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Five Simple Rules for the Transition of a Family Business to the Next Generation

Any business owner who has children will usually consider transferring the business to the next generation. They want to see the legacy they have created continue into the future However, transitioning a family business to the next generation is not easy. In this blog, we'll explore five simple rules for seamlessly transferring a family business to the next generation.

Rule 1: Start Planning Early

It’s never too early to start succession planning. In fact, we recommend initiating the process 3 to 5 years before the intergenerational transfer. The most effective approach to ensure you’re on the right course as you begin this new phase is to establish a well-crafted plan. It’s essential to meet with your family members and assess the company’s current state, define your desired destination, and outline the necessary steps to reach it. This includes formulating strategies for technology integration, evaluating capital requirements, and considering any additional human resources essential for your business. No detail should be considered too trivial; the more thoroughly your family understands the envisioned future of the business, the better prepared you’ll be to guide its transition. 

Let’s break down the key aspects of effective planning:

Timing is Critical

Timing is everything when it comes to succession planning. If the next generation is still in their youth, it’s premature to develop a concrete plan, as a lot can change over 15 to 20 years. 

The Maturation Factor: Consider a family-owned agricultural business. If the heir is only 12 years old, it’s crucial to wait until they have gained the necessary education, experience, and maturity to take on leadership responsibilities effectively.

The Balance between Preparedness and Prematurity: A proactive approach ensures that the business is adequately prepared for the transition when the time is right. In some cases, waiting too long could result in missed opportunities or difficulties to adapt to the evolving market dynamics.

Flexibility in Timing: The ideal timing for a transition will vary based on the unique circumstances of each family business. Therefore, consider the specific industry, family dynamics, and the individual readiness of the next generation when determining the appropriate timing for succession planning.

Ownership and Management Transfer

Amidst the various activities during a transitional phase, it’s easy to overlook a crucial aspect: preparing your successors for their impending roles. Don’t assume that they possess all the necessary knowledge and skills. As a responsible business owner, it’s upon you to create a comprehensive plan that not only explains the terms of your exit but addresses other matters, such as your potential advisory role or ongoing responsibilities. 

Transitioning a business is far beyond simply designating your children as new owners; it necessitates starting with a shift in management to ensure that the prospective owners receive thorough training in leadership. 

Once a robust leadership foundation is established, and your successors have shown their competence, the process of transferring ownership can begin.

1. The Hidden Knowledge: Business owners often underestimate the depth of knowledge and skills they have acquired over the years. These include industry insights, networking connections, negotiation prowess, and decision-making acumen. Transferring these attributes to the next generation within a short time frame can be challenging.

2. The Multifaceted Role of Business Owners: wners wear multiple hats in a family business, from visionary leaders to day-to-day decision-makers. Transitioning these roles is not just a matter of handing over the keys; it’s about cultivating the necessary competencies in the next generation over time.

3. Balancing Mentorship and Autonomy: The transition should involve a balance between mentorship and allowing the next generation to take ownership. 

Roles, Responsibilities, and Strategy

A well-structured succession plan is a roadmap that guides the transition to the next generation.

1. Defining Roles and Responsibilities: The plan should clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved in the transition, including family members, key employees, and advisors. For instance, it should specify who will oversee operations, finances, and strategic decision-making.

2. Timelines and Milestones: Timelines and milestones are essential components of the plan, as they provide a structured timeline for the transition process. 

3. Overall Strategy: The family business transition plan should involve the overall strategy for the transition, which should align with the long-term vision of the business. Consider market trends, competitive dynamics, and evolving customer preferences. 

4. Adaptability: It’s important to remember that the business landscape is dynamic. The succession plan should be able to cater to unforeseen challenges and opportunities. Regular reviews and updates are essential to ensure the plan remains relevant throughout the transition process.

Rule 2: Communication is Key

When it comes to transitioning a family business to the next generation, effective communication serves as the key to a smooth and successful process. It’s important to include relevant parties and seek their input. 


One of the most vital principles of effective communication during a business transition is inclusivity. This means involving all relevant stakeholders and family members who are directly impacted by the impending changes. By including family members, you can:

  • Align everyone’s expectations and aspirations for the future of the business. For instance, if there are differing opinions on the direction of the company, open communication can help bridge these gaps and find common ground.
  • Transitioning to the next generation of your family business can be an emotional process. Family members have a vested interest in the company’s legacy and success. Involving them in the conversation ensures that they feel emotionally invested in the transition, which can enhance their commitment to its success.
  • The next generation might bring fresh ideas to the table. By involving them, you can tap into their innovative thinking and potentially learn solutions that might have been overlooked otherwise.

Seek Input

A fundamental aspect of inclusive communication is actively seeking input and genuinely listening to what others have to say. When you actively seek input from the next generation, you empower them to have a voice in shaping the future of the business. 

