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May 11, 2022
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Success in succession

Succession in business ownership means the transfer of a business from one generation to the next.

We tend to think of succession in terms of family businesses, where it can become very tricky and may fail unless it is done right. However, the same applies to the services industry, where businesses like architectural firms, engineering firms, accountants, lawyers and advertising agencies almost always grow through succeeding generations of leaders in their company. These businesses also face the hardships of succession if it is not done right.

In this podcast from The Money Show, Pavlo Phitidis discusses businesses that are affected by succession in the services industry. 

In private companies, succession not done right erodes or stalls the retirement wellbeing of the exiting generation and robs the next generation of their future wealth creation path.

With around 75% of these efforts failing, understanding what goes wrong and how to prevent it is critical. Here are four key points to look at for a successful hand over:

1.            Aligned future visions.                  

The misalignment in terms of what that business needs to look like, and be shaped into going forward tends to delay succession or creates a lot of bad blood. This is often because, for example, the exiting founder plans and promises to let go and hand the business over in a year or two. This turns into 15 years during which nothing changes because either he or she has not got the courage to align with the new vision, or their vision is misaligned with the new business owners.

So, getting that alignment right is the first thing that starts the process of succession.

2.            Communication across the team        

Many business owners only realise they want to sell when it is already too late to sell. If you are looking to sell through succession, the communication with your team has to begin first and foremost with you looking in the mirror and saying, “There are only two outcomes for every business in the world: a sale or closure. Because the way that you build a business to generate income is very different from the way that you organize a business and lead a business towards a successful handover.

Communication with your team will help to shape and develop your team and the business differently for a sale and exit.

3.            Relationship transfer                            

Most professional services businesses begin with deep relationships. A good example of this is two professional engineers working for a large engineering group who develop strong relationships with clients. They then decide to step away from the firm to start their own business by servicing that clients. Ten to twenty years down the line, they still hold onto those client relationships. And even  when the leadership of the company finds a young talent in the ranks who they think can continue the legacy of the business, it is difficult to have this transfer because the business has been forged on relationships that were retained by the owners for all these years. The relationship that contributes to 40% of the revenue is tricky to hand over.

So how do you hand over those relationships? It takes time. There is a structure to it. There is a methodology to it, there is a practice to it.

4.            Valuation and exit criteria                          

Once the business owner makes the decision to sell and has found his successor, this can still go wrong for the successor, especially if it’s a senior employee who the business is being handed over to. As an example, the owner will price the business at R20 million, which is an amount the employee will not have nor have had the time to accumulate in the time of employment. So where would you acquire that kind of money?

If you do not get the metrics of this right with the view to educating your successor on how valuation will occur and with the view to aligning yourself with that successor so that this successor can acquire the shares over a period, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Succession is not something that just happens. It typically has a five-year runway. So, if you want to exit your business in five years and your plan is to do so through succession, you should get on the horse right now and start planning a showcase.

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