Clear Communication Is the Key to a Successful Family Business

Sunday Business (London, England), May 14, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Clear Communication Is the Key to a Successful Family Business


I took over the family firm from my father five years ago. He had suddenly announced that he was retiring to France and he wanted me to buy the factorys freehold from him.

My sister wanted him to sell the business and to divide the assets between us, but he wanted the firm to stay in the family a view not shared by his long-term employees who felt I was insufficiently experienced. The rift took years to heal and I am anxious to avoid a similar situation when it is my turn to retire. How can I make preparations?

It seems that your biggest problem was a lack of communication: your father had not shared his ultimate goal with either you or your sister. Equally, I suspect, both you and your sister had assumed different scenarios when your father retired.

Open, regular communication between family members is vital if everyone involved in the business is to understand the goals, objectives and plans for the future. Hold regular family meetings including non-family members representing other employees to talk about plans and problems.

Succession planning must start long before you decide to retire. Maybe you plan to follow your father and pass the business down through the family line. You might also dispose of the business via a trade sale or management buy-out, or merge it with a rival. Another option would be to wind up the company and realise the assets.

If you decide to select someone to replace you, an early choice is recommended. Let the proposed incumbent know your plans and then, assuming the two of you are in agreement, tell family members and key employees.

Given time, your chosen successor can learn from you the intricacies of the business and earn the respect of fellow employees. During the transition period you can gradually transfer authority and responsibility.

I understand changes have been made to health and safety legislation and that, as a result, we must change the health and safety poster we display in the office. When do the new regulations come into force and what are they?

The new regulations actually came into force on 29 December 1999 and by law you must display the new Health and Safety Law poster revised to reflect changes in legislation before 1 July 2000. According to the Health & Safety Executive, the revised code of practice should not significantly affect firms that already comply with the law.

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