As one of life’s inevitabilities, management succession planning should always be on the family business agenda. However, it can be one of the hardest conversations to have because it involves people letting go and handing over responsibilities.


One of the most important things to remember is that management succession and ownership succession must be treated differently. Ownership succession is all about owning shares in the family firm (and will be addressed in a later article) whereas management succession raises questions about who should take over the helm.

This article looks at the challenges around management succession and the family business and how to ensure the process is as smooth as possible.  

It’s important to exercise care right from the outset to select the management team that are fit for the future and not just today. Successful family firms are those that embrace change and innovate to remain relevant to their stakeholders.

As a general rule, the sooner the process begins the better. Initially, the decision needs to be made whether the next generation of management should be a member of the family. If not, what would be the impact on the underlying values and positioning of the family?  

A broad timetable also needs to be put in place, taking into account a period of transition. Ideally, there will be a date to work towards that clearly states the change in leadership to all stakeholders. Each family is different, but whilst transition is a process and not always an easy one, it can, however, be broken down into a number of key steps.

  1. Agree a timetable
  2. Identify the skills required
  3. Select the candidates
  4. Provide necessary training and education
  5. Select a successor
  6. Engage with staff/management
  7. Define performance indicators
  8. Set clear governance guidelines
  9. Monitor progress
  10. Start again

Once the timetable has been set and the business has identified the key skills required and any training needs, then the selection of candidates can begin.

If you want to keep management within the family, current leaders need to identify candidates from the next generation. This means choosing from their own children and potentially nieces and nephews, so the emotional dynamic of this selection process shouldn’t be under-estimated. In this case, independent input can be a great help. However, if non-family candidates are the preferred option then clear roles, responsibilities and incentive schemes need to be decided and put on the table to attract the right people for the roles.

An advantage of having family members succeed management is that they have most likely been involved in the business for a long time. In many cases though, family firms encourage their next generation to work elsewhere before returning to roles in the family firm, but problems can arise if they decide not to come back as they see their future outside the family business.  Often, open and honest conversations aren’t held until the succession process is formally put on the table, which can be too late.  

Inevitably, change at the top can lead to a period of uncertainty both internally with staff and management and externally with business partners. After the transition it’s a good idea to put in place PR and relationship plans to smooth over any issues and to introduce the new leader to key customers, suppliers and contacts.  

It’s also vital to set rules for operation and interaction between the board and the family. Family relationships are not always in sync with the needs of the business and these areas need to be managed appropriately. Planning helps, as does conversation, and it’s always useful to get an external perspective. Many other family firms have been through similar processes and can provide a valuable source of ideas, examples and insights to ensure a successful transition.

Once the transition has been implemented, regular reviews are needed and essentially the process starts all over again!

For more information visit our Family Business section of the website or contact us below and our expert team will be on hand to help.

Have Your Say

As champions of the family business sector we are keen to hear your thoughts on some of the areas that we know are challenging for family businesses across the UK today.  The 2018 Family Business Survey is being undertaken by Family Business United in partnership with Mazars. Please click the link here to participate in the survey.

Have your say

As champions of the family business sector we are keen to hear your thoughts on some of the areas that we know are challenging for family businesses across the UK today. The 2018 Family Business Survey is being undertaken by Family Business United in parternship with Mazars. Please click the link here to participate in the survey.

Participate in the survey