Multigenerational Businesses: The Challenge of Passing the Baton

By Karen Carnahan & Marsia Gunter

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So you’re in a multigenerational family business. What’s it like?

For people who have never worked in a multigenerational business, many of the unique challenges they face are something they never had to encounter. Even for new workers that are members of the family, it will require an adjustment to brand new ways of thinking.  

One of the biggest challenges multigenerational businesses face is the method by which they transition their power to the next generation. When a family-owned business wants to pass the leadership baton to the “new blood” it potentially faces trials they don’t teach anyone about in business school.

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The older and younger iterations often find themselves at an impasse trying to answer uncertain questions in the process. And with an open mind, these questions provide an amazing opportunity for a deep exploration of how the new stewards of the business will lead it into its vision for the future.

Here are questions that are worthy of exploration:

  • How does the younger generation learn about the business before they are entrusted to lead it?

  • How do family members keep their professional and family “hats” from interfering with each other moment to moment?

  • How does the supporting staff, who may have been working in the business for decades longer than the new leadership, change the way they see the younger generation?

  • How do you prepare people to be nimble with other ways of thinking—multigenerational thinking that must bridge different perspectives?

  • And most importantly—how does the business maintain it’s long-term vision and values over decades or even centuries?

Join Karen Carnahan and Marsia Gunter of Continuous Breakthroughs discussing the challenges and opportunities of multigenerational businesses in Oregon State University College of Business podcast series: Family Business 360 Degrees. Listen to the podcast here.

This episode, originally aired in February, 2019, is entitled Family Momentum—Readying Future Family Business Leaders.



Gary Gunter