Succession Planning in Family Businesses

Issue date: 21 April 2010

University of the West of England Significant start up investment over the past 20 years has contributed to family owned businesses now accounting for around 67% of all UK companies. A researcher at the University of the West of England's Bristol Business School is interested to find out more about the long term planning of such businesses.

Dr Lorna Collins is working in partnership with Veale Wasbrough Vizards, a law firm based in Bristol and London with expertise in family law, on a project to investigate the governance, scope, scale and strategy of first generation family businesses. This will include a survey of around 5,000 businesses that will form part of a longitudinal study spanning three years.

Nicholas Smith, Head of the Family Business Team at Veale Wasbrough Vizards, commented, "I am thrilled that we are working in partnership with the University of the West of England on this project. We have acted for over 1,000 family businesses in the last five years and we recognise that there is very little information on this vital sector of the UK's economy. We are proud to be pioneering quality research into the family business sector and we are confident that the survey will provide interesting and useful information on family businesses.The more information we have the better the firm will be equipped to support our family owned business clients."

Dr Collins explains, “I am interested to find out more about how family businesses are run and how strategic they are with regard to handing over the business to second and third generations. We have over the past 20 years seen significant government support for start ups. As a result it is logical that many of these businesses will be reaching a critical stage where the original Directors need to think about long term viability and setting up structures and systems to support this.

“If a family business has set up and survived then the hard bit has been achieved. The research project will find out what help is needed to assist family businesses in transferring to the next generation. There are various issues that we anticipate are likely to cause problems such as variable interest and ability amongst family members with a stake in a given business.

“Complex lawsuits can occur if succession planning is done badly and not least families can find that they become embroiled in conflict that could easily be avoided with professional assistance. This can be disastrous for the business as well as for the families concerned. It's a complex issue and this scoping study will enable us to come up with possible suggestions regarding education and government policy support mechanisms.

“There are few courses in the UK that specialise in training for family businesses and I believe that this is an area that will shortly need significant investment to ensure that successful start ups can gain access to support that will help see their businesses grow in the future."

In 2006 it was estimated family businesses contributed over £400 billion of the £1,000 billion GDP in the private sector. They contributed £47 billion per annum in taxes which is almost 10% of total UK tax receipts.

Dr Collins concludes, “This is a significant contribution to the UK GDP and not an area that we can afford nationally to fall into crisis because ignorance about important strategic considerations have been sidelined or swept under the carpet.”

The project started in April and will run for the next three years.

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