Problems in a Multi-Generational Family Business

This case concerned strained relationships that threatened to derail a family business. We were retained to stabilize the situation.

This business was started after the end of the Second World War by Harold, a signal communications expert and engineer.  Harold’s son Paul took over the business upon Harold’s retirement. At the time we were retained, Paul was Chairman and CEO of this company.  Long before these events, Harold left Paul's mother for another woman, Sara, who had two children of her own. Paul often found it difficult to navigate the blended family.  Paul also indicated that he neither liked nor respected Sara, and he resented the role she played in how his mother had been treated when Harold decided to leave her for Sara.

Paul had two children: an adult son who was the VP of Sales at the family business, and an adult daughter who was not involved in the business. The father had a tense relationship with his son that cycled between closeness and months of no contact. The father was closer with his daughter, but there were still conflicts from time to time.

One of the sources of conflict between Paul and his son was the absence of any succession plan for the business.  The son was understandably concerned about his own future, and whether he would in time have the opportunity to get ownership and control of the business.  In his will, Harold had left equal shares in the family business to Paul and Sara, and the communications between them were often too strained to allow for effective management of the business, let alone the creation of a succession plan.  The effort to negotiate the terms of this succession plan promised to be often emotional and contentious, and it proved to be both.  Every issue – such as the terms of any financial arrangement – carried the possibility of an emotional outburst.  

Eventually, Paul and Sara agreed to the terms of a buy-sell agreement, that would provide a succession plan. The agreement provided a framework for succession, surprising the son, who was pleased with the terms, as it provided a path to his eventual ownership and control.

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The Bloom Group, LLC’s lead attorney, Peter Bloom, published a comprehensive guide to working with your family in 2019. To read more about how families work together and see how the rest of the story above unfolds, download Seeing the Blind Spot today. 

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