Transitions, Part 1: Definitions

Today’s blog will be the first of three parts on the subject of Transitions. We will start by looking at some “definitions”. Part 2 will be about “recognition” of transitions, and we will wrap up in a couple of weeks looking at the “proposition” aspects of transitions.

So we have definition, recognition and proposition.

Transitions take on various forms in many of areas of life and nature, but we will be concentrating on business families and the transitions that often affect them, which need to be handled properly in order to avoid unnecessary complications.

Now just because we are starting out with definitions, does not mean you need to define a transition before it can begin. In fact, many transitions begin regardless of whether anyone thinks of them as such.  But it does help to define things before looking into the details.

We will look at 3 elements that can be precursors to a transition: Decisions, Events and Realizations. These three elements look different to different people in the family, because no two viewpoints are the same.

Let’s look at three examples (yes, 3 again), the sale of a business, the death of a founder, and the appointment of a successor.

The head of a family business, let’s say the founder, sells the business. Most outsiders focus on the sale, or the event, and look at how it affects them. For the employees who were not aware that anything was taking place, their transition begins with the event.

But before the event took place, there was a decision to sell, which could have involved other members of the family, or some of the employees. It also likely began, though, with a realization. This could have been realizing that this was a good time to sell, that there was no likely internal successor, or even that the stress of running the business was more than it was worth.

In the example of the death of the founder, in the case of an accident, the event is surely front and center. However, if there was an illness involved, there was a realization stage and whatever decisions did or did not result from the diagnosis. A severe illness will usually trigger some decisions and action that stem from the realization that things need to be addressed.

Following the death, the remaining family members inevitably face a series of decisions, as well as certain realizations, not all of which are positive.

Appointing a successor to head the next stage of the business also involves all three elements. The identification of the successor is a large decision that usually results from a number of realizations. For someone who wished to become the successor but was not chosen, the transition often begins as a realization that can be difficult to swallow.

For the successor, the event quickly sets off their transition, and their ensuing decisions will result in realizations for others, and then their decisions, and so on.

I know that I have thrown a lot of stuff at you here, and my hope is that we can make use of some of this terminology to help understand aspects of transitions that are often overlooked.

Next week we will tackle the recognition stage, which will attempt to look at a transition once everyone involved has hit the realization stage, while understanding how the events and decisions involved have different effects on everyone.

And not surprisingly, we will see that there are some unanticipated issues that can come back to haunt us if we don’t think things through in advance.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.