See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil

The harsh reality of succession

This is a story about a gentleman who started a small manufacturing plant after World War II, a typical depression and World War II guy. He went to school on the GI Bill, got out, and started a little machine shop in his garage. Over the years it grew into a significant business during which he had invited his two sons, Brian and Barry, to join the business. When we met him he was in his early seventies. His two sons had been underperforming for years, but the owner was feeling pressure to do some planning because Mom was ready for him to retire. The problem with Brian and Barry was they had both developed serious drinking problems. All of the members of the mechanical succession planning team (accountant, bank trust officer, attorney, and financial advisor) knew they had drinking problems. Throughout a year-long planning process, they all worked with the family pretending that they did not know the truth. A perfect mechanical estate plan was drafted and the owner began to shift stock and responsibilities over to his two sons even though he was not financially independent of the business. Within a year, the two sons were at war with each other over control of the business. Soon thereafter, Brian’s drinking problem became so problematic his wife divorced him. The responsibility for the business fell on Barry. Within three years both of them had had alcoholic induced breakdowns, resulting in the business suffering to the point that it was not recoverable. In the meantime, the father had a heart attack and was in poor health. The bottom line was that the business failed and the retired business owner had to go back to work for a friend in order to pay his monthly bills.


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