I know many of you out there are not going to like the subject of this column because it deals with something you probably don’t want to think too much about. But I believe it’s extremely important, and so I’m going to do my best to try to get those of you who have so far avoided it to give it the attention it deserves.
What am I talking about? Succession planning. The big question is, who’s going to carry on your business when you either can’t or don’t want to anymore?
There are lots of reasons to avoid the topic of succession planning: you’re too young, you’re going to work forever, no one can do it like you, nobody in your family is interested, and so on. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve heard all the excuses. Go ahead, say your reason out loud and listen to it. Then ask yourself, “If someone I didn’t know said the same thing to me about my business, would I believe it?”
Many of you out there are probably saying, “Is this really such a big deal?” Let me share a little statistic with you. BodyShop Business research shows that the average age of a shop owner/manager has risen from 46 in 2003 to 52 in 2009! While that indicates that, on average, you guys are still younger than me, it’s a significant increase when you’re talking about the aging of an entire industry’s ownership. That’s the highest average shop owner age we’ve ever reported.
What it means is that we’re in the twilight of our careers. Gone are the days, my friends, when we can say, “I’ll get to it next year.” You need to think about it now. You need to look at your individual situation and decide which way to go. Whatever you decide to do, you need to think it through. I’ll share my own personal experience with you as an example of why succession planning is so critical.
During the 1960s and ’70s, the Shriber Auto Parts Company experienced good growth and was moving into different product lines. The future of this longtime jobber was looking good. The eldest son was in the business and had a true interest and passion for the automotive aftermarket. The younger son (me) had aspirations of working for a car company and only participated in the business during summers or when he was needed during busy times.
It all sounded good. The plan was in place, and everybody kind of knew how it was to go. Then, my college roommate called me to the phone my junior year and the entire plan was gone. My older brother had passed away the night before. Once the dust settled, my 61-year-old father was faced with a dilemma: no successor. My father did the right thing and offered it to me rather than just assume I was coming back. He knew I wasn’t focused on the business like my brother was, and he wanted me to follow my dream of working for an automaker. It all worked out in the end, with my roommate from school becoming a partner in the business, creating a lifetime friendship between him and my father.
I tell this story here to illustrate that change is inevitable. You need to think through what you want to do with your business, maybe even come up with a couple options. If your family is interested in carrying it on, great. If they’re not, look for someone who is or explore other options. You’ve worked long and hard to build your business. Your customers and employees count on its existence on a daily basis. Spend some time ensuring that it will go on into the future.