Dad, the aging dealer, doesn't think his off-spring is as hard-working as he is. Sound familiar? Sound like something you have said?
All too often this concern roadblocks dealership succession planning. It's generally the fear of a father, who lived through the Great Depression, towards a son or daughter who's active in the dealership.
The underlying paternal feeling is that if you are going to succeed in an auto dealership you must put in the hours. Lots of them.
Dad feels that there are too many things and people to manage to do the job on "part-time hours" - defined as not working evenings and weekends.
Besides, it sets a bad example if the boss isn't "working hard" - defined as being on the job around the clock.
Bottomline, dad feels profits will suffer if he does not stay involved and stay in control the dealership. This creates a fear that often freezes Dad from turning over management authority or transferring stock, especially if it involves transferring control of the business.
For some dealers, involvement means they go to work everyday even though they are in their 70s or 80s. Job descriptions and lines of authority must be carefully communicated between dad, his children and all the employees. Otherwise his son or daughter may never be able to take charge and develop into dad's successor. Not as long as he's "on the job."
Personality differences can create tension between father and children. Many dealers are very sales- oriented. They use their relation-building skills to shake a lot of customers' and employees' hands.
That business style is effective. It's often used by Depression-era fathers who aren't naturally outgoing. But when they were starting out, the business was small and they did a lot of everything. "I did what I had to do, but my kids are unwilling to put out the effort," they say.
Problems often arise when one or more of the offspring is not a "people person." Instead, they're more comfortable with financial issues, computers, administration and such.
For them, trying to follow in dad's footsteps is often frustrating. Sometimes dad has placed this son/daughter in a sales position on the premise that "everyone needs to understand sales."
That's fine, if it is communicated that this is part of training and not a permanent post where the son/daughter may feel doomed to failure.
Other times, dad puts this non-people person son/daughter in a sales slot because "I don't have any other positions - long term loyal employees are occupying the other positions."
This causes an understandably awkward situation. But if the goal is for a son or daughter to become a successor, then their training and positioning for success must be a top priority.
What's keeping the aging dealers from transferring stock and especially control?
Dealers often tell me that their goal is to have their dealership pass to the next generation. When confronted with the estate tax issues, they realize that the sooner they transfer their stock the less tax their family will have to pay and the more likely the dealership will continue beyond their death.
However, despite understanding what they need to do, dealers often do nothing regarding transferring stock to their children. Why?
"I'm waiting to see if my son or daughter will step up to the challenge." "I'm not sure they really are willing to do what is necessary." Behind these statements is the fear that if they don't work "the way I did" the business will fail.
Every family is different and there is no right solution that fits every situation.
But my purpose here is to challenge the aging dealer who grew up during the Depression and who may be stymied in his succession planning due to this work ethic issue.
Clearly your son or daughter must perform and must be effective. This productivity demands that they do the job for which they are best suited. If your child is different than you, remember you know lots of highly successful dealers who have personalities different than your own.
Also if your son or daughter chooses to manage differently than you, and can get the job done in less hours, saying "I want to spend more time with my family", then relax and enjoy their success.
The key question is: "Is the business making money?" If the answer is yes, then it is probably time to consider a plan for succession.
The process of developing an effective dealership succession plan is complicated. It involves many issues.
Often it is more difficult to communicate with our children than with other employees.
Talking through these issues with trained advisors involves time, effort and money. But if you are willing to make the investment, your dealership may succeed with the next generation. It's a great legacy to give your family.
Hugh B. Roberts, CFP, is a partner in the de Vries - Roberts Group in Woodland Hills, CA, a company specializing in succession and estate planning for family-owned auto dealerships.