Business Succession Planning: Sequence of Control
July 02, 2019 | BY Shulem Rosenbaum
Whole Foods Market is now famous as the upscale supermarket chain that was acquired by Amazon for close to $14 billion. However, Whole Foods Market began with humble beginnings. In 1978, John Mackey and Renee Lawson borrowed money from friends and family to open a small natural food store in Austin, Texas. As the store expanded to open more locations and Mackey and Lawson admitted two additional partners and designated specific tasks to each partner, such as finance, human resources, and sales. This process continues today where, although Whole Foods Market is a multinational food chain with 500 locations, each regional manager has the autonomy and flexibility to decide on suppliers and pricing.
The proverb “too many cooks spoil the broth” applies to the management of a business. Thus, establishing the sequence of control as part of a succession plan ensures that the company continues to operate effectively and efficiently – especially if the business is bequeathed to children who do not work in the family business.
The sequence of control of a business succession plan outlines the decision-making process of a closely-held, family business once the owner is determined to be incapacitated or deceased. Although this can be emotionally tolling, the sequence of control is essential for the continuity of the business. The following are questions that arise when planning the sequence of control.
What is the definition of incapacitated?
You undoubtedly know of instances in which the patriarch of a family suffered from dementia or a form of memory loss. You are probably familiar with cases in which people took advantage of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Such undue influence can arise if a business owner can no longer exercise prudent business reasoning and judgment. Accordingly, the business succession plan should define “capacity” and specify who makes the determination, which can be a physician or a member of the clergy.
Who assumes control?
It may seem irresponsible to vest absolute control to the child or children who work(s) in the business; however, it may be imprudent to allow children who do not work in the company to be involved in the decision-making process of the business. A business administrator who requires approval for the day-to-day operational decisions in the ordinary course of business may be unable to perform basic administrative duties of the company, especially if consent is needed from an adverse party. Nevertheless, a proper business plan may require a vote of all members for significant business decisions, or decisions that may alter the business structure or significantly impact the business.
How can I secure oversight over the business administrator?
Proper internal controls are always recommended to promote accountability and prevent fraud, but it is even more critical when one heir controls the family business. The business succession plan can provide for a salary and fringe benefits or performance-based compensation, methods for removing or replacing the administrator, an arbitrator to adjudicate disagreements or disputes among family members, and an exit strategy or process of dissolving the business or partnership.
How can I provide for myself and my spouse while incapacitated?
If you are considered an owner of the business during your lifetime or so long that your spouse is alive, your succession plan can stipulate that you receive periodic distributions. However, a fixed withdrawal may prove to be insufficient for your medical needs or general cost of living. Conversely, the business may be dependent on its working capital that is now being distributed and accumulated in your personal checking account.