A Painful Malady

by Richard Shank | February 2009

The following story is a composite of several situations. Names, locations, and other facts have been changed to illustrate and simplify the case.

Cases have been reported in almost every state and province. Not much is discussed about it, because the victims are usually too embarrassed to let others know they have the disease. But authorities have learned it’s usually transmitted from father to son. Harry suffered in agony. Although he’d had symptoms for several years, it was on his fiftieth birthday that the blisters opened.

The day had begun as usual. But a cold feeling of discouragement engulfed him when he saw with new eyes his diploma on the office wall: a degree in business administration. He keenly remembered his anticipation of turbocharging Dad’s business when he began work here 28 years ago. But today his hopes were crushed. Dad still held the same full-owner grip even though he was nearing 75.

Earlier that morning the roof had caved in. Dad announced he was dividing the business equally between his 6 children—three boys, three girls. Harry was the only child who had continued to work for Dad. All of the others had left many years ago for jobs elsewhere. Harry had given the best years of his life here, with a salary no more than the other employees. He had turned down opportunities elsewhere, in anticipation of Dad’s promise. Why hadn’t he left to start his own business when he was young enough to do it?

He clearly remembered that day 28 years ago. Dad had placed his hand on Harry’s shoulder as they stood outside the factory. “Son, someday this will all be yours if you stick with me.” But now he was faced with the prospect of working under his two brothers and three brothers-in-law, none of whom knew or cared anything about the business. They saw the business as a cash cow; an opportunity to milk it for all they could each get. It had started already. One of his brothers-in-law had told him to expect some major management changes now that he owned a ‘piece of the pie.’
Harry’s loyalty to Dad was rewarded by this death-knell. After the meeting, Harry reminded his father about his promise, but Dad was offended that Harry wasn’t grateful for his gift of 1/6 share. Harry now realized that if he stayed longer, the remainder of his business life would be intolerable. But if he left now, the family would blame him for scuttling ‘their’ business.

Bitterness permeated his chest as he remembered cousin John had told him many years ago how his Dad had set up a plan for their business. John was given the permission to purchase shares in the business at regular intervals, beginning his purchases when he was 25 years old.

When his father was 60 years old, and John was 39, John was allowed to purchase enough additional shares to have controlling interest. His father had made these arrangements so he would continue to have an income during his twilight years, and he would still be available to mentor John as needed. John was now the pilot, and was responsible for all takeoffs and landings. Harry groaned. Why hadn’t he been more proactive?

Situations like Harry’s occur far too often in our circles. The Business Advising service at Anabaptist Financial helps families structure succession plans to avoid the turbulence caused by the hidden rocks in almost all businesses. Solid planning considers the interests of the entire family.