him a lifetime to build. His two children are competent, and each wants to be CEO.

The family has always been close. Charley knows that if he chooses one of his children to lead the company, he will alienate the other and disrupt family harmony. He doesn't want to make the choice. Then again, maybe he doesn't have to, he realized. Why couldn't both run the company together, equally sharing responsibilities, decisions, and equity?

In general, I agree with the Turkish proverb, "a ship with two captains ends up in the desert." The process of transferring leadership to multiple family members who have a track record of getting along has a reasonable chance of running smoothly. Unfortunately, owners like Charley consider the option as an easy alternative to making hard-nosed choices. It takes a special family makeup and a well thought-out plan to pull off this delicate balancing act.

If you are thinking of naming two, or even three, successors, you should first make sure the children (or cousins, in-laws, and so on) meet all of the following criteria:

 

Benjamin Benson, co-author of Your Family Business: A Success Guide for Growth and Survival, is a family business consultant based in Boynton Beach, Florida.


MAKING IT WORK

Criteria for co-leadership:

Pitfalls to work through:

— B.B.