Philie Group Blog

Three Keys for Generational Transitions
By Mike Philie

Transitioning a family printing business from one generation to the next can be a complex and delicate process. The expectations from each group are not always on the same page. One always wanting to go faster than the other. The amount of work it takes to run a successful business is another area that is often underestimated. A third area that can act as an impediment to this process is whether to stay the course or to alter the direction of the business.

There is so much great advice available on these subjects from family business centers and outside advisors, so know that you don’t have to navigate these waters solo. Some of the outcomes from a successful transition are to manage expectations, understand the rate and pace of change and the desired outcomes and consequences of going down this path, and finally what the next chapter of this company’s story looks like. Having worked through many of the transitions, here are three key areas that I tend to start with.

Establish a clear and well-documented succession plan that outlines who will take over the business and when. This is the first step in helping to manage expectations. Without a clear plan, everyone will be making their own determinations. Those determinations usually are not aligned. A clear plan helps to spell out timelines as well as other requirements for the transition to take place. And if you think not having a plan is ambiguous to the family members, just think what your employees are thinking. They are all guessing and hedging their bets. Eliminate the drama and share the relevant elements of the plan so that people feel safe, and confident about the transition down the road.

Invest in the leadership development of the next generation. Provide them with opportunities to gain experience and skills necessary to run the business effectively. This could come in a variety of different ways. It might be an internal rotation through various departments over a period, so that the individual gets a great understanding of how the business operates. A different tact could be where the individuals work elsewhere, sometimes in a completely different industry. This exposure gives them the opportunity to learn, and gain credibility in building their own career. When the time is right, they then can return to the family business, bringing with them the valuable business lessons that they learned outside of your four walls. And lastly, don’t forget the ongoing career development opportunities available, specifically tailored to the printing industry.

Keep the business up to date with technological advancements and industry trends. Embrace innovation to remain competitive in the printing industry. The last thing you’ll want to do is to hand over a business that is competitively challenged because you haven’t kept up. This is an area that both generations should be working together on during the transition. Chart a course that both respects where the business has been, and to where you collectively see the opportunities ahead. This collaboration will help instill the need for keeping up with technology, trends, and the need to continuously satisfy customer problems.

There are more considerations that include financial planning, estate planning, and governance. I’ll try to touch on those in future posts.

Remember that each family business is unique, and the specific details of the transition will vary. It’s essential to approach this process with patience, flexibility, and a long-term perspective to preserve the family legacy and ensure the continued success of the printing company across generations.

If you have any comments or thoughts as to how you’ve approached these issues, please send me a note, or include them below.

Mike Philie can help validate what’s working and what may need to change in your business. Changing the trajectory of a business is difficult to do while simultaneously operating the core competencies. Mike provides strategy and insight to owners and CEOs in the Graphic Communications Industry by providing direct and realistic advice, not being afraid to voice the unpopular opinion and helping leaders navigate change through a common sense and practical approach. Learn more at www.philiegroup.comLinkedIn or email at

Originally published in Printing Impressions.


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