Business Succession: Beyond Buy-Sell Agreements for the Closely Held Business

Business Succession Plan for moving beyond buy-sell agreements for the closely held businessA large portion of the businesses in the United States are closely held companies, and many of the closely held companies are family owned enterprises. The long term perpetuation of the family business is a common and laudable goal of most founders. Developing strategic and successful transitions to subsequent generations largely centers on who will control the company and whether the control will be concentrated in one family member or a small group of family members, or if the control of the company will be spread out among a large group of family members or all the family members. Limiting control to a sole shareholder or a concentrated group of shareholders that are involved in the company is usually the preferable option. The founder's decision to select the most advantageous successor(s) is hardly adequate, however, and many founders approach this first order of business tepidly and do not make the difficult decision due to the attendant consequences that include a possible disruption of the business and family relationships. A successful transition inevitably involves addressing the possible conflicts that will arise within the company itself and among the family members involved. Conflicts can emerge from the most expected and unexpected sources, and a founder that is willing to plan for and manage potential conflict will provide a more secure foundation for the business to continue successfully beyond his or her lifetime. A part of a lawyer's arsenal in assisting the family business owner is to formulate a succession plan and draft a buy-sell agreement that determines the steps and the results of various shareholders buying out other shareholders and under what circumstances a shareholder may or may not continue as a shareholder in the business. In many family situations, however, the inherent conflicts that arise and come to the surface are because the family has not been taught the intangible character development and emotional fortitude that is necessary to successfully navigate and resolve disagreements. Personality clashes, the history of family members' childhood relationships, opposing perspectives on the management and operation of the family business, and the founder's choice of who will succeed to the control and ownership of the company have the potential to ignite family blow ups. Business Succession Planning table for moving beyond buy-sell agreements for the closely held businessLawyers provide legal advice in these unfortunate situations, however, lawyers also have a unique perspective in that we also see successful family enterprises implement transition plans that go beyond the necessary buy-sell agreement. Successful family transitions are usually the result of cultivating cooperation, understanding, and forgiveness amongst family members. Founders who succeed at fostering personal growth and character development, including honesty, respect and leadership alongside teaching business acumen generally observe a more successful and peaceful generational transition of the control of their business. The founders themselves must make a deliberate and long term dedication to cultivating a family culture that brings in and nurtures the emotional intelligence necessary to perpetuate a successful family business. There are a myriad of resources available to business owners who desire guidance in this area. The Family Firm Institute, Inc. is an excellent starting point. The attorneys at The Penning Group are committed to helping our clients successfully transition their businesses to the next generation, and we can provide you with resources that will complement a comprehensive buy-sell agreement. Dan A. Penning