Many family business owners think of transition as an event. They associate it with death, retirement, or some other form of departure from their companies. But that shouldn’t be the case.
In its best form, transition is a process that occurs over time in a planned, orderly progression. Handing the torch to a new leader can’t be done overnight. The best analogy for describing the process is that of a runner in a relay race. When the first runner is finishing his leg, the second takes off and builds up his speed to match that of the first. The reason they match speeds is to create a smooth and uneventful handoff of the baton. Think for a minute what the result would be if the runner of the second leg stood still at his start line awaiting the handoff!
But this is often exactly what family businesses do. The second runner, the leader of the second generation, for example, stands still waiting for directions from the first runner, the founding entrepreneur. If the founder doesn’t do his part to prepare the leader of the second generation, difficulties abound, and the transition will not be smooth.
Wayne Rivers President Family Business Institute Raleigh, N.C.