The author PG Wodehouse once wrote “it was a confusion of ideas between him and one of the lions he was hunting in Kenya that had caused AB Spottsworth to make the obituary column. He thought the lion was dead, and the lion thought it wasn’t”.
You never know what is around the corner but that doesn’t stop a plan being in place when the inevitable happens. Of course, succession planning is more than just waiting for the proverbial lion, it is about the positive and smooth transfer of assets from one generation to another in such a way to best preserve them for the future. That really goes to the heart of why I am passionate about the work I do. I use my skills to extend the achievements created in life beyond that person’s lifetime. I am the oil to facilitate that transition. Nobody says “I want to leave that farm, estate or business in a worse state then I inherited it”. Rather it is “I am the custodian of this asset which I have nurtured over my lifetime and I now wish to pass it down to you in trust for future generations”. I care in what I do because you are entrusting me to guide you and that precious gift that you have yourself cared for your whole lifetime.
Succession planning and history are aligned in that it is about continuity through the generations. The achievements of the past go on into the future. However, it is also about learning from the past. How not to do something is as important as how to do it. The legal case reports are littered with cases where succession has gone dramatically wrong. Sadly, there are many more which do not end in Court but due to a failure of advice, a failure to listen and take onboard the views and dynamics of the family or a failure to communicate has resulted in the property being sold. In such cases nobody wins, not just members of the family but the professional advisors as well. Conversely by getting it right, through obtaining the right advice and providing solutions to any difficulties discovered along the way, is very rewarding and satisfying.
A key critical skill to success is to listen. Always allow a few moments at the beginning of any meeting to discuss the bigger picture (where you ultimately trying to get too) even if the purpose for that particular meeting is a small step along that road. Always end a meeting with further thoughts, reflections and blue sky thinking. I recall one meeting as a very junior lawyer when I was asked by the Land Agent whether there was anything else that particular Landed Estate might want to consider. Off the cuff, I responded with a slightly left field idea caveated with I would need to run it past my more senior experienced colleagues. Twenty years later, having followed the strategy grown from the seed of my idea, that particular Landed Estate has successfully passed to the next generation with little tax having been paid and is set up to continue for the next hundred years.
It is days like that which are the most rewarding. So why I do what I do? It is because I care about what you are entrusting me to advise you on, have empathy with what is trying to be achieved and because I believe I can make a difference which in turn enables your work to live on after your lifetime.