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Thomas, Christmas Dinner Meltdown & Succession Planning

Thomas in business attire standing with his hands folded

I have a story you might see yourself in!

Ever been involved in drama at holiday family get-togethers? Like all my stories, this one is also true...

Tensions were running high as the family gathered for Christmas dinner. Margaret shot daggers at her father Thomas from across the table, barely concealing her fury. How could he, her father, pass her over to name his nephew as the new CEO of their family business?

After decades of hard work building the company into a success, Thomas had initiated a succession plan to identify his replacement at the helm. And in a move that brought Margaret’s fury, he chose her younger cousin over his own daughter to lead the company into its next chapter.

The decision threatened to create a permanent rift in the family. But Thomas knew he had made the right call, thanks to the invaluable guidance of an outside succession planning mentor...


Rewind six years earlier, when Thomas first recognized his eventual need to step back from the CEO role of the fifth-generation family business he had helped grow. He worried about sowing drama and division by having to choose a successor from within the family ranks.

That’s when he engaged a mentor experienced in family business succession planning. Their first step was to unite three generations - Thomas, his children, and even grandchildren - in developing a family business credo. This living document outlined the core values, principles for multi-generational leadership, financial philosophies, and criteria for family employment.

By aligning everyone’s expectations up front, the path for an objective succession became clear - leadership roles would be based solely on competency and fit, not bloodlines.


Though Margaret had valuable financial skills from outside experience, her temperament and lack of leadership abilities ill-suited her to lead the company as the new CEO.

Her younger cousin, however, exhibited the transformational vision and emotional intelligence required to lead the entire organization effectively. The succession mentor helped Thomas and the family see this truth objectively and gave him the fortitude to make the difficult decision.

Of course, the transition did not come without turmoil, as evidenced by that fateful Christmas blowup. But the mentor continued coaching Thomas through the family drama, even finding an alternative role for Margaret that allowed her to contribute without undermining the new CEO’s authority.

Five years later, that nephew has proven to be the inspired leader the business needed for its next stage of growth and impact. And Thomas, now 69, has stepped confidently into new roles as board chair, "CEO mentor," philanthropist, and doting grandfather.


Without the outside succession planning mentor, the family could have spun into permanent dysfunction. Instead, Thomas’s life’s work will endure and expand its impact for generations to come.

An “outside voice” can be invaluable in succession planning (​CLICK HERE TO READ MORE​). Don’t walk through these complicated seasons alone.

Harry T. Jones

P.S. There are a limited number of spots in our next Succession Planning For Impact mastermind, email me with “mastermind” in the subject line to join the waiting list.

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