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A good start will always come in handy when planning succession issues at family businesses. Creating internal committees and a framework will help. Image Credit: Shutterstock

A CEO succession planning is one of the most challenging activities the board of a family firm in the Middle East will undertake. The decision will impact business success and influence the family's welfare; it is a high-stakes situation that requires careful planning to avoid unintended consequences and controversy.

One of the primary hurdles in CEO succession within family firms is achieving alignment among the family, the board, and management. Without this alignment, the succession process can quickly devolve into tension and disagreement. CEOs of family businesses need to have the business acumen to succeed while possessing the additional skill of navigating family expectations, whether these family members are on the board, part of the management team, or are large shareholders.

Recent data shows 56 per cent of current CEOs in the Middle East have been promoted internally. The likelihood of appointing a CEO from outside the firm with little experience with the family raises the stakes of selecting someone who seamlessly integrates with the family’s culture and dynamics.

Inter-generational sustainability of family businesses is particularly crucial in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where international trade and investment thrive.

Clear lines of succession

To address this challenge effectively, the family, the board, and management must establish clear and agreed-upon roles for each stakeholder group. The board must delineate its responsibilities in overseeing the succession process, whether a full-board process or delegated to a committee for intensive preparation.

The family should be actively involved in identifying potential candidates and representing the family's interests. Management must collaborate closely with the board and the family to ensure a seamless leadership transition.

It is instructive to develop these rules before a succession process becomes imminent, perhaps by revising the family charter to incorporate clear, agreed-upon guidance.

Beyond clarifying roles, long-term succession planning involves preparing the next generation of family members to assume leadership roles when called upon. This necessitates a comprehensive educational strategy tailored to the unique needs of the family business.

Future leaders must possess not only the requisite business acumen by serving in various roles within or outside the firm but also a deep understanding of the company's culture and values. By investing in education and development opportunities specifically designed for family businesses, the family, board, and management can equip the next generation with the skills and knowledge necessary to lead effectively.

Finding that right ‘fit’

Cultural fit is another critical consideration in CEO succession within family firms. The incoming CEO must embody the values and ethos that define the family and the company. This alignment of values ensures that the incoming CEO can seamlessly integrate into the organization, fostering trust and credibility among employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

Cultural fit goes beyond evaluating qualifications on paper; it requires candid conversations to gauge candidates' compatibility with the organization's culture. Additionally, involving key stakeholders, including family members, senior executives, and long-time employees, in the selection process can provide valuable insights into candidates' compatibility with the company’s culture.

Remember–the next generation of family members is not assured of possessing the cultural fit required to take the family business forward. Hence, assessing the cultural fit for all candidates is critical.

Balancing family and business interests is often a delicate endeavor, particularly during CEO succession. Transparency and trust are essential for managing these competing interests and resolving conflicts.

Establishing family councils or advisory boards can provide a platform for open dialogue and decision-making, fostering unity and shared purpose among everyone involved. Regular family meetings that include a range of stakeholders further ensure the alignment of family and business interests for post-succession success.

The CEO succession planning in large family firms in the Middle East demands a comprehensive approach that integrates business strategy, family dynamics, and leadership development. By fostering alignment among stakeholders, preserving the organization's culture, and balancing family and business interests, family firms can navigate succession challenges successfully and ensure continuity and prosperity for future generations.