Succession in real life. how family firms avoid back strain | succession

D:and Lewis Ledingham, a father and son from Edinburgh and London, are fans of the “huge, absolutely addicting” TV program The Succession, which airs its final episode this weekend. Which isn’t to say they’re taking too many lessons from Logan Roy and his crotchety clan to run their own family firm—a leadership development consultancy, respectively.

“In our business, we talk about the balance between warmth and edge,” says Don, 65. “As a leader, Logan basically lives in an extreme world that just focuses on success, but has very little warmth that he has. it’s compassion, empathy and appreciation for others.”

Business leaders must have the humility to realize they “don’t know anything,” he says, which is why Ledingham Sr. offered his 32-year-old son the company’s co-CEO position earlier this year.

Retiring can be a challenge for any business leader, he says, because owning your own company is “a lot of fun.” “But this is definitely going to be part of our succession strategy. This is not a long-term location, but we find it a very good bridge from my side [sole] executive into the future where he takes it.”

The handover of the family firm doesn’t have to be done Roy’s way, which doesn’t mean there isn’t the potential for dynastic tension as the younger generation replaces the elder. Rufus Sanders was a disgruntled language teacher when his father told him he intended to sell the specialist shoe shop he had set up near London’s Piccadilly Circus.

As a young man, Sanders, now 49, says he “always kept [the family business] at arm’s length, not wanting to be tied to it. But it happened at the right time. I was looking to get out of teaching and this opportunity came up.”

He realized he could pull off a family coup, however, if he and his father, Michael, worked together.

“So I basically put it down. “Look, I’ll join if you leave.”

How did that go down? “He was surprised by it, but he could see the point.” He says it took “about a week” for his father to come up with the idea. they soon began the 18-month handover period.

After that, says Sanders, “he was very much like. ok now it’s your job. It is your problem: It was great because it was exactly what I signed up for.” The business has since closed and they remain a loving family, she says.

For some families, succession has a much longer history. Andrew Barley, 24, will become the seventh generation to take over his family’s leather tanning business outside Edinburgh when his father Roger, the sixth, eventually decides to retire.

Roger and Andrew Barley.
Roger and Andrew Barley. Photo: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

The company’s leadership has an unbroken line back to shoemaker Thomas Hewitt in 1823, but there are surprising hints of personal ambition in the archives. After Thomas’ death, his second wife, Janet, took over the business and renamed it J Hewit and Sons, which it maintains today.

“My father never really pushed any of us to do it,” says Andrew Barley, noting that several ancestors were forced into the business rather than pursuing their own ambitions.

“But I really liked chemistry at school [the business relies heavily on chemical processes]and I really enjoyed going to work and helping out.”

The fact that the business, which specializes in bookcase and pouch leather, is 200 years old this year is “really, really cool,” he says. “It wasn’t that I felt like I had to get into it, more that I wanted to be a part of it.”

Roger Barley says he’s determined to hand over the reins without a fight when the time comes. His own father had to fight to be given autonomy when he inherited the business, he says, “so when he reached retirement age, he went and said, “If you want me to come, invite me.”

“I’ll probably follow suit, slowly letting Andrew take more responsibility. And at some point, I will just say: it’s true, I did my thing.”

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