The Keys to the Kingdom

In passing down business, change is inevitable

Two years ago I never thought much about the end of my professional career. I was still too busy making it happen. After eight years of learning his craft, my oldest son voiced a desire to take the reins. We took the plunge, and now, after numerous visits to outside professionals, we finally have a formal transition/succession plan. The most important professional consulting, however, came from a four-year-old.

I was playing with my grandson, building with Bristle Blocks. Bristle Blocks are a modern version of my generation’s toys, Lincoln Logs. They are designed to stick together end to end and side to side, tongue in groove, to build all kinds of stuff which can then be played with limited only by the imagination.

His mother, my daughter-in-law, arrived early to pick him up so we did not have the opportunity to pick up and put away as was our tradition. He just jumped into her arms and waved goodbye with a blown kiss. The house grew quiet. Looking down, I could see he had smashed the Bristle Blocks together not end to end but face to face. I needed to go into the garage and get a tool to pry the darned pieces apart. As I worked and worked, I wondered what in the world was he building with these now very sturdy and stuck together blocks. He had made a multicolored brick.

In a moment of clarity, I realized the stuck-together brick represented the company I had built brick by brick. We built it to last like a solid brick building and it suited me well for over four decades. It is what my son bought when he said he wanted to be an owner. It never occurred to me that it needed to change.

I took the brick of Bristle Blocks to my son along with the tool from the garage and said: “This is the company I built, strong, connected, substantial, creditworthy — everything an entrepreneurial businessman could ask for, but not very much fun to play with and not at all flexible.”

I set the brick and the tool on his desk and asked the painful question. “What do you want to build and why?” We took the pieces of the brick apart one by one and talked about how the company needed to be different.

As we painstakingly took the brick apart piece by piece and then reassembled the pieces in a new pattern, we were creating the kind of company he wanted to own. The company will still operate within a rapidly changing heavily regulated industry, but it will be more flexible and technology driven. The formal transition/succession plan carefully laid out and painstakingly assembled got run through the shredder. From the reassembled Bristle Blocks we had created a new model … his model—the future model necessary to navigate the future environment. And it will be more fun to play with!

I found myself selling the company I had built to my son and that I had unconsciously expected him to simply carry on just as I had for over forty years. I found myself asking, “What do I do about who I’ve become?” Without knowing it, I had gotten stuck in a brick past. The root word in succession is “success.” I sold the business to my son as a successful conclusion to my professional career. It never occurred to me that we needed to have him not only buy the company that would be part of his success but make it his own. The art of succession is to have both successes in mind when transitioning.

The answer to the question above is development. I am no longer the manager, shareholder, chief cook and bottle washer for our company. I have reinvented myself (and along with it my professional career) to become what the new company needs. I am now the Chief Encouragement Officer with a job of maintaining our new culture. I am also a rainmaker, charged with generating new business to flexibly grow into an uncertain future. It is surprisingly fun. I can also now transition in a gradual way to the last chapter of my professional life.

About Steve Musick: Since 1977, Steve has helped families realize their dreams and live life on their terms. He is dedicated to expanding financial freedom for his clients and his firm. When you can't find him in the office, he's probably out with a fly rod or tennis racket in hand. For more information, go to

Categories: Management & Leadership