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Opinion: Succession time’s coming — are you ready?

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Have you watched the HBO show “Succession”? Patriarch Logan Roy announces his retirement from his billion-dollar media empire, then retakes the reins. His four complicated kids vie for his favor while constructing duplicitous alliances.

Underlying the whole power play is the burning question, “Is Dad losing it?” as we see glimpses of Logan’s cognitive frailty. Strategic succession planning devolves into a hostile coup of the family business.

It’s must-see TV. And over-the-top dramatic. However, it may stir up some too-close-to-home feelings.

Maybe it’s time someone in leadership at your company steps down. Maybe your dad or mom. Maybe you. At some point, we all need a little help. Let’s explore ways we can proactively and positively embrace the changing seasons of a family business.

Here are my thoughts on succession planning:

• Your business – the one you own or work for – will change ownership at some point. Just saying. It’s best to be proactive. The older we get, the less time we have. Your choices are limited when there is a health crisis.

• Start succession planning with business planning. It’s less threatening and will get you where you need to go. Business planning is literally any activity that helps you clarify your vision and mission and take aligned action in that direction.

• Use time together to introduce conversations about hopes and dreams, i.e. windshield time, cleaning the shop or stocking the truck. These moments can offer a nonthreatening way to bring up big picture questions with family members. Working in the family business is optional. Committing to your best life is encouraged, whatever shape that may take.

• If you have team members who are not related but feel like family, be sure to involve them in private conversations about their opportunities. If you are a key employee and want to be involved in next-phase discussions, be sure to speak up. Don’t simmer in fear or resentment, and don’t hope that someone else is planning your future.

• Schedule a retreat to put together your business plan. I wrote a slim book, called “The Weekend Biz Plan,” that could be the start of an agenda. Discuss your mission and vision. Lay out the organizational chart for your current business and the next few years. Revisit your financial and marketing plans. Agree to time frames and shake hands on the agreed upon goals and actions.

• Ask open-ended questions, like, “What do you want to do?” and “How would you like to spend the next three years of your life?” Don’t go all bossy pants. Open the discussions and give each other time to work through options.

• This can get sticky. Center yourself in love. Keep the emotions in check by using data to make decisions. You may want to enlist the help of a family therapist or business coach to moderate your conversations.

• Talk to a succession planning lawyer after you have these conversations. Don’t waste time and money until you and your family have a clear idea of next steps. An experienced lawyer can help you with the logistics.

Sigh. It’s tough. We are going to get old and ultimately die. Be willing to talk about life and death. Allow yourself and others to be vulnerable. A proactive change of leadership in the business can extend the family legacy of opportunity and success.

“If there is any responsibility in the cycle of life, it must be that one generation owes to the next that strength by which it can come to face ultimate concerns in its own way.” —Erik Erikson

Ellen Rohr is an author and business consultant offering profit-building tips, trending business blogs and online workshops at Her books include “Where Did the Money Go?” and “The Bare Bones Weekend Biz Plan.” She can be reached at


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