Leadership Succession Planning: Lessons Learned from the British Royal Family — Susan Schoenfeld

Talking Trends
5 min readNov 3, 2022
Photo by Mark de Jong on Unsplash

Susan R. Schoenfeld, CEO and Founder of Wealth Legacy Advisors LLC serves as a ‘thought partner’ to families of wealth through personal attention and human spirit. Susan is an award-winning Thought Leader; she provides guidance on legacy, next-generation, stewardship, governance, leadership succession, and philanthropy. Susan recently participated in a panel where she spoke about wealth creators, their desire to control, and patriarchy during transfer of wealth.

“You all know that the three rule rules in real estate are location, location, location. Well, the three rules in family wealth and governance are typically control, control, control, but ultimately I really think they should be communication, communication, communication.

“It is not just the wealth-creator generation communicating down to their younger generations about their mission, vision and values, but it should also involve multi-directional communication, in order that the next generation of wealth is engaged in the process, in the family office, and in the family wealth. The only way they will feel engaged is if they feel heard. Even if they don’t yet possess what they need to have a vote, you should at least give them a seat at the table so that they have a voice, to feel heard, empowered, and engaged in the family enterprise.

“We are now in the midst of perhaps one of the most striking family business leadership succession examples, with the passing of Queen Elizabeth and the accession to the throne of King Charles. It is instructive to review the steps of leadership succession that happened there.

“First, everybody knew that he was the heir apparent, that he was going to be her successor. But in a family business, or in a family office, you don’t necessarily have that clarity. So my first step in leadership succession planning in a family office or in a family business is identifying who the successor will be.

“My second step is grooming the successor and teaching them all the tools that they will need to successfully step into the role. During the pandemic, I binge-watched The Crown, like many of you. I was really struck in that first season, when Elizabeth became Queen, that her father, the King, never took her aside to teach her what she needed to know when the inevitable day came, and so she had to learn it all on her feet. On the other hand, Queen Elizabeth had 70 years to teach Charles about everything he needed to know, and so it was a much more seamless succession, depending on your point of view.

“My third step in family office or family business leadership succession is communicating in that choice to all of the stakeholders. In a family business or a family office, the stakeholders are all of the family members, whether they are active in the family business or are passively invested in the family business. They’re also the key employees, they may be vendors, they may be other people with whom you do business, that you need to very clearly explain what the line of succession looks like. And perhaps most importantly, and this is the hardest part of all, is to have that line in the sand, to have that moment when the transition actually happens and have a big event, where the outgoing emeritus leader actually transitions power, unless you’re going to wait like Queen Elizabeth did until that day when you pass on and go to your great reward. But either way, you need to have a very clearly defined line in the sand.”

Susan Schoenfeld, a public speaker & thought partner to families of wealth and their advisors, is an author and award-winning thought leader. Susan’s decision to switch from being a successful estate planning attorney and CPA to become a trusted family advisor and thought partner was inspired by families of wealth asking her searching questions beyond estate tax planning. As a conflict-free advisor who provides no investment, tax, or legal advice and sells no product, Susan shares her insights directly with wealthy families and with financial services experts. She is active as a keynote speaker and a leader of break-out sessions and workshops at conferences throughout the US.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/susanrschoenfeld/

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