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  • Writer's pictureJayne McQuillan

Securing the Legacy: Mastering Family Business Transitions with Advanced Planning

Journey Consulting | Family Business Succession Planning

Family businesses are a cornerstone of economies worldwide, contributing significantly to job creation and economic stability. Consider these statistics from the Conway Center for Family Business:

  • Family businesses account for 64% of U.S. gross domestic product

  • They generate 62% of the country’s employment

  • They account for 78% of all new job creation

  • Family firms comprise 90% of all business enterprises in North America

The impact of family businesses on our economy is evident. These businesses have longevity, with 30% of all family-owned businesses making the transition to the second generation. Family businesses create wealth, as they tend to create strong entrepreneurial activity over time. They tend to have strong cultures and focus on the next generation, not the next quarter.

According to the 2023 National State of Owner Readiness Survey conducted by the Exit Planning Institute, 75% of business owners would like to exit their business within the next 10 years. With a considerable number of those businesses being family-owned, the potential economic impact of unsuccessful transitions is significant. And, transitioning a family business from one generation to the next presents unique opportunities and challenges.

A Family Business Transition Gone Wrong

A family-owned manufacturing client of ours had been owned by two brothers, and due to unfortunate circumstances, they ended up selling the business to the next generation. There were many mistakes made in this transition including no “emergency” plan should something happen. One of the brothers had a serious accident limiting his ability to work, and the other died of cancer.

Without planning, the next generation purchased the company at a price significantly above market. This price was determined by the needs of the exiting owners and their heirs, not what the business was worth. Four family members bought the business. The salaries were set the same, regardless of position – President to shop floor worker. The only person contributing value at their level of compensation was the President. All other positions held by family members were overpaid, and the individuals could not perform their roles.

There were no means by which conflicts were managed, there were significant unresolved issues, and the business was on the verge of collapse. This was not a good starting point for a transition. Fortunately, they engaged us to help them through the challenges and have since grown the business exponentially.  

Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Family Business Transition

Positives to a Family Transition 

  • Legacy and Continuity: Family businesses often carry a strong sense of tradition and pride.  Transitioning to the next generation preserves family values and culture.   

  • Loyalty and Commitment: Family members typically show deep-rooted commitment and dedication, essential for business success. “I can’t fail my family business!” 

  • Long-term Vision: Family businesses usually focus on long-term sustainability rather than short-term gains, leading to stable growth. 

  • Trust and Cooperation: High levels of trust and cooperation among family members can lead to efficient decision-making and a harmonious work environment.  

Challenges of a Family Transition 

  • Emotional Challenges: Mixing family dynamics with business can lead to conflicts and emotional stress, impacting both operations and relationships. 

  • Lack of Objectivity: Decisions influenced by familial ties rather than merit can lead to appointing less qualified members to key positions. 

  • Succession Issues: Choosing a successor can be contentious, especially if multiple family members are vying for leadership roles, causing division and impacting stability. 

  • Resistance to Change: Established family businesses might resist new technologies or innovative practices, hindering growth. 

With these unique dynamics, advanced planning is critical to mitigate the risks associated with family business transitions. Without a well-thought-out plan, businesses can face disruptions that jeopardize their future.  

Key Considerations When Planning a Family Business Transition 

  • Clarity of Roles and Expectations: Early planning defines roles and responsibilities, reducing ambiguity and potential conflicts 

  • Business Continuity: A structured succession plan ensures operational and profitable continuity during the transition period 

  • Financial Security: Proper planning addresses financial issues like tax implications, retirement funding, and equitable asset distribution. 

  • Maintaining Family Harmony: Transparent communication and clear plans help maintain harmony, ensuring personal relationships are not adversely affected.  

Strategies for a Smooth Family Business Transition 

  • Develop a Succession Plan: Outline key roles, the transition timeline, and necessary training for successors. 

  • Involve Professionals: Engage a certified exit planning advisor, legal counsel, and financial and tax advisors to manage complex issues such as family dynamics, estate planning, tax strategies, and governance structures.  

  • Foster Open Communication: Regularly hold family meetings to discuss expectations, plans, and concerns openly. 

  • Provide Training and Development – invest in the education and professional development of the next generation. This ensures they are well-prepared to take on leadership roles and drive the business forward. 

  • Create a Governance Structure: Establish a family council or board of directors to oversee the transition and make unbiased decisions. 

  • Plan for Contingencies: Develop contingency plans for unexpected events, including interim leadership and business continuity strategies.  

Transitioning a family business is a complex process that requires careful planning and consideration. While the journey can be fraught with challenges, the rewards of preserving a family legacy and achieving long-term success are well worth the effort. By understanding the pros and cons, prioritizing advanced planning, and implementing effective strategies, family businesses can navigate transitions smoothly and thrive for generations to come.  

Invitation to Next Generation CEO Roundtable | Journey Consulting | Green Bay, WI

NextGen CEO Roundtable is designed to focus on the unique needs of next generation and newer business owners in their 20s-mid 40s. We’re here to help you develop as successful leaders and achieve tangible results through hands-on exercises, peer accountability and value added discussion.

Launching Fall 2024! Limited to 8 business owners - apply early!


Journey Consulting President Jayne McQuillan

Jayne McQuillan, CPA, MBA, Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA) is the owner of Journey Consulting, LLC and author of The Value Journey: How to Drive Profits, Build Wealth, and Exit Your Business on Your Own Terms.

Our firm is focused on providing business owners and their businesses with strategic planning, exit planning, financial expertise, and organizational improvement. We use a holistic approach within all of our services by aligning leadership with business strategy and outcomes. 

Schedule your complimentary consultation to begin your Value Journey today! 


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