Skin in the Game: Serious Succession Planning

by Mike Starling

Leadership challenge:  most experts agree that roughly 70 percent of all family-owned businesses never survive to the second generation. Perhaps 10 percent make it to the third. Not great odds, would you say? One notable exception to this rule is the Yuengling (ying-ling) brewing family. Now headed by Dick, Jr., and in its fifth generation (with a sixth generation in training), this very unusual but oh-so-common-sense approach to succession planning provides a stunning example that other family-owned businesses should seriously consider if they want to buck the odds to achieve multi-generational family-owned business success.

While it is true that each successive Yuengling generation since the business was founded in 1829 has gotten started by working in the brewery and learning things from the ground up, nothing was handed to them. Instead, each successive generation had to care enough about taking over and running the business to purchase it from their father.

Skin in the game, baby! When you buy it, you own it. You care a lot more about it when it is yours. You nurture it and you put your thumbprint on it! You watch it grow! You reap the rewards if it succeeds… or suffer the embarrassment if it goes down in flames.

So, what is the upside if you do care enough to purchase the business? Dad is not part of the management team picture (unless you choose to retain that option). Dad isn’t hanging around giving you advice, or telling the line or staff personnel that you don’t know what you are doing. Dad is not lurking behind the curtain or in the next office with the door cracked so he can keep tabs on what you are doing. Dad may have set the example for you to follow, but when you own it, Dad has teed it up for you and now it's your turn to prove yourself. Think you can work without a net?

So, if you are that next generation in a family-owned business, and you are in line to take over the business, ask yourself the Yuengling question:

Do I believe in this business enough that I am willing to buy it?

If not, you may want to have a serious chat with Dad.

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