The founders/owners of closely held firms are faced with what to do at the end of their careers—whether to keep the firm going through a leadership transition or consider the work they’ve done their legacy and close the practice. What are the options when a leadership transition is not started early enough?
The principals had built a design practice that had earned a strong national reputation; they were at the top of their profession and wanted to protect their brand. This meant being very selective with whom they brought into the firm.
Proud of the quality of their work, they had high expectations of their people and didn’t see anyone on staff who could grow into a leadership role. The employees were good at supporting the principals, but were not necessarily leaders themselves. A few who had shown promise had left for better opportunities or even started their own firms.
The principals were very hands-on with their projects, going deeper into projects than is customary in a firm their size. As a result, their staff had few opportunities to improve their leadership skills.
Because this practice was founded 15 years earlier after a failed internal ownership transition at another company, the partners—affected by that unpleasant experience—avoided the conversation about their own transition until late in their careers.