Smart Answers

Q: I'm an 83-year-old engineer and need advice on hiring a successor so my 50-year-old company can continue after I retire. --H.D., Long Island City, N.Y.

A: If you are just now looking for a successor at age 83, one has to wonder whether you are so tied to your company that subconsciously you feel no one can take your place. But if you really are ready to hand over the reins, start by defining your business and the skills needed to run it. In many cases, a company's founder has never written down exactly what he does, or defined the roles he plays in the company. You might consider hiring a business consultant to bring an outside perspective.

If no current employees fit the bill, take your successor profile to people who can refer candidates. Contact engineering and business professors at local universities; money managers; other entrepreneurs; and executives at banks, law firms, and accounting firms. "If the business is sound, then this is a terrific opportunity and people will be eager," says Peter Cowen, a Westwood (Calif.)-based investment banker. Making the transition out of a company can be a lengthy process. Don't dawdle: It's time to get to work.

Have a question about running your small company? Send an e-mail to

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.