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Of 12 Siblings, Who Should Lead the Family Business

September 16, 2008
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Related Topics: Career Development, Employee Career Development, Strategic Planning, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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Succession planning for a family business, never a simple task, can assume epic proportions when the second generation is 12 people-strong.

Amy Marshall, head of business development at family-owned Marshall Sales Inc. and Aluminum Supply Co., is one of 12 family members who have been involved in running the Detroit-based business founded by uncle Robert Marshall.

"Now three of us are active in the day-to-day business," she says. "One more sister is our consultant on our quality program, and all six [sisters] serve on the board of directors."

Each sibling, Marshall says, has worked outside the company, gaining valuable business experience before returning home.

"I think that is one of the things that has really helped the second generation immensely ... those experiences helped us all bring something to the table," she says.

When it came time to pass on the business, father Rex Marshall gave his progeny shares yearly, Marshall says. But it wasn't all smooth sailing.

"My father had the wisdom to do this succession planning ... you have to name one out of 12 who is going to be in charge," she says. "It can't be two; it can't be 12. When that decision was made, of course, several people were disappointed in the choice. Decisions like that have caused some grief. There have been some unhappy separations, some sore spots that have made it uncomfortable in business and the family."

With 12 in the second generation, there's a wide pool of talent when it comes to recruiting third-generation leadership for the combined companies, which reported fiscal year revenue of $11 million. But being a member of the family isn't a free ride.

"We have a summer internship for the third generation," Marshall says. "This summer, there are five of the cousins working there.... They can come in and get an idea of what's involved. When we have positions that are available, that person would interview…."

Marshall says her 23-year-old son, Kalani Ben, is working at the business this summer, but says she’s not sure that it will be his career.

"We strongly recommend they get job experience outside the company first," she says. "Coming into just the family business, they could have a certain false sense of security, and perhaps even entitlement."

Passing the torch to the younger generation should prove complicated, Marshall says.

"With us, there were 12 siblings, and all but one sister have children," she says. "We actually have some fourth generation who are of working age now.

"One of our bigger challenges is not only how do siblings gain right of entry, but when we do our succession planning, what do we do about this third generation? How do you give priority?"

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