Monday, July 19, 2010

Howard’s Inner Circle, No. 18: The Subjective Forms of Succession Planning

When I was editor-in-chief at Practical Accountant, I was always intrigued by succession planning at accounting firms.

It seemed to be missing at most small ones. Probably because most practitioners viewed the practices as totally identified with themselves and were busy attending to business. At best, a few had practice continuation agreements with other firms in the case of death or disability.

In the case of the medium-sized firms, especially where the founders were still in control, it seemed like there was an enforced belief that further succession planning wasn’t tolerated or needed. The founders assumed, when they retire shortly, the firm would last long enough to make the payouts under the partnership agreement.

The larger regional firms paid the most attention. I was impressed when there was a smooth transition and the managing partner handed the baton over to a named successor over a stated extended transition period. Then, there were the knockouts of the long-term managing partner closely identified with past successes but seen as an obstacle by rainmaking partners to a needed new direction. My favorite was where the very successful, political savvy managing partner closely guarded his or her power and so ensured he or she had no successor at the firm. Those firms often ended up being acquired by an even larger firm or consolidator.

Perhaps I was so intrigued because I didn’t really understand how subjective succession planning is. Rather than looking at it from the prospective of ensuring the future survival of a firm, my starting point should have been to better understand the individuals, the size of the firm, and the firm’s power players’ interests as they would more likely determine the favored succession plan.

© 2010
The above is from the newsletter, Howard’s Inner Circle, which periodically appears on the blog, “Instigator” at It may be reproduced in full if that fact is stated and Howard Wolosky is credited as the author.

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