What Happens When a Family Business Owner Doesn’t Want to Retire?

Let’s face it, we’ve all been hearing a lot about succession planning and why it’s important. But what if you are a family business owner who doesn’t want – or isn’t ready – to retire?

Last month, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed the inter-generational issues that can arise within a family business when the senior generation is simply not yet ready to step down. The article also addressed some interesting dynamics between the senior generation and the next generation that I thought were worth some reflection.

There are a lot of statistics about how many Baby Boomers are turning 65 each day. These are their so-called “Golden Years,” when life is supposed to start slowing down. From my experience, Baby Boomers have an unwavering work ethic and most are not even close to being ready to slow down. In fact, many Boomers are planning to work well past the historical retirement age of 65.

When the Boomer in question is the leader of a family business, it can bring about challenges for the senior generation and next generation in defining and understanding each other’s roles within the organization. The next generation is trying to make their mark and doesn’t want to feel like they are being undermined at every decision. Yet the senior generation has the benefit of experience and insight and is often just trying to help.

This can become further complicated when you layer in differences in management style. The next generation may want to take more of a team approach, while the senior generation is more used to a top-down management style. Add to that a next generation that is often more willing to take risks, coupled with a senior generation that views itself as a steward trying to preserve the business, and you have a recipe for some real challenges.

The family dynamics outside of the business can get interesting, as well. Parents and children who work with each other every day develop a plethora of opinions about one another. The parent who is trying to relax at home often ends up getting caught in the middle and hearing opinions from both sides.

One thing is for certain – families that can keep a family-first attitude will have a better way of dealing with any issues that arise. The shared values of family members within a family business often allow them to be competitive and respond to situations more quickly than their non-family competitors.

Some final thoughts: The next generation should be respectful and not push their parents out. This can be a conflicting feeling, particularly as the next generation is striving to start forming their own identity within an organization. As for the senior generation, the reality is that if you are in control, no one can make you step down. It is not uncommon to feel a sense of loss when stepping away from a family business, particularly if you are a founder. So, if you are not ready, then you’re not ready. But at least have a plan so the business is not left in a state of disarray if you are suddenly no longer able to contribute.

Steven E. Staugaitis is a director at Kreischer Miller Steven E. Staugaitis, Kreischer Millerand a specialist for the Center for Private Company Excellence. Contact him at Email.




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