Should I take over the family business

Succession in family businesses: when children "disappoint" their parents

The majority of Austrian SMEs are family-run businesses. In addition to the ability to transfer the business into the digital age, family entrepreneurs must be able to regulate the generation of succession. The question of whether the children take over the parental business can decide whether to be or not. There is enormous pressure on children and parents. It is often difficult for both sides to articulate their needs openly.

Michael Bordt, director of the Institute for Philosophy and Leadership at the University of Philosophy in Munich, advises family businesses on generational succession. In the interview he talks about how you can cope with this challenge and why a disappointment can be something positive.


About Michael Bordt

Michael Bordt is director of the Institute for Philosophy and Leadership at the University of Philosophy in Munich. Twice a year, the institute organizes a one-week academy for young people who want to prepare for a later position as a manager. Bordt is also the author of the bestseller book “The art of disappointing your parents. On the courage to live independently ”, published by Sandmann-Verlag.



What challenges do children and parents have to overcome in family businesses?

Bordt: The first difficult question for the children of family entrepreneurs is whether they can imagine a life in which the father is not only the father and the mother is not only the mother, but also the boss. With all of the difficulties children face with their parents in growing up, this creates additional tension. Children of entrepreneurs have to be clear in a long process whether it is their inner desire to take over the parental business.

What challenges arise in the succession of generations?

Bordt: At the Institute for Philosophy and Leadership in Munich, we take up exactly this question and support parents and children from family-run businesses in courses. We support you in finding an answer to the question of how you want to shape your future life. At the end of the day, the sons and daughters of family businesses should be able to make a self-determined decision as to whether they want to continue running their parents' business or not.

What experiences have you made in the context of this accompaniment?

Bordt: The motives of the younger generation can be very ambivalent. On the one hand, there are children who clearly articulate that they do not want to be a piece of the puzzle in their parents' life planning. On the other hand, there are children who do not want to disappoint their parents. They think that the father or mother would be heartbroken if they didn't take over the company. Mostly they are afraid of losing the love of their father or mother.

Through our courses we want to guide them to clearly formulate their needs. In the end you should be able to give yourself an answer about how you want to shape your life. If there is a desire to take over the family business, they learn to grow into the role of the family entrepreneur. In the case of the next generation, not only legal formalities but also human feelings have to be clarified.

How do you prepare children and parents for the next generation?

Bordt:First, separate discussions are held with the children and parents in order to get to know the initial situation. In a second step, they complete a one-week course in which they learn methods of self-awareness - including yoga and meditation. The aim is to take a look at yourself. At the end of this phase you should get an understanding of what it means to be happy in life. In the third phase, we meet the families every six weeks to see how they deal with the next generation.

How can older generations learn to let go?

Bordt: Another key to a good succession process is that it becomes clear to the founding generation, i.e. the parents, that they have to develop a new perspective for their life after the handover. For many family entrepreneurs, this is definitely a major challenge. Most of the time they have done nothing else in their lives than to build up the company. They have to be taught that you can create new perspectives and tasks even in old age. Sometimes the children have to work on that. It is not possible to just say: the parents have to go.

You wrote the book “The Art of Disappointing Parents”. In it you advocate the thesis that for a self-determined life we ​​have to show a “robust vulnerability”. This means that we learn to deal with disappointments. Do children who do not want to take over the family business have to disappoint their parents?

Bordt: I try to present a positive understanding of disappointment in the book. In doing so, I show that with every disappointment, a deception disappears. It is important that both children and parents give an honest and authentic picture of themselves. As long as there is reflection on it, this usually works.

We accompanied a subsidiary of a large German family company at our academy. They should have got the finishing touches to be the next generation. In the one-week self-discovery, however, she decided to pursue her childhood dream and become a ballet dancer. In the end, she tearfully told her parents that she did not want to take over the company. In the end, her mother said that she had felt it for a long time that her daughter was deeply pursuing a completely different wish. Both sides communicated openly and in the end the deception fell away.


=> Leadership at the University of Philosophy in Munich