Where do you see yourself in five years? Most people who have ever conducted an interview have asked this stock question of a candidate at one time or another. We expect professionals to have a life plan complete with milestones by which they can measure their success. Likewise, an effective five-year business plan is critical to managing a company and communicating with the company’s stakeholders. Yet one element crucial to an effective blueprint for a company’s success is often missing. What is your succession plan? For those who are counting on an internal succession, consider the following pitfalls if a well thought out plan isn’t established.
- Transition to next generation. Today, less than one third of family businesses transition to the next generation successfully.
- Continuity of family interest. As owners approach retirement and look to the business as the means to continue the lifestyles they have created, their interests are often markedly different from those of the succeeding family members who wish to focus upon their own goals.
- Financial position. Buyout agreements which adequately represent both the seller and the buyer are difficult to create.
- Conflict between family members. Difficulties between family members intensify when the next generation has differing motivations and goals. This issue often becomes a company killer in the case of death, divorce and other legal entanglements and often can mean that some members just want to liquidate and access the assets immediately, while others wish to advance the interests of the business as a whole.
- Tax and probate concerns. The death of the owner can trigger tax and probate delays, which affect the health and management of the company.
Succession Planning for Closely Held Owners
In order to ensure that the business continues to succeed upon an internal succession, a small business owner should consider and address these critical issues (among others) as a part of their planning process:
- If you were to pass away suddenly, would family members be prepared and have the skills and desire to step up to fill your shoes, ensuring the family has appropriate income?
- Is family succession your preferred path and a planned event or is it a back stop (contingency plan)?
- Do you have a clear vision of the future of the business, including measurable goals and objectives and has this vision been shared and bought into by the family?
- What will each family’s member role be and how will they be compensated? How will those family members who aren’t involved in the business be treated?
- Should a conditional alternative exit plan include a sale of the business to an outside party to preserve the family and their wealth?
- If you are counting on long-term income from the business (versus selling the company to the next generation) to support your retirement needs how risky is this proposition? Are you comfortable and confident the company and the next generation can shoulder this burden?
- If the family is to hold the business, should it engage in formal family governance or a board of advisors or a combination of the two?
Long-range financial planning and the legalities of succession are complex issues that require strategic thinking and professional advice if the transition is to be successful.
Succession Planning Necessity
Pitfalls fill the pathway to a strong succession plan and the process should never be undertaken lightly. Business owners should establish transitional succession with legally binding documents to protect the family and the business. This should define the methodology of the future decision-making process with appropriate authority and controls in place, as well as a dispute resolution method. The plan must also address all taxation implications to the owner and the business relating to the sale or transfer of ownership, the owner’s death or divorce. If the family will retain the business, professionals should review the estate plan to minimize taxes and avoid delays in transfer of ownership to the heirs. If it is to be sold, professionals should create a sales agreement that will be fair and equitable to buyers and sellers, accurately reflecting the value of the business and minimizing tax consequences of the transition. It’s imperative that all concerned family members and other stakeholders, including designated advisers, are familiar with the plan to ensure all processes occur exactly as outlined. Professional assistance is critical to the effective creation of a strong plan of succession, which must then be legally documented to ensure the full protection of the courts.
Finding a Succession Planning Professional
Many family businesses will not survive a transition, but you can maximize your family’s opportunities for success by engaging the best professional team available to you. Few business owners will have the knowledge and skills necessary to create and implement such a complex set of documents. The process requires a thorough knowledge of all of the key players and their skill sets, the business itself and the skills required to manage it effectively, the tax code as it applies to the transition and the legal knowledge to create fair and binding documents. This is a team effort that requires the cooperation of all involved parties and the expertise of outside professionals qualified to develop a realistic plan that satisfies your goals and objectives. If you are ready to ensure you maintain control, exit on your terms, and preserve your family’s wealth, then start today by selecting your internal and external team. The team at Smolin is a large assembly of multi-disciplined professionals who have been helping business owners protect, grow and monetize their business interests for more than 65 years. Our partners, managers and directors have wide array of experiences and expertise and have a developed a specialized group dedicated to succession planning and implementation. When you engage the services of Smolin, you tap into the knowledge and experience of some of the finest planners in New Jersey. When you want the best in the field, you want Smolin.