Overcoming Family Business Conflict and Achieving Succession Success

How one family resolved their differences and empowered a new CEO

The Challenge

Stakeholders in a family-owned construction business were in conflict over management succession, which created crippling conflict between family members. The founder, owner, and president of this company, Peter, wanted his daughter, Christine, to eventually succeed him as CEO. Peter’s brother, Jack, who was second-in-command at the company, rejected the plan to prepare his niece to become CEO and walked off the job, feeling angry and unappreciated for the value he had brought to the business.

While Jack didn’t envision himself taking over for his brother, the idea that his niece would eventually supervise him and the fact that his brother unilaterally decided to promote his daughter to eventually succeed him was experienced by Jack as painfully disrespectful. Additionally, he didn’t appreciate or believe in his niece’s talents and potential, despite her strong relevant credentials.

Conflict deepened between the brothers, who held very different views of each other’s contribution to the business. And, while the founder believed that his daughter could take the helm successfully, he agreed that she wasn’t ready yet. He was anxious to step back, but needed to know that Christine was ready and that his brother welcomed her leadership. Christine knew they had reached a crossroads and needed help to navigate through this challenging time, so she contacted Continuity Family Business Consulting.

The Approach

With this family, the work started with Senior Consultant R. Paul Faxon who is experienced in the real estate and construction industry, as well as highly skilled in matters related to governance development, succession planning, and conflict management.

After gathering the necessary information, Paul proposed a three-month engagement that would include an assessment of the situation, triage to bridge the divide between family members, and recommendations to move them and their business forward.

Faxon structured a series of facilitated interventions with Peter and Jack, individually and together, to create a safe space to be heard, acknowledged, and recognized for their respective contributions. Faxon also achieved buy-in from Jack, that being successful in his final chapter at the company largely would be defined in terms of his contribution to Christine’s preparations to take over the leadership of the business.

At the end of this phase, it was clear that it would be invaluable for Christine to have her own individual coach to support her growth to become CEO. The Continuity team seamlessly transitioned Christine to Judy Sockol, Senior Consultant, Head of Coaching Services and HR Specialist.

Judy specializes in helping clients maximize performance, develop as leaders, and transition within the family business. This phase of the consultancy work helped Christine identify her skill strengths and areas for development as a leader, build confidence in her ability to manage and grow a multi-million-dollar enterprise, and determine the type of leader she aspired to be━that best aligns with her personal goals and values, as well as the needs of the business.

The work began with exercises to help her ascertain the principles and values most important to her and translating them into leadership behaviors and styles. A true student, she quickly learned to adapt when challenging leadership situations occurred by relying on, and remaining true, to her identified leadership and business values, which pointed her in the right direction. This provided strong footing for Christine when faced with difficult decisions.

Additionally, she worked on finding her voice in a male-dominated industry and exploring solutions to help her better manage the often conflicting needs of leading a business and being a mom to a young and growing family. In conjunction with this work, consultancy and coaching focused on creating and implementing a leadership transition plan with a timeline and an agenda for the transference of knowledge and mentoring, which required a commitment from her father and uncle.

The Results

Two years have now passed since this company first engaged with Continuity Family Business Consulting and much has changed. Christine has officially been named CEO and has gained the trust and respect of her co-workers, peers, and customers━and her uncle! She has included many of her father’s leadership traditions and has added her own to reflect her individual style. She is also focused on enhancing the company culture, which is based on the values of trust, fair treatment, diversity, philanthropy, and employee well-being.

Through coaching, Christine quickly gained insight, maturity, and confidence in her abilities as a leader and was able to put those learnings into practice. Through the lens of family systems theory, Christine now understands how her historical relationship with both her father and uncle were inhibiting her ability to fully access and showcase her capabilities. Always an appreciative and respectful daughter and niece, she deferred to their authority, which was not serving her well in the business at this critical time of transition.

Christine came to understand that some of the familial dynamics needed to change for her to grow and to be respected as a capable leader. She needed to give herself permission to speak her mind, stand her ground, and challenge her father and uncle. And, because her historical commitment of dutiful daughter and niece ran so deep, she had to do this while maintaining a balanced approach that was both assertive and respectful.

Through coaching, Christine quickly gained insight, maturity, and confidence in her abilities as a leader and was able to put those learnings into practice.

With time and practice, Christine found her own personal power within these relationships, which helped put her on equal footing with her father and uncle. This not only increased their respect for her capabilities, but helped them all to successfully move through the leadership transition process.

Peter has transitioned to an Executive Advisor role and is enjoying a lot of time on the golf course and is always available to his daughter to offer wise and supportive counsel. Christine’s uncle has since retired with a smooth and respectful transition, having welcomed Christine into her new role with a new perspective on her skills and talents. He remains connected to the business through periodic, short-term consultancy assignments as needed, which benefits both him and the company. The three family members, who were once at odds, have found peace within their relationships and are able to enjoy family gatherings once again.

How Continuity Can Help

At Continuity, we’re proud to offer a team-emphasized approach that harnesses the diverse specialties and styles of our consultants. This enables us to provide families with a comprehensive suite of services that cater to every phase of the consultative process, not only enhancing our ability to address complex challenges, but also ensuring that families like this receive the most tailored and effective solutions.