In the vast realm of business, family enterprises offer a unique intersection of professional acumen and personal relationships, both of which are deeply anchored in cultural values. While the succession of leadership in these businesses might seem straightforward, the undercurrents of cultural complexities, generational shifts, and family dynamics bring about nuances that are both challenging and rewarding. Drawing from revered literature, such as Anna Bakiewicz’s exploration of cultural aspects and the insights from Schulze, Lubatkin, Dino, and Buchholtz on agency relationships, this comprehensive guide ventures into the depths of succession strategies.

Laying the Groundwork: Three Pillars of Successful Transition

Transitioning a family business from one generation to the next is akin to passing on a cherished heirloom. The process is grounded in three pivotal pillars:

  1. Successor’s Preparedness

More than just business acumen, it’s the alignment with the company’s heart and soul, its ethos, and its future vision.

For instance, Roberto’s academic credentials from a top-tier MBA program were commendable. However, his true readiness was refined in the vineyards of his family’s century-old estate. Immersed in the art of winemaking, forging bonds with staff, and absorbing the business nuances from his father, Roberto’s comprehensive preparation was both theoretical and practical.

  1. Successor’s Inclination:

Genuine leadership emerges not just from knowledge but an authentic desire to further the family’s legacy.

Consider Aisha, poised to inherit her family’s burgeoning tech venture. Her Silicon Valley experience was impressive, and her innovative strategies were forward-thinking. Yet, her heart resonated more with environmental conservation. Acknowledging this, the family brilliantly merged Aisha’s passion with their business direction, pivoting towards sustainable tech solutions.

  1. Bonding Bridges:

The relationship between the incumbent leader and the potential successor is a linchpin in ensuring a smooth transition.

Mikhail’s impending takeover of the family’s fashion realm presented contrasting visions between him and his mother. Instead of letting these differences become divisive, they embarked on a global fashion expedition together. This journey didn’t just bring shared experiences but also fostered mutual respect and a consolidated vision for their brand.

Steering Through Cultural Dimensions

While discussions on business strategies, financial metrics, and market positioning are paramount, understanding the cultural ethos is equally vital. Bakiewicz’s research presents a profound understanding of how cultural values influence leadership attitudes and transitions. In certain traditions, the inherent expectation of the eldest son taking the reins can sometimes eclipse considerations like aptitude or enthusiasm.

However, the winds of change, propelled by globalization and diverse educational avenues, are ushering in evolved perspectives. Consider a successor returning home after international studies, equipped with transformative ideas that might challenge age-old business methods. These scenarios underscore the paramount importance of adaptability in succession planning.

Handler’s Comprehensive Four-Level Paradigm

A succession plan cannot be designed in isolation. Handler’s framework offers a comprehensive perspective:

  1. Individual Perspective: This zooms in on the successor’s attributes, their readiness, and their passion for the role.
  2. Group Dynamics: Here, the focus shifts to family relationships, the rapport between the current and future leader, and the collective family vision for the business.
  3. Business Alignment: The convergence of business goals with familial values takes center stage, assessing how both can symbiotically thrive.
  4. Macro Environment: Beyond internal dynamics, external influences like legislative changes, market trends, and socioeconomic factors play pivotal roles in shaping succession strategies.

Each tier intricately interacts with the others, emphasizing that succession planning is not a linear process but a multi-faceted one that demands holistic consideration.

Family Firms and the Agency Dilemma

Schulze and collaborators delve into the intriguing dichotomy within family businesses: the fusion of altruistic inclinations with traditional business strategies. While family enterprises are often lauded for their efficiency, there lies an underbelly of challenges, particularly those born out of the private ownership structure.

Consider strategies that intentionally keep succession plans nebulous to ensure the continued involvement of family members. While this might fulfil familial objectives, it can sometimes impede business efficiency. The balancing act between family altruism and shrewd business strategies is a delicate one, with implications for the enterprise’s long-term success.

The Symphony of Values in Family Businesses

The interplay between family values and business principles is reminiscent of a well-orchestrated symphony. Each plays its part, yet their harmony creates a melody that is uniquely resonant.

For instance, the Martinez family, with their deep-seated values of trust and community service, manifested these principles in their chain of organic grocery outlets. The businesses reflected their values: sustainable sourcing, equitable wages, and robust community engagement.

Similarly, as family enterprises burgeon into global entities, they infuse their foundational values into their international endeavours.

Take IKEA, a Swedish-origin global giant. Its ethos of togetherness and equality, aptly termed the “Hey-Culture”, echoes in its stores across continents.

Succession in the Global Age

With successors often venturing overseas for education, they return not just with academic insights but also a blend of traditional and contemporary values. This confluence, while potentially challenging, can also be a catalyst for innovation.

A successful transition strategy will:

  • Embrace a Shared Vision and Values: Both generational and contemporary.
  • Adopt Adaptable Structures: Recognizing the ebb and flow of cultural tides.
  • Uphold a Holistic Perspective: Incorporating all facets from personal readiness to global influences.

In conclusion, the succession in family businesses is an intricate mosaic of cultural norms, generational wisdom, personal aspirations, and business imperatives. While challenges are inevitable, the rewards of a successful transition are unparalleled: a legacy that thrives across epochs.


Bakiewicz, A. (2020) ‘Cultural Embeddedness of Family Business Succession. The Perspective of Next Generation’, International Journal of Contemporary Management, 19(1), pp. 7–27. Available at:

Handler, W.C. (1990) ‘Succession in Family Firms: A Mutual Role Adjustment between Entrepreneur and Next-generation Family Members’, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 15(1), pp. 37–52. Available at: