What's your problem?

Succession in a family business

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: I have been in the family business for 17 years and became MD four years ago. I feel I cannot take the company any further - I have become lost when the company needed someone much more focused and stronger to guide it along. Some days, I feel unable to lead the business forward, and my own high standards have been slipping, which is a worry. I have considered replacing myself with someone who will take the company back to where it should be - but having your own business has many perks I don't wish to be without. Where should I go from here? 

A: What's coming next will be pretty harsh stuff, I'm afraid. If you were the managing director of any other business - and one that wasn't a family business - you should have been shown the door by now. Your board of directors would have observed your inadequacies and lack of drive, given you fair warning and negotiated your departure.

And quite right, too. As MD of a family business, you have clear responsibilities to your family, past and present, to your staff and to your customers. By your own sad admission, you know you're now incapable of discharging them. You surely must know that you've got to go.

It's a hugely difficult conclusion for you to reach about yourself and you have my sympathy. But your self-analysis, by definition, is bound to be accurate: if you feel like that about yourself, you simply shouldn't be in that job. Inadequate leaders do two kinds of damage: they not only fail to lead and inspire but also - simply by being there - prevent anyone else from fulfilling that essential role.

I'd be even more sympathetic if you hadn't given the enjoyment of perks as your only reason for wanting to stay on. I can think of no practice more calculated to run a company into the ground than to retain an obviously de-motivated and unsuccessful leader who is just as obviously out to milk the company for everything he can.

Go on like this for much longer and there'll soon be no company for you to milk.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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