By Jim Moody, CAE

How often do you think about the legacy you are leaving in your business? If I had to bet, I’d say not very often, if ever. But the fact is that everyone leaves a legacy whether they intend to or not.

I’ve written many times about how easy is it is to be caught up in the everyday operations of your business and never think about things at the 30,000-foot level. It’s easy for that to happen because everyone looks to you to solve the problems of the day, but also because thinking at the 30,000-foot level is harder and less fulfilling.

One of the clouds that lives at 30,000 feet is your legacy. Even more than strategy, margin, branding or any of the other “clouds” at that level, this is one that is ignored. Legacy is all about what people think of you after you are gone, and few of us care to contemplate that. But we should.

 Here are some legacies I’ve seen left by fathers as they exited the business:

  • A dad who didn’t have confidence that his son could run the business, so he stayed in the business well past the age of 65. Rather than figure out a solution or work to get his son ready, he just stayed on as the top guy. Somewhere in his 80s, he lost a step or two. Actually he lost a lot of steps. The business, once one of the best in the association, was on death’s doorstep. There was no one to run the company, the father had passed the point when he could enjoy retirement because of health issues, and the company had little value to any prospective buyers.
  • A dad who assumed he’d never die so he did nothing to transfer ownership of the business to the next generation. His assumption was incorrect, and when he died, the estate owed so much in tax that the business had to be sold.
  • A dad who had competent children to take over the business, but he had nothing else to do in life. He’d poured his soul into the business and had no hobbies or any other interests. The business was his life. He knew he should leave, but it felt like stepping off a cliff into an abyss.
  • A dad who had competent children but thought they were just one step away from being ready, no matter how many steps they took. Dad stayed while the kids aged through that sweet spot in life where you have fire in the belly. By the time dad left, the kids were in maintenance mode. They had no interest in taking risk or doing anything different. Consequently, the business still looks stuck in 1986.
  • A dad who was ready to go, but stuck his son with such a bad financial deal that it nearly bankrupted the business and the son. The dad took the son’s money and distributed it to his other children while the business was crumbling. You can imagine the relationship that dad and son were left with, much less the son and his siblings.

While you try to figure out who I’m talking about in each of these scenarios (and I’ll promise you that you will not be right), let me say that there are also some great examples. The ones that get it right are the ones who are willing to take the difficult step of contemplating their own mortality. The ones who get it wrong are not horrible people or even horrible business people. They just put off dealing with this important issue.

CSA is creating a peer group for family business owners (I’ve used dads in my examples, but any moms actively involved in the ownership/leadership of the business are also welcome) who want to leave a good legacy. If you are within seven years of leaving the business, this Legacy Group is for you. We will look at all facets of how you leave well and what legacy you leave for your employees and your family. We’ll look a bit at the financial, legal and tax implications, but that will just be one component.

Like our other peer learning groups, the heart of this one will be creating relationships with people in the same boat. Being able to talk openly about things you can’t talk about at home is a very freeing thing.

Because of the sensitive nature of this group, we will not disclose who is in it. And like our other peer groups, we will not allow competitors in. Though we are not going to discuss company financials in this setting, having competitors in the room changes people’s willingness to be open.

The group will meet twice per year in nice places (i.e., not at a lumber yard, and not in beautiful downtown Tyrone). The commitment is for three years – a total of six meetings. Our resident family business expert, Jan Flynn, will be facilitating. Jan has learned A LOT about legacy issues from our Next Gen Leadership groups. In fact, the genesis of this Legacy Group we are creating was from sons and daughters telling us their dads needed a similar group. (But don’t combine us with them, thank you very much).

I know there are many of you who ought to be in this group. I also know that there are many of you who won’t join because you are too busy, don’t like groups, worry that it will be too touch-feely, or are unwilling to contemplate your departure – either from business or life. Please stop and think again. Consider what legacy you want to leave vs. the legacy you are actually going to leave. Consider what you want your life after retirement to be like vs. the life you are on the path to lead. If you have gaps in these area, you need to be in this group.

For more details or to join the group, please call me on my cell (770) 815-2758 or email me at [email protected]. First meeting is Feb. 25-26. I’ll pick a location that works based on the geography of participants