How Do You Eat an Elephant? Dr. Lee Hausner explains her six-step transition model for succession in family businesses at the FFI Northern California event.


Dr. Lee Hausner, Author of "Hats Off To You 2...Balancing Roles and Creating Success in Family Business Succession"

Last week the FFI NCAL Chapter Formation Team hosted the first event of a series that is aimed at raising awareness of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter for the Family Firm Institute. Dennis Jaffe, Susan Ott, Henry Kaiser, Doug Kennedy, Leslie Simon, Timothy Swords, Louis Wellmeier, David Kelly and myself, Carmen Lence, are currently leading the efforts to create better networking and educational opportunities for family business professionals in the Bay Area.

The conference was a huge success and this was predominantly down to the efforts of Susan Ott and Henry Kaiser, who did a fantastic job of organizing the event. Thank you very much for your hard work!

It was also great to see Carmen Bianchi and Mary Gust at the event and the FFI NCAL Chapter Formation Team really appreciated the fact that they took time to attend and show their support for our work.

Thanks to the efforts of Susan and Henry, we were fortunate to gain the support of Dr. Lee Hausner, who was the first speaker of a series to come. She gave an inspiring insight into her succession planning model, the highlights of which I would like to share with you now.

Dr. Lee Hausner is an internationally recognized clinical psychologist, business consultant, author and family wealth adviser. During her presentation, she explained how to approach the daunting endeavor of eating the big elephant that is succession in family business. In her own words, the best approach is: “bite by bite.” To help us to tackle the huge meal ahead, she advises that we start by dividing the elephant into six parts before starting the “feast.”

The six-step transition model for succession in family business was first introduced in Dr. Hausner’s book “Hats Off To You 2…Balancing Roles and Creating Success in Family Business Succession.” It involves a multidisciplinary approach to succession planning in which the founder and the family are involved throughout the process of succession implementation. The first and second steps, focus on founder and family but their involvement in the process continues as it goes through the next steps of dealing with the business, management, ownership and estate transition phases.

Interestingly, in Dr. Hausner’s model, estate planning is the last step in the process, despite the fact that, in most family businesses, it is actually sometimes the first and only step they take with regards to succession planning. In her opinion this is a big mistake because it does not address the sustainability of the business or the family’s “health.”

In Dr. Hausner’s model, the first step involves the founder’s transition, in which it is essential to address any resistance to let go. When discussing this phase of succession planning, Dr. Hausner pointed out that the transfer of power should be a slow process, during which she advises founders extend their limits of authority gradually, expect mistakes and don’t hope or demand to have a clone as a successor.

The second step involves the family transition, in which she recommends family members put on a different “hat,” depending on the situation they are dealing with. For example, members may wish to wear one “hat” when they are conversing as father and son or dealing with a family issue, and a different “hat” when dealing with a business issue. She also stressed the importance of setting clear expectations and transparency to avoid suspicion and the opportunity for “physiological cancer” in the family.

When dealing with the next generation during succession planning, it is important to lay out clear responsibilities, avoid entitlement and promote achievement. Dr. Hausner also mentioned the value of supporting the next generation’s development through coaching and mentoring.

The following step involves business transition, and Dr. Hausner outlined the need for a strong board of directors with independent advisors that can provide objectivity and accountability during the transition process.

Following this, during the management transition step, the family should decide what their future role should be. Should they get involved in the management of the business or would they be better overseeing the business as owners?

The 5th step of Dr. Hausner’s model involves ownership and, in her presentation, she pointed out that “fair and equal are not the same.” This is something that is important to take into account when deciding who is going to own what of the company and family’s assets.

Finally, regarding estate planning, it is important to set clear expectations and aim for a lifetime transfer. Dr. Hausner also stressed the importance of involving the family in philanthropy and any educational opportunities that can be used to develop the younger next generation.

Succession planning is a big elephant to eat and digest, but with the right process, tools and guidance it may become the most rewarding “meal” you have ever had!

Bon appetit!

Written by Carmen Lence coach and consultant at

Six-step transition model for succession in family business