Making a success of succession

How do you ensure a succession plan works? When should you start considering succession planning? Penny de Valk, Equiteq specialist in leadership development and human capital, addressed these and other front-of-mind questions of business owners in the Q&A of our recent succession webinar.

The main issues raised included:

  • Recruiting new leaders: internal versus external
  • Sharing equity to attract and engage
  • Handling founders’ syndrome and the exit transition

What do you see as the pros and cons of appointing a CEO from within the firm compared with recruiting from outside?

There’s no right or wrong here. With an internal candidate you get someone who is steeped in the values and the market, someone who really understands the organization. That can have huge advantages, but if you are looking for exponential growth, or a shift in thinking, it may be best to recruit externally. It is important to begin with what you need, really spend time on ‘what good looks like’ then assess your existing people against this. You can spot the potential inside and develop it. You find people from within the business who are just as ambitious and are just as visionary about what the organization could be, not just what the organization was.

The rule of thumb would be: for organizations that are not in true start-up mode, but are half way through their maturity, it is probably half and half. The important thing is there is a good mix of capability, experience and potential.

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Key considerations when designing incentive schemes to support exit success

By Penny de Valk, Associate Director, Equiteq.

Knowledge-intensive services firms can achieve faster growth and reduce founder dependency through diversifying management roles, smart succession planning and equity incentive schemes. These steps support higher future exit values, better deal structures and increase the likelihood of achieving earn out targets if key people are retained and share in the earn out.

From the founder’s point of view, introducing equity incentives will probably be one of the largest investments the company makes so it’s really important to get this right.

Too often tax planning takes crowds out the more important process of designing a commercially effective scheme. Tax is important, but an approach that ensures the growth and exit vision is aligned by evaluating how much value to share, with who and over what time period should come first.

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Six steps to successful leadership succession

By Penny de Valk, Associate Director, Equiteq

Leadership succession involving a transition from the founders has its own specific challenges. Founders leave a huge legacy in the business, which in one sense is extremely valuable but can also result in a level of dependency that introduces risk.

Governance roles will change at exit, when an owner/founder will typically move from an executive position. The challenge here is that the owner/founder will need to be conscious of their change in role and step back sufficiently to allow successors to create their own leadership identity, while still continuing to offer their unique skills and experience in a broader governance role.

If you’re a founder preparing for a transition, getting it right involves ensuring you set up the new CEO for success, while simultaneously moving away from the operational side of the business and continuing to add value.

The difficulty for founders is they are used to being in control and making decisions independently, which means trusting the new leader can be difficult.

If they do achieve this, it ensures value is not diluted. In fact, it can result in value being enhanced.

Read our six steps to help founders achieve a successful leadership transition and listen to our webinar on the topic too!

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Why succession planning is difficult – and how to get it right

By Penny de Valk, Associate Director, Equiteq

One thing you need to assure future owners of when preparing for an exit is leadership capability and stability, as well as the continued positive effect of this on profitability and growth. Ownership succession generally involves management succession and because buyers buy people and great leadership, it is natural for them to want to assess the quality of bench strength, as well as the planning that has gone into ensuring the right people are in the right roles. Your management succession plans throughout the company are an aspect of good governance that you can expect to have evaluated in due diligence. And CEO succession in particular will be critical. It is a key responsibility of the Board and is central to good governance.

Why the lack of planning?

So why do so many companies not prepare well on this front? Often succession planning is mistakenly just not seen as a priority against the immediate operational requirements of getting the company to grow and become profitable.

Sometimes this lack of focus relates to the size of the business. Even in some mid-size organizations, without a big HR function, there are few resources to manage succession compared to the formal talent programs enjoyed by larger organizations. Yet being a smaller organization makes it even more important, as not only is the company very exposed to key talent leaving, but those firms can also have a shallow pool of talent to draw from and are unlikely to have the rotational assignment opportunities that allow people to build their skills and experience.

Sometimes firms feel that planning around succession can be distracting for the individuals and the company and create a political tone in senior management that isn’t helpful.

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