The Successor’s Voice

The Successor's Voice

The Successor’s Voice is a book for those family members who follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. While there exists a wealth of resources for incumbent leaders looking to make a graceful exit from the family business, there is a gap in succession planning resources for and from the point of view of individual successors. The Successor’s Voice is designed to change all that.

To enable successors, we must address the question, What do successors need to know about succession? Because even the most prepared successors, educated individuals who are committed to their professional growth and see the full potential of their contributions to the family business will benefit hugely from the experiential learnings of others who have navigated the same.

At its core this book is about the preparation, development, and support of family talent; a resource for individual successors to help them identify and ask the ‘right’ questions while also equipping them with courage and perseverance to find answers. In looking back at my earned experience over thirty years, this is the book I wish I had with me on the journey.

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The Family Talent Challenge

We know that the cultivation and development of family talent is essential for family business continuity. Family talent – alongside asset growth and family consensus – is the frequently overlooked leg of the trinity on which family business continuity rests. Imagine a family’s discussions on or about ownership at a recent family business conference. I would not be surprised if the ‘share of voice’ given to the cultivation and development of family talent was, at best, minimal and possibly omitted altogether.

Family businesses need family leadership. As the structure and scale of the family enterprise grows, leadership roles ‘open’ to effective and qualified members of the family. Prior attention to executive and board roles has created new roles to lead family governance, set up new commercial and social ventures, and fostered the stewardship of the family’s assets with next-generation development as a priority.

Consistent attention to family talent faces a formidable competitor; the consideration directed towards the attraction (and retention) of non-family talent: the so-called surrogacy problem. Attracting non-family talent is important for business growth and innovation; new people bring ideas and fresh energy. However, families should be on-their-guard against the risk of parallel and persistent inattention to the encouragement and preparation of family talent. Inattentiveness carries the risk that family talent will be ‘crowded-out’ altogether.

The family leadership imperative – at any age and career stage – faces other challenges: new trends in the wider market for talent and the fact that people are living longer. Where before they were linear, careers are now episodic as individuals re-learn and transition between roles and sometimes industries. Many, including successors, now expect to build a ‘portfolio’ of roles governed both by the freedom to choose ‘clients’ and work patterns. The challenge now is to present family enterprise leadership possibilities as attractive options in the face of these and anticipated future changes.

By emphasising the family talent challenge, we can change the way we talk about and address succession. We must re-balance continuity priorities – strategy, agreement, planning, wealth, and now the planet – to include the leadership potential for (and of) individual successors. This requires a new language based around the impact of ownership, possibility, role profiles, support needs, testing, and fulfillment. In striving for continuity in the family business, re-framing succession as ‘the appointment and development of a family to leadership’ rather than the ascension of an individual is the highest ideal.

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Answers for Every Stage

The Successor’s Voice is organised around the questions I faced throughout my journey as a successor. The solutions are codified into a number of frameworks and summaries to help successors – and those who work with them – to organise their thoughts on the realities of ownership, enabling them make informed decisions. Examples of these are six possible successor role profiles, a successor coaching model, a credibility compass, and successor assets to be developed over time.

Family owners are a key part of the process and The Successor’s Voice addresses their journey as well. The book identifies twelve principles for the development of family talent to help those involved establish their ‘family talent’ priority, shape their thinking, and allocate resources. To effectively address the family talent challenge, successor effort, and commitment must be met with generosity by the owning family. This means time, money, and resources.

How we might improve the preparation and development of family talent is another key theme of The Successor’s Voice and includes a potential successor academy of sorts. The book also references a system for effective third-party accreditation of family talent development.

These separate but related threads come together in the “Successor Assessment and Development Model.” This model aims to provide a staged approach to successor discovery, decision, and contribution to be used by successors and those who work with them including family members, executives, non-executives, and mentors.

Finally, the book is written for successors, not at, about, or above them. A successor must learn – and unlearn – more than anybody else while under the scrutiny of those around them. To navigate succession and reach their full potential, they must find and hold their own voice.

About Philip Mackeown

Philip Mackeown joined the Musgrave Group soon after university and worked for ten years in food retail and wholesale operations before leaving to pursue a master’s degree and work outside of the family business. Five years later, Philip re-joined the board as a family director and worked for two five-year terms. Philip also participated on Musgrave Group’s Family Council for over twelve years, where he led the preparation of our next generation of successors and contributed to the drafting of our first family constitution. In 2015 Philip stepped down from the board to manage the Irish chapter of the Family Business Network (FBN), a non-profit for the support of families-in-business, which he founded in 2012.

Established in 1876, the Musgrave Group is now in its fifth generation of ownership and is majority owned by the family with the balance owned by current and past employees. The owning family, now over 180 people, live all over the world, but stay as close as geography and time allow, working together to continue family ownership and coming together to learn and govern.

Book reference

The Successor’s Voice: Leadership lessons learned as a successor to a family-in-business.  Published by ManagementBooks2000. ISBN 9781852527914