Effective communication not only includes seeking input but also addressing any conflicts or disagreements that may arise during the transition process. These conflicts can be resolved through transparent discussions, ensuring that all parties have a say in the resolution.

Rule 3: Ensure Competency

Ensuring competency in the next generation of leaders during a business transition is a crucial task for business owners. It begins with a thorough assessment of the competencies required for the leadership position, whether it’s the CEO role or another key position within the company.

These competencies involve a wide spectrum of skills and knowledge and range from formal qualifications and industry-specific expertise to the essential ability to manage people effectively. Moreover, they include the art of salesmanship, which is vital for driving revenue, as well as strategic business development skills necessary for growth and industry relevance.

Identifying any deficiencies in these competencies is a pivotal step. The process should involve an objective evaluation of the next generation’s skills. Business owners must be open to recognizing areas where improvement is needed and avoid making assumptions about the successors’ readiness. Acknowledging these gaps does not reflect inadequacy; instead, it shows a commitment to ensuring the transition’s success.

Once the competency gaps have been pinpointed, the next course of action is to provide proper training and mentoring. It is a gradual process that equips the next generation with the skills they need to excel in their leadership roles.

Rule 4: Understand Financial Implications

The decision to pass a family business to the next generation is often rooted in a strong desire to keep the business within the family. While this is a heartfelt objective, it’s important to understand that it can have some financial drawbacks.

Firstly, when a family business is transferred to the next generation, it typically doesn’t fetch the same high valuation that it might achieve through a competitive sale process. This means that the financial return for the current owner may not be as high as they had hoped for. Business owners need to temper their financial expectations in this regard, as they might be disappointed if they were aiming for a higher price.

Secondly, children who are set to inherit the business often lack the necessary funds to purchase it outright. As a result, transactions are often structured differently. They may involve compensation to the current owner being deferred, usually through arrangements like promissory notes or “earn-out” transactions. While these structures allow for a smoother transition, they come with a potential downside.

If the next generation of owners doesn’t manage the business effectively or fails to meet certain expectations, it can become challenging to fulfill these deferred payment obligations. This scenario can create financial strain and even disputes within the family, making it essential to carefully consider the financial aspects of a family business transition. Overall, while the desire to keep the business in the family is admirable, it’s crucial to approach it with a clear understanding of the potential financial implications and to plan accordingly to mitigate any challenges that may arise.

Rule 5: Get External Advice

It’s important to have a good team of professionals such as lawyers, accountants, and other consultants who have experience with family business transitions. They can provide valuable guidance on intricate matters such as tax implications and estate planning, helping you navigate these complex terrains smoothly.

Furthermore, establishing a family council or an advisory council can be immensely beneficial. These councils act as a support system during the transition, offering insights and expertise. They also play a vital role in defining decision-making processes, ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, and implementing systems to resolve disputes if they arise. This collaborative approach helps create a structured path toward a successful family business transition.


There is only a small subset of businesses where a next-generation transfer is the appropriate exit mechanism for the business owner. If you decide that you would like to investigate a next-generation transfer more closely, tax and estate planning should also be part of your strategy.

Transitioning a business to the next generation is a complex and critical process that requires careful planning and consideration. Keep these rules in your mind for a successful family business transition

Partner with Robbinex

We offer comprehensive business transition services including guiding clients to maximizing the profitability of their exit. We are the only ISO Certified Business Brokerage and M&A firm in Ontario, Canada, but also across North America. We have been helping small and medium sized companies BUY & SELL their businesses since 1974.

Ready to secure your family’s legacy for the next generation? Reach out today and let’s build a seamless transition plan together.

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1: Why is succession planning important for my family business transition?

Answer: Succession planning is vital because it ensures a smooth transition of leadership and ownership within the family business. It helps preserve the legacy, maintains business continuity, and minimizes disruptions during the handover.

2: How early should I start planning for the transition of my family business to the next generation?

It’s advisable to start planning 3 to 5 years of the intended transition. This time frame allows for comprehensive preparation, including competency development and effective communication among family members.

3: What key competencies should the next generation possess for a successful transition?

Competencies required for the transition vary but often include leadership skills, industry knowledge, financial acumen, and effective decision-making abilities. Soft skills like communication, conflict resolution, and adaptability are also essential.

4: How can I ensure a fair distribution of assets among family members during the transition?

Fairness is crucial. Establish clear guidelines and consider using mechanisms like a family council or advisory board to facilitate discussions and decisions regarding asset distribution. Consult with legal and financial professionals to create a structured plan.

5: What role do external advisors play in a family business transition?

External advisors, such as lawyers and accountants experienced in family business transitions, provide objective guidance. They assist in tax planning, estate management, and addressing complex financial matters, ensuring a successful and well-informed transition.


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