Business leaders often talk about best practices for starting a business—but what about when it’s time to walk away and hand the reins over to the younger generation?
I didn’t plan to create a legacy business. I started Brian’s Machine Shop in the basement of my home to make some extra money when our children were young. My wife, Glenda, worked outside of the home, so I ran machines and watched the kids during the day.
Over the years, the company grew exponentially, and Glenda, along with two of our children, Tyrel and Ann, came to work with me. Now, Glenda and I are ready to retire, and Tyrel and Ann are taking over the shop.
We learned so much while preparing to exit our business and pass the torch to the next generation, and I’m happy to share some of our takeaways with you.
8 Tips to Transition the Family Job Shop to the Next Generation
1. Don’t push the business on your kids
Early on in my career, I worked for a small, family-run job shop where the owner continually argued with his son over the son’s lack of passion for the trade.
I witnessed how destructive it was when a parent tried to coerce their child to be more passionate about their work. I didn’t want our family business to wreck our family’s relationships.
Both Tyrel and Ann tried different paths before coming to work with us 10 and five years ago, respectively. When they joined the business, it was their decision—and it’s their decision to stay. We never forced our children to take up the manufacturing torch.
2. Be patient, open, and honest
When Tyrel and Ann started working for us, we let them settle in and learn the trade. We didn’t bring them on board with the expectation that they would—one day—take over the business.
First, we waited and gauged their interest in running the shop. When the time was right, we had open conversations about them potentially stepping into ownership roles and taking the reins.
3. Hire business experts
We wanted to fully prepare Tyrel and Ann for their promotions into leadership roles. So we hired consultants who put them through an intensive business boot camp.
Though the consultancy fees weren’t cheap, we were confident that investing in our children, their livelihood, and their success was worthwhile.
4. Make the transition official
We’re hiring a local lawyer to handle the transfer of licenses, taxes, and titles, so nothing slipped through the cracks.
Signing our business over to our children—formally and on paper—was a necessary legal step as well as a symbolic gesture for our family. My kids aren’t just acting as stand-ins for their parents; they now have the freedom to try new things and explore new opportunities.
5. Set appropriate expectations
Your children must understand the work in front of them. Owning a business is more than a job; it’s their livelihood, and they can’t quit when the work gets complicated or tedious.
6. Coach your kids
Not all people are born leaders; some have to learn how to speak to employees, delegate tasks, and communicate with teammates.
Gauge how your children interact with your employees, and offer advice or even training opportunities to make them more effective leaders.
7. Fill knowledge gaps
Our kids know a lot about our business, but they aren’t veteran machinists or estimators with decades of experience. So we knew we needed to reconfigure some of our operations to help them be successful.
To ensure that any gaps in their knowledge could be accounted for, we hired team members and integrated new software. Ann has a teammate who helps with bookkeeping, and we implemented Paperless Parts quoting software to simplify the estimating process.
8. Delegate slowly and step away over time
My wife and I gradually relinquished control at the shop, delegating more and more responsibility over time.
Although I’ll be at the shop every day until I retire this summer, my role has changed. Instead of being the company leader, my job is now to help my kids succeed as leaders in their own right.
The bottom line is that for me, family comes first. You may want your business to stay in the family, but don’t put your hopes for the shop ahead of your children’s happiness and success. Your family’s legacy will be much stronger if you meet your kids where they are today and—if they decide to come on board—support them as they grow into the capable business owners they want to be.
This article was written by Brian Lemoine
Brian Lemoine is the founder of Brian’s Machine Shop, a family-owned CNC machining and additive manufacturing company in Concord, New Hampshire. After starting his business in the basement and growing it to be a successful, established shop, Brian and his wife transitioned company ownership to two of their three children and retired in March 2022.
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