On a recent holiday to Italy, we stayed in a small, family run hotel in Sorrento on the beautiful Amalfi Coast. I got talking to the owner about his business; he had enjoyed a good summer season and was looking forward to a well-deserved break (and holiday) at the end of October.
The owner’s son now works part-time on reception. The son had studied two degrees at English Universities and now, back home with his fiancée, has a child on the way. The owner explained how he hoped that his son would finally ‘settle down’ by making a commitment to help run the business. He spoke passionately about how he had built the hotel from scratch, 12 years before, and done this effectively single-handed. Aside from the obvious challenges, he explained that the legislative ‘minefield’ associated with building in Italy, meant this process was both very lengthy and arduous. He shared lots of plans to upgrade and develop the hotel, but it was evident that the previous decade or so had taken its toll.
We discussed that succession planning – in family-run businesses in particular – is a difficult and potentially sensitive process to manage. I asked whether his son shared his passion and commitment to not just take on the running, but oversee the expansion of the business. The owner answered honestly and said he hoped so, but was unsure.
This led me to think not just about the challenges of running any (family) business and succession planning, but about the passion and commitment required to do so. I believe that this must come from a need. The owner had a need to build the hotel and did so successfully through shedding considerable blood, sweat and tears. For whatever reason, having met his son, I was not convinced that he shared the same need(s) as his father. I got the distinct impression that his son liked and enjoyed the lifestyle created by his father, but was unconvinced about the commitment and demands required to take over the running of the business.
Is there a place for anything less than 100% passion and commitment when it comes to running a business? I believe not. People will always have a different need(s), but without this as the motivating force to get out of bed in the morning, the business has little chance of success.
PS I wished the owner well. I might even offer him some pro-bono business support – in exchange for pro-bono accommodation of course!