Building a Legacy Company that your Kids Don’t Want

It’s remarkable the conversations that you can have in an elevator in four quick floors, if you take the opportunity. I jumped in with a grey-haired gentleman in a suit who has an office down the hall. We’ve shared informal chit chats hundreds of times, exchanging smiles and “Have a nice weekend“s over the years.

Today he and I rode the elevator together for maybe 20-seconds. Within that quick elevator ride, our conversation went something like this…

Him: Are you hosting some events this week? (*we regularly host small groups of CEOs at a social event in our shared conference room after hours. He walks by them on his way to the elevator at the end of the workday.)

Me: No, not this week.

Him: What exactly do you do?

Me: We work with owners of second stage, growing companies who want to grow their revenues much faster.

Him: So, you do coaching?

Me: We have elements of coaching, but we have a process that can help them go, say, from $2 Million to $20 Million at an accelerated pace.

Him: (smiling) Oh, I don’t want to do that. I plan to give my business over to my son in a few years.

Me: Yeah? What happens if he doesn’t want it? (*I can be blunt when faced with a scenario like that.)

Him: He doesn’t…

Me: Gosh, I hear that a lot. (Elevator opens) See you upstairs! [End Scene]

Okay, so if your best exit strategy is that you plan to hand your business over to your kid one day, you’d better be sure that your kid wants it. How do you do that? You certainly don’t come home every night burned out, complaining about deadbeat clients, or spend their childhood missing their baseball games and concerts because you were too busy for the good stuff and the important things that made you want to own your own business in the first place. Who wants that?!

This isn’t going to be a long, preachy blog about the best exit strategy for you. I don’t know you. But this topic about family legacy businesses thumped me on the forehead twice this week–once with a client that I had write an article for the Associated Press about his legacy business and how he is bringing his kids to work with him at an early age and showing them his love of the industry vs. my conversation with the man in the elevator today. If you don’t love what you do and have passion for what you do, if your kids don’t see you come home each day feeling rewarded and energized, they aren’t going to want to inherit that business…and likely it isn’t going to be appealing to a competitor either.

Do we have a way for you to fall back in love with the business that you own and the industry in which you’ve invested years becoming a specialist? Sure, of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But first, I’d recommend that you read The Dip by Seth Godin. And then I’d recommend a couple of books by Daniel Priestley called Entrepreneur Revolution, and, of course Key Person of Influence. Lastly, a book by one of our clients Emery Ellinger called Turn Your Blood, Sweat and Tears into Cash. And, by all means, I’d suggest that you ask your kids what they want to be when they grow up. If, at an early age, they don’t express interest in “being just like you, Mom/Dad”, because they see how fulfilled and passionate you are about your work, then you’re not going to convince them to take over your business as the years go by. Not if you keep trudging along until retirement, hoping things get better.

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