Separating Personal Identity from Entity:


There’s a challenge in business that involves understanding the touch point between person and company.

Business entities are beings in their own right – legally and even morally. Legislation sets the boundary between them and shareholders, founders, managers, owners etc. The moral obligations involve commitments to staff – ongoing employment and wellbeing; to customers and clients – on-going provision of services or goods; to other stakeholders – ongoing contributions to other causes, community and the like.

So, at some point there needs to be a robust discussion on succession and resilience (and agreement on what that looks like). It’s easier for larger corporates to fathom, with fragmented shareholding structures, independence of boards, and sufficient capacity internally to deal with the disruption of ownership change or senior executive departure. Even those businesses where the identity appeared to be the entity (Jobs and Apple / Gates and Microsoft) has proven not to be the case with sufficient planning and preparation to enable a relatively smooth transition in the cases of death and staged role change.

But what of the family business – large or small – or those with founding owner control tackling the challenges of ageing, death, position change or exit? What planning and preparation is taking place to safeguard the business entity – in its own right and separate to the identity who founded it?

It’s possible to deliver a transition strategy that maintains a spotlight on an individual (the identity) but demonstrates sufficient support and resilience within and around the business (the entity) to provide reassurance and comfort to those relying on it for income, and goods and services.

The other option? The marketplace is saturated enough with competitors and substitutes that, without a succession and resilience strategy, the business will be but a memory; and in its last throes, not a positive one.

The conversation can be awkward and difficult, and I find this is more so in family firms with the added complication of bloodlines and emotion, but they’re critical ones to have.

The challenge is to be diplomatically sensitive and sympathetic without losing focus.

Let me know if you’re ready to have one of those conversations, or just need some guidance on how to start them.