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Look carefully at three critical factors of succession planning

December 18, 2023

Critical Factors of Succession Planning

The day-to-day demands of running a business can make it difficult to think about the future. And by “future,” we’re not necessarily talking about how your tax liability will look at year-end or how you might grow the bottom line over the next five years. We’re referring to the future in which you no longer own your company.

Succession planning is an important part of the strategic planning process for every business owner. And it’s never too early to start thinking about three of the most critical factors.

1. The involvement of your family

Among the primary questions you’ll need to answer is whether you want to transfer ownership of the company to a family member or sell it to either someone already in the business or to an outside party.

If your children are involved in the business, or there’s another logical successor from within the family, you’ll want to start mentoring this person long before you want to step down. An intrafamily successor should be someone who objectively has the education, training, experience and temperament to fill your shoes. Depending on the amount of support your replacement needs, it may take years for this individual to be truly ready.

Also bear in mind that succession planning and estate planning are linked. You’ll want to create a clear, legally defensible ownership transfer plan while you also fund your retirement or next stage of life. In addition, you need an estate plan that  divides your wealth among family members who participate in the business and those who don’t.

2. The market for your company

If it appears unlikely that you’ll transfer ownership to a family member, you’ll probably want to sell your company. The primary question then becomes: Will there be a market for it when you’re ready to leave? If mergers and acquisitions are relatively common in your industry, you may have little to worry about. But if companies like yours tend to be a tough sell, you might be in for a long and perhaps frustrating process.

To put yourself in a better position, start developing a list of potential buyers well before you’re ready to depart. These may include competitors, business associates and private equity firms. Essentially, you need to get a good idea of the “size and shape” of the market for your company so you can fine tune your succession plan.

3. The structure of the transfer or sale

If you do decide to name a family member as your successor, you’ll need to work with an attorney, CPA and perhaps other advisors to transfer ownership in a legally secure, tax-savvy manner that also accounts for your estate plan.

On the other hand, if you’re going to sell the company (or ownership shares) to someone outside your family, you’ll need to structure the deal carefully and in accordance with the company’s existing buy-sell agreement.

Alternatively, you might set up a purchase via an internal buy-sell agreement that stipulates your partners (if you have them) must buy your shares. Or you could sell to one of the potential buyers mentioned above — again, typical parties include competing businesses, perhaps someone you know through networking or private equity firms.

The specifics of stepping down

There will be many specifics that your succession plan will need to cover as you get closer to stepping down and it’s important to discuss these things with an advisor you trust. Our team has a wealth of knowledge and experience in helping business owners transition their business to the next generation. Reach out to us today to get the conversation started.


Meet the Expert

Scott Mason, CPA

Now retired from Abdo, Scott maintains a passion for helping family-owned and closely-held businesses stay ahead of the curve.

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