The process of succession planning is significantly different for a privately-held and/or family owned business compared to a publicly held company.  For our purposes today, we’ll be dealing with the privately held because most businesses fall into that category.

Depending upon your advisor’s field of expertise, the definition of succession planning takes on a variety of meanings.  For some, succession planning is all about wills, buy/sell agreements, trusts, and estate planning.  For others, it’s about business performance and for another set of advisors, it’s all about family harmony.

Each set of advisors believes her/his definition to be the “true” definition of succession planning; and, consequently, the only real reason for engaging in the process in the first place.  In fact, many business owners only deal with one piece; and they believe they actually have a complete succession plan.

The real truth, however, is that succession planning is a process that involves all three:  personal interests, business interests, and family interests.  Failing to address all three broad areas of interest simultaneously is tantamount to choosing the Bermuda Triangle for an extended vacation.

In its entirety, succession planning is a process that transfers business ownership, accumulated capital, and family legacy to and through the next generation of owners and/or family members.  The emphasis is on sustainability over generations.  That takes a level of balance, focus and discipline that rarely occurs unless someone is planning and building toward just such an outcome.

Some of you probably agree in principle while disagreeing that you need to bring in an outside advisor to guide the process.  After all, you’ve already demonstrated and created an enviable record of success.  Why do you need someone else to guide the process for you?

The reason you need someone else is because you can’t quit knowing what you know, or what you think you know.  Your field of expertise probably lies in what you do – either for a vocation or as an avocation; and I doubt that either of those two areas involves succession planning.  Much of your personal knowledge about business success is not going to transfer to planning your own succession.

If you are a Renaissance man/woman, and you have a broad band of knowledge related to your personal interests in terms of motivation and perspective, personal estate planning strategies and tactics, business structuring, strategic planning, business performance, management synergy and teamwork, leadership continuity, successor development, family dynamics, and family governance then you might be able to help yourself.  However, it’s as risky to put your own plan together as it is to represent yourself in a legal proceeding.

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