Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

By Jonathan Habbershon, High Center research associate
Phil Clemens, Chairman & CEO, Clemens Family Corporation
spoke to High Center members on May 10
Why train a next generation of leaders?  That was the question presented by Phillip Clemens, the Chairman and CEO of the Clemens Family Corporation and the keynote speaker at the May 10th event for members of the S. Dale High Center for Family Business at Elizabethtown College.  Clemens began with a sobering truth that all business owners need to remember: “None of us has a guarantee of how long we’ll be around.”  Being prepared is the only way to ensure that when tragedy strikes your business and your family, both will rise from the ashes to find success. 

The value of solid leadership
Phil described the importance of solid leadership within the family.  The existing generation needs to develop leaders in the next generation.  Many businesses name a successor but don’t give much thought to the person’s ability to lead.  Developing adequate leadership can allow a succession to go smoothly and equip the successor with necessary skills to maintain the family business.  Through the course of leadership development for the next generation, a successor will hopefully become apparent to all and thus can have “buy in” from other family members.  The “buy in” from the rest of the family can support and encourage the successor spurring them towards success within the family and the business.

The timing of transitions
a slide from Phil's presentation
After the next generation’s development was discussed, Phil turned to the current generation of family leaders.  He emphasized the importance of timing with the transitions.  Family business owners can stay too long or not long enough -- both are a hindrance to the growth of the business.  When family members openly dialogue about what the current generation of leadership wants for their life and the business, these conversations help to avoid this problem.  The incoming generation can learn what the current generation’s wishes are for the business, their retirement and the future generation’s involvement.  No family members should ever assume anything about the succession plan.  When family members make assumptions about who will take over, when, how, and what will become of the business, they soon realize that someone else had a different idea than they did and friction turns into fighting.  Open communication is the only way to avoid the issue of assumptions and the possible fighting that could ensue.

Both generations involved in the handoff
The current generation has to establish what a smooth transition would look like for succession.  According to Phil families essentially have one good shot at a transition. After that any attempts will be uncomfortable and could possibly cause more problems for the family or the business than if proper preparations were made at the outset.  Honest and open conversation allows for all expectations to be understood and heard by all family members.  True investment in the next generation of leaders will help ensure that a transition is being made smoothly and to the right candidate.  The future of the family business rests with the next generation;  it is critical for the current generation to be thinking about how to make a smooth handoff. 

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