Lots of things come in threes. In spiritual life, there is the Holy Trinity. Successful sports teams boast of pursuing a “three-peat.” The triangle is an object of almost mystical solidity and permanence.
I want to add to that list of threes. In my experience, there are three things that everyone needs to live a full life-and to compete effectively in business. This trio is personal and more in keeping with the emotional nature of the work that we do with family businesses, but no less important.
Someone Or Something To Love (and be loved by)
I’ve been fortunate to live and work with passionate people. These were people who loved to build, to create, to inspire, and to be inspired. They created impressive business organizations that employed and enriched many. These people loved others, and they were loved in return.
I’ve also lived and worked with people whose method of loving and being loved seemed flawed. They may have loved their businesses. They may have loved their money and material possessions. Sadly, most discovered money and possessions do not return affection.
That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with others as you age. This is one reason families and family enterprises are so important. They provide individuals with a rare opportunity — the chance to surround themselves with loved ones and spend time engaged in productive activities with common goals.
Unfortunately, time spent working inside a family enterprise is not always loving time. Then it becomes harder for a founder to plan and execute a succession plan. The leader may be unwilling to step aside-or even contemplate a change-because he or she questions whether people will remain appreciative post-succession.
Succession issues, it’s been said with only moderate hyperbole, are the first, second, and third most critical issues for a family business. That’s why it’s important to help business leaders, especially founders, develop relationships with other people that can fulfill them after they leave their business.
Something To Look Forward To
Most of the time when I fly, I’m only interested in getting to where I’m going, perhaps with the chance to do some paperwork along the way. But some time ago I shared an airplane ride with a man who told me a story I have never forgotten.
It was about the business founded by his wife’s domineering father. The founder coerced his son into taking a do-nothing job at the business. At 40, the son decided he’d had enough and resigned. Enticed by the title of president, dad convinced him to stay. Having spent his career doing little more than filling a chair, the son proved inadequate. So his father retook the reins.
The story ended when the founder died slumped over his desk at age 84. At 65, the son became sole owner and president-only this time with nobody to fall back on in tough times. Perhaps the pressures of his new leadership position contributed to his death from a heart attack six months later.
These two intertwined tragedies then spawned a third tragedy, when it was discovered that neither man had made adequate preparations to deal with the tax and estate implications upon their death. In short order, the company was forced to close its doors forever.
The damage was done, not because of inheritance laws, but because the 84- year-old didn’t have anything to look forward to in a life of retirement. Obsessed by his business, he lacked any occupation or avocation aside from his work. Almost predictably, it was impossible for him to loosen his grip on the business. He could not share power with his son-even to prepare him for his eventual accession. The father had no friends, activities, hobbies, or other interests outside work. In a final irony, this total absorption in his life’s work caused his life’s work to evaporate.
No doubt you have seen something similar in your life. Everyone needs goals and plans-a life without a future is not a life. This is why succession is so difficult for those who have devoted themselves to building their business at the expense of a balanced life. These people are usually afraid of the next transition; for them, it is the great unknown.
Something To Do
Sigmund Freud said, “Happiness is work, and love.” I agree that it’s essential to have productive work to remain satisfied and content.
Sitting on charitable boards is activity, but it is not necessarily work. Not all post-succession activities need to be aimed at generating a concrete result. Having spent a lifetime in energetic pursuit of results, few business leaders will ever eagerly enter an existence that involves no productive labor. That’s why planning for a long-lived business requires planning for the leader to have some meaningful work to do after leaving the firm.
Is it important what kind of work it is? Not really. Any results- oriented activity keeps us young and alive. With nothing to do, we easily become bored, and our mind may begin to erode. When you wake up and have nothing at all to do, life may hold little meaning.
Think about other popular business, sports, and political leaders who start new ventures after the sun has set on their high-profile careers. They may never reach all- star fame again, but they manage to keep going and in many cases learn to appreciate the lower-profile setting.
Perhaps having someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to is not required for survival. But if you want your business to do more than merely survive, pay attention to these three things. The end of your career can be a fresh beginning both for your business and for you.
If you need help with succession planning or figuring out what this second phase of your life might look like we can help.