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A Question of Succession

This week, when we are celebrating the Queen’s diamond jubilee, I am thinking about succession. Not just the royal succession, but the whole question of passing on the reins from one generation to the next. It’s important in families – and even more so in business.

As my father says, things change and he reckons it’s not always for the better. “The country has gone to the dogs,” he says. “It’s never been the same since they got rid of the British Empire.”

I have to say, Dr Who aside, the idea of going back to pre-war times doesn’t much appeal to me, or even to my own schooldays. My schoolteachers were a pretty austere lot, most of whom believed that under no circumstances should you ever give kids the slightest hint of praise.

Nonetheless, they managed to give us a healthy respect for what went before: our elders, their values and what they had managed to do in their lives; which makes it quite strange that the next generation have a very different set of values and lifestyles to their parents’.

Now I know that teenagers are almost compelled to be interested in nothing but themselves, but nonetheless, it gets me thinking. If they don’t put any value on Aunt Grace’s collection of china ornaments or the fact that uncle Fred was the champion runner of the world, who is going to remember any of us, or to value our few possessions or the few things we’ve achieved after we’ve gone?

And if it’s true about one’s life and home, it’s an even greater problem for people who’ve built up businesses. The years of work represent to them not just their greatest accomplishments, but also, more often than not, their pensions.

Actually, it’s a question of trust and that is why it’s really important to think about succession planning early enough to do something about it. There’s a whole generation of women whose state pensions keep disappearing over the horizon just when they seem to be within grasp – why don’t they all make themselves redundant and spend the next few years on unemployment benefit: they are fully paid up, after all? But them apart, retirement seems to creep up unexpectedly on most people.

It’s particularly difficult if you have built your business on the back of your own expertise, albeit with people in support roles. I can think of a few people who are highly skilled in their fields, but have no one to pass their businesses on to when they want to stop work. Without them their businesses cannot function and nor are they worth anything, so there is nothing to sell.

Being able to learn is a privilege of being human; and being able to teach the next generation is a privilege of being an expert. So as early as you can, think about how you are going to pass on your knowledge and expertise. Set up a process or series of processes to allow you to build a team of younger people who are not only technical experts, but also leaders, and who you will trust to run the business when you are no longer in a position to do so. Only don’t follow the shareholders of the big banks and allow them to line their own pockets rather than continue to build the business.

Then, one day, you will be able to take things more easily in the knowledge that your pension is secure.

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