Family affair Featured

11:14am EDT November 20, 2003
I've worked with more than 50 client businesses led by parent/children owners and regularly assist leadership in changing hands.

Coaching family succession and transition is as thrilling as watching an Olympic relay race. When one generation successfully hands off to the next, it's wonderful to see the business gain momentum.

But just as horrifying as watching a member of a relay team drop the baton and fall half a lap behind is seeing a great business blow a leadership handoff. Here are the three major phases of the relay race every successful business must run.

Approaching the handoff

The incumbent leader must finish strong. The baton should stay firmly in his grasp until he finds his true successor, not just a look-a-like in an adjacent lane. The upcoming leader bides his time until the right moment, then steps into his father's lane and prepares to start running the company.

The hand-off

The handoff in any relay race is the culmination of months of practice, requiring complete trust and total coordination. Taking over the leadership of a business is no different.

In each case, the baton must change hands flawlessly and at full speed in the midst of multiple distractions, including the clamor of spectators. When perfectly performed, the outgoing runner sprints to full power and only then outstretches his hand, blindly expecting the baton.

Leaving the fly zone

Upon grasping the baton, the lead runner forges ahead to set his own pace toward a new record. The trail runner quietly and unobtrusively steps off the track after turning control over to new hands with fresher legs.

For the business leader successfully passing the baton, his role going forward is one of cheerleader and spectator but no longer as an active runner.

It's imperative to treat each phase as equally important. As with any long-term project, it is easy to begin the transition strong, then lose steam, especially as you realize your role within the company is going to change significantly.

Done correctly, however, you will leave your company in good hands for many years to come. Andrew Birol (abirol@andybirol.com) is president of Birol Growth Consulting, a Solon-based firm that helps grow businesses by growing their best and highest uses. Reach him at (440) 349-1970 or at www.andybirol.com.