As we enter a post-pandemic environment, many baby-boomer owners are re-assessing their continued day-to-day involvement with their business. Many current generation owners are accelerating plans to transition ownership to the next generation or sell to outside buyers. Family-owned businesses are hot commodities fueled by over 1.5 trillion dollars of “dry powder” from private equity firms. Consequently, the current generation is being forced to address the age-old issue of “fair versus equal”. Specifically, should children not involved with the business be treated equally to those children involved with the business when it comes to ownership transfer or sale? The question becomes “is equal fair?” when it comes to the next generation.
After advising family-owned business for many years, it has been our observation that over half of family business owners intend to divide ownership equally amongst their children. Whether or not they work in the business does not seem to matter to these parents. However, we must ask the question, is that the best approach to family wealth transfer? Our experience would suggest not.
Confusing fairness with equality has the potential to cause conflict, create resentment and impact the family dynamic into the next generations. Although every family and family business is different, there are a few common sense rules implemented by the most successful and conflict “minimized” families. A few of those rules are:
Owners should also consider the perspective of the children that are not active in the business. They may not want to receive assets that are not liquid and carry more risk than other family assets. Without controlling interest, they are simply coming along for the ride and oftentimes have no say in the operations and strategy of the business. In addition, their ownership shares may be illiquid without the proper buy-sell mechanisms in place. As the generations pass on, this often leads to distrust and resentment between the family members that own and operate the business.
On the flip side, we have observed growing resentment on the part of the children active in the business toward those that have ownership but are not active. In a successful family business that is growing and increasing in value, the children on the inside have contributed to that increase in value but their siblings are benefiting without contributing.
So what should family businesses do to avoid and/or address these issues? Our research has indicated that over 50% of family businesses have no transition plan or strategy in place. In order to successfully transition ownership and control to the next generation, we recommend creating a family enterprise strategy. It starts with involving the current and next generations in defining a shared vision for the future of the family business. Issues to discuss include:
These are a few of the many questions that should be answered through the development of a family enterprise strategy. Through this process the family should come to some consensus regarding the most important issues facing the family and family business. Along the way, the “fair versus equal” issue will be addressed in a thoughtful, constructive and transparent way.
About Bill Wong, CPA, MST
Bill Wong, partner, joined Baker Tilly in 2004. He primarily performs tax services for successful privately held businesses since 1991. As a Value Architect, Bill coordinates tax services and brings family business succession planning and advisory services to closely held businesses. Bill has built deep relationships with his clients and their other advisors, creating value and long-term success for their businesses.
His experience includes:
Bill holds a Master of Science in Taxation and a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in accounting and finance from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
About Gary Plaster
Gary Plaster is a partner leading the family business strategy group at Baker Tilly. He is an accomplished strategist, author and consultant with more than two decades of experience advising C-level executives. As an experienced Chief Strategy Officer, he has led strategic consulting practices at global firms and is a nationally recognized thought leader in the area of growth strategy and managing growth. Gary is also a clinical professor at DePaul University's Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, Center for Strategy, Execution and Valuation.
His wide range of expertise spans strategy development, strategic planning, market analysis, competitive analysis, customer value analysis, operational effectiveness, profit improvement, M&A, and organization design. Gary specializes in advising family owned businesses as well as manufacturing and distribution companies.
Gary holds a degree in industrial engineering and an MBA in finance from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He co-authored: “Beyond Six Sigma: Profitable Growth through Customer Value Creation” and “The Road to Success: How to Manage Growth,” both published by Wiley & Sons.