Succession planning important for family businesses

Succession planning could be the key to keeping the wealth in a family business when it’s time for the owner to retire.

According to Chris Torres, Enterprise Bank & Trust vice president, wealth adviser team lead, any successful transition needs to be well thought-out, and it needs to be done over a period of time that is commensurate with the level of decision.

“We find that businesses that are successfully transitioned are ones that have thought about it from all different angles,” Torres said.

The business owner needs to look at it not just from the owner’s view of what is the best way to maximize their value and create a cash windfall, but also to determine what’s best for employees at all levels, what’s best for customers, suppliers and other organizations they work with in the marketplace, Torres said.

Part of his job in succession planning is to help customers look at those angles and make sure they know how it will be received by different groups.

The businesses most successful at succession planning have put a lot of time and thought into it and have brought a lot of resources to it, according to Torres. They get an independent audit, have a business valuation, and work with experts in the field to do succession planning, he said. They make sure their expectations are in line with reality and also will know if the expectations are in line with others involved in the business.

“Those who are unsuccessful are looking at it from a singular point of view, and not giving it as much planning and thought process,” Torres said.

Having a succession plan also is a good idea for those who don’t want to sell their business. A partnership may need a buyout arrangement in case something happens to one of the partners, such as disability, he said. A mechanism would be put in place to buy that partner out.

“Succession planning should be a part of the planning for any healthy business,” Torres said.

If an owner is serious about selling a business or passing it down to the next generation, or to the employees through a stock-purchase program or to a third-party organization, it’s an 18-to-24-month process once they start, he said. It could be longer, depending on the complexity of the organization, he added.

“While it’s not a magic formula or exact time frame, you need to be investing years into executing this, rather than weeks and months,” Torres said.

In a worst-case scenario, if the business owner dies and no one, the next generation nor surviving spouse wants nor has any interest in or skill sets for it, the business could close and the family would receive no value from it, he said.

“In most cases, this is not the case,” Torres added. Usually there is some element of management and other employees who want to continue that business moving forward, he said. A succession plan may try to engage that group in running the business, with an opportunity to sell it to them or work with a business organization looking for potential suitors, he added.

“A great deal of wealth can be taken away if there is not some thought to how we plan for tomorrow,” Torres said. “The goal is to have a successful transition so the business continues to function, just as it did with the previous owners.”

A good transition is a seamless one, with business as usual, he added.

Torres said Enterprise Bank, which has a location at Prescott Plaza, 18th and I-70, specializes in family-owned businesses and has helped businesses through a lot of transitions through the years. Torres’ office is in Johnson County.

“We know how to objectively value businesses,” he said. The bank has experience in determining the worth of a business, and is able to quarterback the succession process, he added. If they don’t have resources in-house, he said, they can bring them into the process.

Getting the structure right as ownership is transferred from an existing structure, whether to a family member or a third party, is important, Torres said, and it has a lot of effect on the business long-term.

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