Business Succession Planning Insights: Tales from the Trenches

Friday, April 19, 2019

Business Succession Planning Insights: Tales from the Trenches

Business Succession - although the topic on the surface may appear to be rather mundane, improper succession planning can literally cause the loss of a company and place family members in situations where they never speak to one another again. It’s that serious.

Statistically, only 1/3 of all family businesses will survive from the first to second generation and less than 15% will survive from the second to third generation. I’m not referring only to companies that are struggling to stay afloat, this sobering statistic includes many, many, businesses that at one time were hugely successful. Think it can’t happen to you? None of the individuals involved with those businesses expected it to happen to them either. Ask any family members of those business owners if it could happen. Improper business succession planning is the leading cause of ultimate business failure.

My client base of proven business owners and entrepreneurs stretches across the United States and although they are involved in different industries, they share many similar attributes including understanding the importance of business succession planning. More critical than understanding the importance is that they actually took action and implemented a business succession plan that protects the company owners, their families, the employees and business.

Inadvertently Disinheriting Your Children from Business Ownership

Yes, it happens – more often than business owners realize. Worse yet, is this trap snares many business owners that have actually implemented succession planning! There are many reasons how a business owner can disinherit his or her own child. Think it can’t happen to you? Think again.

A common example is a business that has two or more owners that happen to have their children actively working in the business with the intent of continuing the business well into the future. The problem arises when a succession plan doesn’t get updated.

Many years ago siblings, Larry, Harry and Mary started a single lumberyard, as equal owners. The single lumberyard grew to five and the business was thriving. The siblings had the good foresight of establishing a funded buy-sell agreement that would make certain if one of the owners departed the business for any reason that there would be mechanisms in place for the owner’s business interest to be bought and the remaining owners would own the company 50/50. There were many components of the plan; however, the overriding objective was for the company to buy back the stock of an owner that departed the company for any reason. Sounds fairly straightforward, right? It was straightforward when the plan was implemented; however, as time went by Larry, Harry and Mary each had a son come into the business with the intention that their own sons would acquire their own parent’s shares. Again, a very common intention for many business owners. So what’s the problem? Harry unexpectedly passed away and the dream of having his son own his shares passed away as well. Remember, each of the owners’ business interest was structured to be bought by the company at their passing. In this particular situation, Harry’s shares at his passing were purchased by the company. Harry’s son’s business ownership future – over and done.

Unintended Owners - Forced Sale of the Company

Bill and Will, two lifelong friends started a lumber supply company together. Bill’s strengths were on the entrepreneurial side and Will brought blue collar talents to the team. They determined that company ownership would be held 55% by Bill and 45% by Will.

Although Bill and Will remained the closest of friends and business associates, neither was particularly close with the other’s wife as neither wife was actively involved in the business. Furthermore in the 25 years that Bill and Will owned the company, there weren’t more than a few times per year that the spouses stopped by the business. One day that all changed. Bill was in a fatal accident and because there wasn’t properly structured succession planning, Bill’s wife was now the owner of his 55% interest.

Bill’s wife and Will, now co-owners, talked and Will assured her that he would be able to keep the company profitable as it always had been. Even though Bill’s wife wanted to believe in Will she was not comfortable putting her financial future in the hands of someone she couldn’t know for certain could keep the business successful without Bill’s input. Bill’s wife decided to immediately sell…….during a down economy and for a sales price much less than what the company would have garnered during a more normal economic time.

Terrance K. Resnick and Leon B. Resnick are partners in Resnick Associates, a nationally recognized business succession, estate planning and life insurance advisory and implementation firm with offices in Harrisburg, PA and Kansas City. Terry and Lee work with many building material lumber related organizations and their individual business owner members across the U.S. You can reach Terry at terry@resnickassoc.com or 717.652.2929 and Lee at lee@resnickassoc.com or 913.681.5454.

Reprinted with Permission from LBM Journal

LBM Journal 4/19/2019

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