Finding your role in a family-owned dealership can be a difficult task. Not everyone is cut out or may care to take on the responsibilities of Successor/Owner, so where may you fit? Can you still participate, find a role that utilizes your strengths, challenges you, and impacts growth and sustainability for the business? In this journey, as you are trying to determine your future within the dealership(s), it is important to know the difference between a Successor and Family Member Employee. There are six Successor criteria to consider when evaluating the Family Member Employee or Successor debate.
- Capacity – ability to develop communication, organization and motivational skills critical to the business’ success
- Commitment – undying passion for the business to overcome any obstacle
- Character – suite of core beliefs and practices that will convey trust or lack thereof, impacting influence and leadership
- Competency – intellectual ability to know what is critical to the business
- Confidence – faith and certainty in one’s ability and in the relationship with the existing owner
- Community – humility and a heart for all those who depend upon the business
Where each of the six criteria are critically important, the first three require further explanation and what essentially can represent the dividing line between a Successor and Family Member Employee. If you have Capacity, Commitment and Character, the other three Successor Criteria should fall in line.
“There are any number of reasons one might choose the path of a Family Member Employee over the path of Successor.”
- Capacity: Do you currently have the motivation to understand the intellectual, strategic, social versatility, patience, collaborative and influential skills required to operate the dealership(s)? A humble attitude to identify what you don’t know and an undying motivation to learn and develop skills required is a driving factor to determining if you have the capacity to become successor.
- Commitment: Are you committed, no matter what may come up such as ongoing flack received from existing key management, lack of support from strategic partners, market downturns and family conflict to overcome the obstacles, prove nay-sayers wrong and be successful? A successor must have enough passion for the business that they are willing to be a role model, and throw their unreserved commitment at the business mission. A successor’s commitment is the most noticeable successor trait because it is felt and understood by everyone in the organization. Commitment usually manifests itself in the form of work ethic, which is often the determining factor in acceptance or rejection by those he or she will be leading.
- Character: One of the fundamental roles of a successor is to lead and motivate. Each successor leads in their unique way, but nonetheless, their personal values influence the organization in a manner that supports or undermines ongoing success. Are your core beliefs and practices like-minded with the organization’s core values? Are you comfortable knowing that some of your personal decisions may become public, because as a business owner you are an influential member of the community whose decisions directly impact many families’ incomes.
If you find you don’t have the Capacity (Motivation), the Commitment (Passion) or the Character (Shared Values) for driving the business as described above, you may have identified you are better positioned to be a Family Member Employee in the business. Successor or family member employee – neither of them is right or wrong and both are critical components to success in a family business. In fact, figuring out which one best fulfills your career goals will help ensure personal satisfaction and family harmony while defining a clearer vision for the future of the organization.
The key is for owners, supervisors and mentors to provide you with the time you need to confirm which path is most appropriate. A Successor Development Team should help with the decision to determine if you have the passion, motivation and interest to be a future owner/leader, and if not, identify opportunities you can grow into.
So, for whatever reason you may be considering or are currently working in the family business and potentially considering taking on a leadership role in the future, make sure YOU have the passion and drive for the product/service, industry and customers to put up with a litany of sacrifices you will undoubtedly face. Don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderful benefits of working in or one-day being the owner of a family business as you have probably seen. Keep in mind though that the only way you will truly feel the benefits is if you choose to be there and you are truly inspired by the impact your work/business has on others around you.
There are any number of reasons one might choose the path of a Family Member Employee over the path of Successor. Regardless of that reason, it is important to realize that any of you who don’t fall into the category of Successor will not be “excommunicated” from the family business and should be provided the opportunity to explore a suitable career path while fueling a productive role in the business.
Author: Jeff Bannon
Jeff Bannon is a partner of The Rawls Group which has helped business owners with their succession planning since 1973. Well-respected in his field, Jeff is a highly requested speaker and has published numerous articles on this subject.