Succession poster

Business: it runs in the family

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23rd June 2023

Business: it runs in the family

Family run businesses form the bedrock of Northern Ireland’s economy, representing over 57% of all private sector employment and more than 325,000 local jobs.

While it might seem that future proofing in these businesses would be easier given the close relationships, generations of knowledge sharing and natural inclination on behalf of sons, daughters and grandchildren to follow in their parents’ footsteps, reports show that only a small percentage of firms are actively developing successors, often assuming a natural evolution of role or in some cases, kicking the can down the road.

It is possible that against a backdrop of much uncertainty, political instability, rising cost of business, and general fallout from the Pandemic, the matter of succession planning may have dropped down the agenda for many of our business leaders – consumed with the little (or not so little) fires they seem to be putting out everywhere.

But as those who have been glued to the hit NOW TV drama, Succession, know, it’s crucial that business leaders have a plan firmly in place for when the time comes to step aside.

And if the Roy family’s antics have taught us anything over four seasons, it’s the need for clarity and transparency, communicating that plan well ahead of time and leaving potential successors in no doubt as to their future role.

In the case of Succession, it took their Father’s stroke to happen before it dawned on the Roy children to question which one of them would step up.

What followed was chaos; major reputational damage to the business and a dip in investor and market confidence as well as all out sibling rivalry and backstabbing – none of which presented any of them in the best light as an emerging leader.

Closer to home, at the 2023 Annual Musgrave Retailers’ Conference, it was perhaps no coincidence that succession planning was top of the agenda, with retail director Paddy Murney encouraging retail partners to adequately plan for the next chapter of their business.

We heard from Donna Moran, who opened her first Centra in Derry 25 years ago and now owns three stores across the north west. Donna and her husband are in the process of stepping back and allowing their three children to take the helm.

In a conversation hosted by Sarah Travers, the family candidly shared their succession journey, the learnings and challenges that come from navigating professional relationships with family members, especially children. And how important it was for the Morans to begin to step back, support their successors with guidance but ultimately allowing them to step forward as the next generation of leaders.

For any emergent leader, there are some things to consider, such as what type of leader they hope to be, whether they will be active on social channels, the issues and causes they wish to become a voice of authority on, as well as how to handle and navigate the complex issues facing business leaders today, not least the scrutiny of the media, consumers and government.

With proper succession planning, they can be afforded the time to develop their individual leadership style and skill up on the things their new role might ask of them.

Rather than, like the Roys, who found themselves in a scramble, unequipped for the pressures of the top role, which ultimately caused damage to their relationships with each other, their reputations and their empire.

By Dawn Hesketh-Guilfoyle