indicatorSuccession Planning

Trusted advisors to help you navigate transition planning

By ATB Financial 21 January 2021 4 min read

When you’re about to make any major decision in life, you could benefit from asking trusted friends and colleagues what you should do, and if they agree with the path you want to head down. The same principle applies to business owners as they develop their transition plans before departing from the business they helped grow.

After all, advisory boards exist to add value to the business by offering expert perspectives on what works and what doesn’t for businesses facing ownership transitions. This not only means they should be staffed with specialists but, with a transition plan underway, they should be stacked with experts familiar with the nuances of this unique phase in a business’s lifespan.

A Deloitte report notes that many owners of privately held businesses “fail to take full advantage of the benefits formalized governance structures can provide. In particular, a business that doesn’t have a functioning board of directors or outside board of advisors may be missing out on a tremendous opportunity to improve management and profitability, especially during a period of transition.”

Another level of expertise needed for transition advisors

When business owners consider who should join this new group of advisors, they should be looking for skillsets beyond what these specialists normally manage. You could find an experienced lawyer, for example, but does this lawyer know the many facets of transition preparations and succession planning?

“While your existing advisory team may provide excellent advice on your day-to-day operations, business transitions can be complex and it is important to add additional experts that specialize in this area,” suggests Amanda Vella, senior director of Business Advisory and transition consultant at ATB.

For example, consider finding a lawyer for your transition advisor team. The legal complications of family businesses and the paperwork required to lay out all the provisions can be overwhelming for legal professionals going through their first transition-planning project. Specialists with experience in this area can share how their other clients—anonymously, of course—have worked through the challenges.

The main red flag to look out for when assembling the advisory board, Vella says, “are those that aren't willing to work as a team to help you achieve your goals. You want advisors who are comfortable being collaborative.”

Outside opinions can see obstacles, opportunities

An advisory board can also enable owners to gain an outside perspective and timely insights from leaders they hold in high regard. If you and your executives are too close to a problem, you might not see its root cause or ripple effects. When an accountant who specializes in transition planning and onboarding successors is used to their full potential, they can help solve issues related to investment strategy, charitable activities, tax implications, purchases or sales of significant assets, estate and gift planning, and much more.

Owners of family businesses require even more specialized knowledge about their next steps during transition plans, since their succession decisions can be difficult emotional processes. The Deloitte report mentioned above also says that one area where a board has an impact on succession is looking for candidates to take over as CEO—and working with the current CEO to carry out that process. “Board members can help assist in identifying possible successors from the pool of candidates and serve as mentors for successor candidates. They may also advise on the broader talent plan and help with the implementation and monitoring of the management talent assessment and the management development plan.”

Vella says family members can also be members of advisory boards, as long as their experience warrants their invitation. “It’s great to have their input available when needed, but they have to realize they are part of the bigger process, and you’ll be seeking advice from all the other advisors equally,” she says.

Overall, family businesses are more likely to engage in strategic or succession planning if they have a dedicated structure in place such as an advisory or fiduciary board to deal with these processes, according to a recent study in the Family Business Review.

The vital role of a wealth advisor

Savvy business leaders will want to surround themselves with financial planners who recognize the many steps to a successful transition. When owners retire, they have to shift their mindset.

“Many owners have so much of their wealth tied to their business, often taking just a modest income for years, what they need to survive,” Vella says. “They haven’t learned from wealth advisors on what happens when that business isn’t there anymore.”

She explains how “the role of an ATB transition consultant is to quarterback all the advisors and ensure they are working together to achieve your transition plans. Think of it as bringing all your advisors to a boardroom table to collaborate and be on the same page in working toward your ultimate goal. That also involves bringing in the right experts at the right time in the process. This might include an estate specialist, a tax advisor or a M&A advisor.”

Another area where advisors can assist business owners is easing the emotional toll. Many business owners overlook the positive emotional benefits their companies bring to them, particularly the comfort of community and purpose. Advisors who have experience moving from one company to the next, or retiring after a long run at a firm, can relate to what business owners endure mentally and physically. The long hours, the dozens of questions that need answers, the due diligence process—an advisory board can help manage the many plates an owner will be juggling during the months before leaving the business.

And reaching that stress-free space amid the hustle and grind of this challenging work can be the biggest benefit of bringing trusted transition advisors on board.

Find out more about selling your business successfully with ATB’s Business Transition Guide. Want to talk some more? For tailored advice around business transition planning reach out to our Business Transition team at atbwealthtransfer@atb.com

Business Transition Guide

Learn the steps you should take to successfully sell and transition out of your business.

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