Can I leave my business in capable hands?

I'm retiring soon, but I'm wary of leaving the company in my son's hands.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2014

Q: I'm retiring at the beginning of next year and my son is taking over the family business. He has more or less been running the company for the past three years and, while he's very good, I'm worried he's still not good enough. I'm nearly 70 and it's time for me to step back but I'm wary about leaving the company in his hands.

A: There are two or three giveaways in your letter. Your son has 'more or less' been running the company for the past three years and it's time for you 'to step back', although you're still 'wary'.

What this tells me is that neither you nor your son can yet be certain of his competence to run this family business because he has never been given the freedom to do so. Your half-in, half-out presence, although undoubtedly well intentioned (and initially sensible), has left your son in no doubt that you don't trust him.

I'm sure you didn't plan it that way and that you've honestly tried to take a back seat, but he must have been constantly aware of your shadow. So, rather than making decisions and then carrying them out, he'll have been trying to second-guess you, always wondering whether you approve and what you might have done yourself. Others in the company will have noticed - and wondered.

The longer you hang in there, the more doubts you'll have and the harder you'll make it for your son ever to feel liberated enough to take absolute control. Three years has already been too long. So, if it's at all practical, bring forward your retirement, take a deep breath and step aside now. And if you could bring yourself to visit relations abroad for a couple of months, that would be ideal.

The sooner he starts making his own mistakes, the sooner he'll become your worthy successor.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems on editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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