“I leave it up to my children.”Those were the last few words uttered by a business owner as he lay motionless in his deathbed, his body weakened due to the ravages of cancer. His voice was weak, defiantly struggling to express himself so everyone in the room can hear him say it. I could see in his eyes a feeling of helplessness, confusion and clearly profound sadness.
When it was my turn to say goodbye, I held his hand gently and whispered a prayer and gave assurances that I will continue to help the family with the transition. At that point, I knew death was near. He died the following day leaving behind a family business without any succession plan and an uncertain future for the close to a thousand employees. Every year I get to witness first hand heartbreakingly tragic news about death happening amongst friends and clients. It is a vicious cycle.
Let me be brutally honest and straightforward, when a business owner dies or becomes permanently disabled, the business itself may die or be permanently disabled on the same day – not because something wrong was done – but because nothing was done!
As the leader of an enterprise that you (or Angkong) built through grit and hard work, is your family business prepared for a major transition? Have you (and your siblings) discussed any transition? When leaders ignore the process of transitioning family, business and ownership, the impact on the enterprise when illness or death strikes can be so severe that it may cripple the business overnight.
And when death occurs, it will leave everybody broken, gasping for breath, barely surviving and being dragged under by the sheer responsibilities of the business and the family. There is no doubt that any business will be faced with some very difficult choices in the months and years to come so being prepared is critical.
As the acknowledged clan leader, this is not the time to bury your head in the sand and pray that challenges in your family business will magically work themselves out. Owners must anticipate these predictable events. They must think of the future of the family first and not be tied up with daily sales and operations all the time. In unfortunate events like this, businesses are liable to fall apart if proper planning and agreements are not in place.
Sadly, you are not alone though. In a research conducted by Excellence in Education Institute (ExCED) in collaboration with my consulting firm Wong + Bernstein Advisory, fewer than 30 percent of the founders have a succession plan in Asia. That is less than 3 out of 10 business owners!
You can prevent losing all that you worked so hard by preparing for the transition now. Founders, second generation leaders, patriarchs or matriarchs always take the inevitability of death lightly until one day he or she discovers something that will forever change his or her perspective about life and living.
And then in a blink of an eye, the mortal faces death and reflects on the family and the business including the “what ifs” and the “what should have been done.” But in all likelihood, it will be too late.
Any death can disrupt a functioning family and can mercilessly cause the family business to jolt and veer off course. At worse, the lack of preparation and the entitlement of the family members can cause the family business to fall apart and disintegrate.
How then should family businesses deal with such a powerful emotional event?/WDJ