Business Succession Planning
The operational demands of running a family business or other closely held enterprise can be all-consuming; but it’s vital that business leaders take the time needed to assess their organisation’s business succession planning, as without it your spouse, partner or children may not inherit your share of the business or even worst an inexperience beneficiary could devalue the business and make it worthless.
For private, owner-managed, or family-owned businesses, a solid succession plan can drive the growth of the business, reduce taxes, and set the stage for retirement. Family-run businesses may benefit further by focusing on preserving harmony within the family.
This is not a subject to be put off until later; to be done successfully, it needs to be an integral part of a company’s business strategy and operations.
No one goes through the work, risk, and sacrifice of starting a business without hoping it will last. Building value that endures is the dream that motivates entrepreneurs. Yet in many businesses those in control neglect to determine who will take over when the founders leave the stage.
For a business, working without a succession plan can invite disruption, uncertainty, conflict, and endanger future competitiveness. For companies that are family – owned or controlled, the issue of succession also introduces deeply emotional personal issues and may widen the circle of stakeholders to include non-employee family members.
The next 10 to 15 years may bring substantial transfers of wealth through business ownership hand-offs across generations and other new ownership structures. The long-term survival of those businesses, and the preservation of the wealth they have built will depend upon a clear and early focus on strategic succession planning.
The need for business planning
Business succession planning is a multidisciplinary process. When you engage in succession planning, you are not just focusing on the future, because it is impossible to plan for the future without a deep understanding of the present. Leaders have to know the current reality of their businesses, how they operate, where the value lies, what their needs are, who their most vital customers are and why, in order to prepare for new leadership and new structures that can provide continuity in the ways that matter.
There are many benefits for companies and owners who plan properly and strategically for an orderly transition of management and ownership.
Succession planning — a starting point
Compare your status quo to the questions below. If one or more “no” answers reveal deficiencies in your approach, know that you aren’t alone — and that it’s not too late.
- Have you defined your personal goals and a vision for the transfer of ownership and management of the company?
- Do you have an identified successor in place?
- If applicable, have you resolved the family issues that often accompany leadership and ownership decisions?
- Does your plan include a strategy to reduce estate or inheritance taxes?
- Will there be sufficient liquidity to avoid the forced sale of the business?
- If succession will one day require the transfer of assets, have you executed a “buy-sell” agreement that details the process ahead of time?
- Is there a detailed contingency plan in case the business owner dies or becomes unable to continue working sooner than anticipated?
- Have you identified and considered alternative corporate structures or stock-transfer techniques that might help the company achieve its succession goals?
- Have you determined whether you or anyone else will depend upon the business to meet retirement cash flow needs?
- Have you recently had the business valued and analysed in the same way potential buyers and competitors would?
A good plan takes time to develop and implement.
Family feud For Example.
Roger is a closely held business owner in his early 60s. Two of his children, Simon and Petra, are relatively inexperienced at working in the business, and a third child, Thomas, does not work in the business at all. Roger wants to scale back involvement in the business so he and his wife can move away and enjoy their retirement years together. With outside help, Roger builds an estate plan that includes family partnerships and trusts that hold insurance and company stock. The family’s perception is that the business succession plan is sufficient.
A year later, Roger is ready to retire, but cannot because the siblings are floundering in their executive development. Roger relies more on non-family employees, who are not in line for ownership, to get things done. Simon and Petra resent this. Meanwhile, Thomas feels the salaries, company cars, and other benefits Simon and Petra draw from the company are coming at the expense of his inheritance. When Roger finally does pull away, Simon and Petra assert their leadership in the resulting vacuum despite their lack of preparedness. Several important executives and customers leave, sales fall off, and the top salespeople move to the competition. Thomas wants Simon and Petra demoted or fired to protect the value of the inheritance. Roger worries about the value of his stake as a source of retirement funding.
Months later company operations continue to suffer. The children are no longer speaking to each other and holiday get-togethers are cancelled. Thomas forces a sale of the business for cash, but the family receives only a fraction of the amount that financial advisors and attorneys projected years earlier in the estate plan. Taxes eat half of that disappointing sum.
Simon and Petra are not equipped to find similar high- level jobs elsewhere, and they struggle professionally. Thomas blames Simon and Petra for depleting his inheritance. Roger must revisit his post-retirement dreams. In the aftermath of the sale of the business, all the estate tax planning accomplished years before has been unravelled.
Roger relied on specialists for sophisticated estate planning. Why did everything go wrong? In reality, estate planning is only one facet of succession planning. Roger made a plan for transferring enterprise value, but not one for continuing to generate or maintain that value. His approach to succession planning should have incorporated management talent assessment, compensation planning, stock transfer strategies, formal directorship roles for both family and non-family officers, corporate structuring, communication plans, and estate planning.
Building an estate plan entails more than setting up wills, trusts, and Powers of Attorney. The first step is to determine the extent of estate tax exposure in order to prepare the way for further succession planning.
To determine the value of your current estate and for assistance in projecting its future value, it is a good idea to talk to a professional financial advisor. Reviewing the situations and strategies that follow is a valuable way to prepare for that conversation.
When developing an effective estate and gift tax plan, you should consider other elements of succession planning, such as developing and motivating management staff, transferring ownership, retaining key employees, dealing fairly with family members who may or may not be actively employed in the business, disability planning, retirement planning, and investment portfolio strategies.