Rethinking succession

Liz WalzMy husband and I finally buckled down and had a legal will drawn up last January. That’s not something I’m proud of. I’m well into my thirties, I’ve been married for almost 10 years, and I have a four-year-old son. You could argue that waiting so long was downright irresponsible.

Unfortunately, I’m like a lot of people. You say “will,” and I think about gray hair, death, and legal paperwork, none of which are particularly inviting. When you say, “succession planning,” you get the same type of word association from many businesspeople. If they’re not seriously considering retirement yet, they may dismiss it altogether. That conclusion is based on misperceptions about succession planning, and what a tremendous missed opportunity! If it’s done right, succession planning can be one of the most exciting parts of leading a business and one of the most motivating for its employees.

It certainly gets the Boating Industry editors fired up. Come Top 100 season, you’ll hear us passionately arguing over the merits of one dealer’s strategy vs. another’s. It’s one of the questions on the Top 100 Dealer application, and over the past few years, it seems that applicants’ succession plans – particularly those in the Top 25 – have risen to a new level.

While there are still many dealers that simply choose to put a legal plan in place to leave their assets to a spouse, their children or a trusted employee, a growing number of top companies are exploring the other side of succession planning. They’re working hand in hand with each of their employees to create a mutually beneficial career ladder, then set goals and create training and mentoring programs to achieve them. Not only does this process allow employers to better track their employees’ performance over time and increase employee satisfaction, but it also allows them to better respond to the voluntary/anticipated and involuntary/unanticipated loss of key employees. And in today’s economy, when many staffs are shrinking and those who remain must multi-task, that’s more essential than ever before.

Finally, such succession plans help businesses better develop their employees to eventually assume ownership, should that be desired. During this downturn, many dealership owners ready for retirement are finding themselves stuck. To say it’s difficult to sell a boat dealership in today’s economy is a vast understatement. And it seems in today’s society, the percentage of small business owners with children looking to explore careers outside the family business is increasing. Those dealers with comprehensive succession plans in place certainly have more options when they think about who will carry on the brand they worked so hard to build and maintain. If you’re a dealership owner looking to expand your options, you may want to take your succession plan to the next level too.

We’d like to hear from you. What’s your succession plan? How has it impacted your business and your vision for its future?


  1. Liz,
    Am totally with you on the importance of succession. What I would like to see is specifics. What are the specific ways dealerships are planning?

  2. Thanks for your comment, Karena! We’ve been talking about writing an article on succession planning best practices. I’ll talk to the rest of the team about trying to do that sooner rather than later.

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