Retiring? Five tips for choosing your successor

If you’ve chosen to retire from your business, then there’s a chance that you don’t want to spend your remaining time at the helm engaged in a lengthy, complicated sale process. Often, retiring owners will instead look within the company at their senior team in order to find a successor.

If you promote a successor from within, then the likelihood is that the deal will be structured in such a way that you are paid out over a period of several years based upon the future performance of the company. For this reason (as well as to ensure the ongoing success of a business you no doubt care deeply about), choosing the right successor is crucially important.

Some owners think well in advance and will spend years grooming one specific person to take charge as and when they retire. Others won’t operate with this level of foresight and will begin to consider potential successors around the same time they start thinking about retirement.

Whether you’re choosing someone to take over from you years down the line or in the near future, there are several factors that are important to bear in mind when choosing a successor. Here are five key things to bear in mind.

Identify potential candidates
First thing’s first, draw up a long-list of every possible candidate within your company that could potentially take the role. There’s no need to go into in-depth specifics at this point, just list all the potential candidates along with a few basic attributes they each offer.

What challenges will your business face in the future?
The most salient point to consider when choosing a successor is that this is the person who will be leading the business into the future. Before you begin thinking about a specific person to take over from you, think about the major challenges that your business will face in the future.

What are the major technological and social trends that could shape your sector and the wider marketplace over the coming decade or so and how might these potentially impact your business? Once you’ve determined such potential future challenges, the criteria your successor needs to fit will become far clearer.

Who is the best candidate for the future?
When choosing a successor, it’s easy to be tempted to fall into reflexive modes of thinking, for example by looking for someone who you think is in your image, or by letting sentimentality and personal attachment factor into your decision-making.

But the crucial thing you need to think about is which of your long-listed candidates are best suited to meet the challenges that you’ve identified as potentially impacting your business in the future. Assessing each candidate to see which ones could best future-proof the business and ensure solid ongoing performance will help you narrow down your long-list to a few outstanding potential successors.

Test your potential successors
Next, you’ll want to assess the capabilities of all the candidates that remain. Begin trusting them with bigger challenges and new responsibilities, this will give them the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and suitability for the role and give you an idea of which is best suited to take the company forward.

Work closely with the chosen candidate ahead of your retirement
Once you’ve got a successor, or even successors, in mind, it’s time to really begin preparing them to take over the lead role. While they may have previously held a position of seniority within the company, there will still be things about the business that they might not know. Begin entrusting them with some of the highest level information and responsibilities that you manage as the head of the business.

For the final few months of your time at the company, work as closely as possible with your chosen successor, acquainting them fully with the role they’ll be taking on. This will enable them to assume the role with a minimum of disruption to the business and mean that you can retire in confidence and comfort.