Not supposed to happen this way. Until it did.

It was a Sunday evening when I received the call. I heard my father’s voice, but the words were not registering. Utter disbelief and shock welled up inside me. This had to be a mistake. Sadly, it was not. My Uncle Joe, 59 years young and in seemingly great health, had passed unexpectedly.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Until it did.

My father Tony and Uncle Joe were quite the team. They had recognized the challenges facing the family apparel business started by their father and pivoted. In its place, they built and ran a successful software company with a clear plan for the 3rd generation. As our fathers grew the company, my cousin and I would start at the bottom and work our way up the ladder.

And with that one call, plans changed.

Our company was 50% prepared for this life event. Tony and Joe had agreements in place to deal when it came to stock options, voting rights, ownership transition, etc., which was a huge relief.

But there were two other significant pieces we had not planned for:

• WHO was going to take over Joe’s roles and responsibilities; and how this transition was going to be managed. Looking back, we lost nearly a year of progress as we figured it out, on a daily basis, without Joe’s wisdom and insights.

• The emotional toll. Joe’s death affected all of us at the company, but no one more than my father. Joe was his brother and best friend, but he was also his business partner for the last 31 years. Without Joe there, the fun of playing the business game had diminished.

We were fortunate that Tony and Joe had the foresight to have most of the critical documents in place to ensure the business could survive. And survive we did – it just looked very different from what we all had originally envisioned. After having lived and worked through this situation, I can confidently say that without the planning they had in place, the future of our family business would have been in jeopardy

As a business owner, you have devoted so much time and energy to building your organization. Put the same time and devotion into building an emergency management plan (EMP) that ensures the business can survive without you. Then share it with your employees, your bank, your advisors, and of course, your family. They WILL thank you.

Need some guidance in drafting an emergency management plan? Schedule a 30-minute call with me and I’ll walk you through the EMP checklist we use with our own clients.

There are two “what ifs” to consider as you plan:

What if I, the owner, die while still leading the business? Yes, this is a big one and typically what everyone thinks of first. In a family business, there are complex issues to tackle and critical decisions to make. That why the EMP is so important.

What if the death is someone close to the owner? A spouse… a parent… a child… a key employee… or as in my personal story, a business partner? Each of these circumstances will also send shockwaves through the family business. (Scroll back and download that EMP checklist!)

The only guarantees in life are death and taxes – Benjamin Franklin

As parents, we know we should create an estate plan, will, medical directives, and powers of attorney, so that when we die, our heirs are not stuck handling the estate without a plan. Business owners, you should be doing the same work with your leadership teams and family members as it relates to your single largest asset – your business!

In a time of grief, making decisions with a clear head is extremely challenging.  The fallout from ignoring the 5Ds, like death, can be catastrophic. The act of preparing actually brings peace-of-mind and can be strangely liberating.

Click here for a mini questionnaire to test your 5Ds readiness on this uncomfortable topic of death.

I have shared 4 different links in this blog to help you and your business prepare for this particular 5Ds of Life event – there are four more I’ll be sharing in the coming months.

If this blog has created a sense of urgency, fill out this form and will we deliver the complete 5Ds of Life ebook PDF directly to your inbox.

It is my sincere hope that everyone reading this will take advantage of these valuable resources – all of which are free. Make the time to protect the legacy you have built and the people you love.

Life comes with no guarantees. There are only the ones we create.



Matthew is a Senior Business Advisor at Compass Point Consulting and provides hands-on consulting & coaching to help family businesses close performance gaps; give owners practical, actionable tools that drive growth; deliver training to develop leaders and position the business for successful ownership transition - all on their terms.

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