Balancing a legacy with next gen development —Three things I learned in session three

Jan 24, 2024

Balancing a legacy with next gen development —Three things I learned in session three

By Dan Beenken

This past week we had the third session of our breakfast series feature Matthew Cathy, owner of Clayton Fixture and family ambassador for Chick-fil-A. He was on to share his experience as a next gen member of the family and what that entails for them. It was a great 90 minutes of hearing a first-hand experience.  I took away several "nuggets" – pun intended – and wanted to share a few of those with you. 

Without further ado, my Top 3:

  1. Kick them out of the nest
    It doesn’t have to sound this harsh, but the Next Gen needs to find some footing beyond the family business. It can’t be like the sluggers who hit home runs and Coors Field, but struggle on the road. Impress upon the Next Gen the importance of working somewhere else before coming back to the business – explain the “why” and if necessary, help them develop a path toward finding a great place for them to get that outside experience.
  2. “I don’t want your life” 
    I will admit to having seen Varsity Blues back in the day and I’ll never be able to get this quote out of my head. Some Next Gens are brought up so closely to the business and family that passion for it is part of the territory. But other Next Gens might not share that same interest and thus the confines of the family business might feel just that - confining.  How can you as a business family provide other avenues and opportunities to those that want to stay close, but not that close? Can you diversify into other businesses? Become someone else’s succession plan? Think about how you might be able to diversity your portfolio to make it more enticing to the Next Gen.
  3. Ambassador program
    CFA and the Cathy family have created a very unique position for Next Gen’s called an “Ambassador”. Its far more than a title of course, and gives the family a vehicle to help develop the next gen. They are given more exposure to company performance, are able to sit in as an observer at various board and committee meetings, and are given small roles where they can represent the family and the business. I love the concept for a variety of reasons – Next Gens are exposed to the board/board members/topics/discussions and they are given real responsibilities with a small compensation component. Overall, I just like that they are being proactive – finding ways for the next gen to learn about the firm, their employees, mission/values, etc. Very cool!!


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