A Lesson from the Royals: Succession is a Two-Way Street

The images released last week of Prince George Alexander Louis – the first since he left the hospital with his parents, Prince William and Kate Middleton – were a clumsy attempt to portray him as an ordinary infant. Although the photos were taken in the Middleton family garden, rather than at Kensington palace, the pictures are not very convincing in this respect. Truth is, this baby is worth billions of dollars, and a lot is riding on his succession.

Despite all the lightheartedness surrounding the newborn heir – the third in line to the crown – Prince George may not become King George for another 60 years or more. Unlike the Queens of the Netherlands, British monarchs do not abdicate from the “family business” except in extraordinary situations. A British monarch casts a very long shadow.

That’s a problem common to many business families, and a cause for genuine concern. Outside of the world of pomp and circumstance, failure to pass the baton to the next generation before the senior generation has actually passed away is detrimental both to the family and the business. A leadership gap weakens any business, while an unrehearsed succession process can tear apart even the most tightly knit families.

There any many reasons why patriarchs and matriarchs often have great difficulty letting go of the power and ownership of the family business. These may include (as with Queen Elizabeth) a fierce sense of duty, intense popularity, deep familiarity with the business, a desire to complete the heroic mission, and, not uncommonly, an unconscious fear of his or her mortality. Sometimes, however, family business owners lack confidence in the next generation or cannot find a suitable successor among them.

Succession is a two-way street. Even in Britain, where the best-primed heirs can’t coax reigning monarchs to step down, the next generation of royals prepare for years to facilitate and be ready for the succession process. Here are five tips you can offer younger generation clients to help raise the older generation’s comfort level in letting go of the family business:

On the surface, the photos released last week were just snapshots of a Duke and a Duchess and a little prince, flanked by two family-friendly dogs. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and those words were scripted down to the finest detail by a royal couple that was communicating the message:  “We intend to modernize the British monarchy.”

What messages are your clients trying to give their family patriarch or matriarch? How are you are working with them to smooth the transition from one generation to the next?

First Published: 30 Aug, 2013. WealthManagment