Friday, March 11, 2011

The Importance of Legacy

Warren Buffet is a very successful business person. While I can’t say I always agree with his politics or policy leanings – you can’t argue with his wisdom. This year in his letter to stockholders he makes some important comments that we all should take as a cue for what to do. Check out page 26 of the PDF and read his two-page Memo to all Berkshire Managers. In this biennial memo, he reemphasizes his number 1 priority and asks for letters outlining who each manager has chosen to replace themselves if something happens to them. Here is the excerpt:

“I need your help in respect to the question of succession. I’m not looking for any of you to retire and I hope you all live to 100. (In Charlie’s case, 110.) But just in case you don’t, please send me a letter (at home if you wish) giving your recommendation as who should take over tomorrow if you should become incapacitated overnight. These letters will be seen by no one but me unless I’m no longer CEO, in which case my successor will need the information. Please summarize the strengths and weaknesses of your primary candidate as well as any possible alternates you may wish to include. Most of you have participated in this exercise in the past and others have offered your ideas verbally. However, it’s important to me to get a periodic update, and now that we have added so many businesses, I need to have your thoughts in writing rather than trying to carry them around in my memory. Of course, there are a few operations that are run by two or more of you – such as the Blumkins, the Merschmans, the pair at Applied Underwriters, etc. – and in these cases, just forget about this item. Your note can be short, informal, handwritten, etc. Just mark it “Personal for Warren.””

So what is the lesson? If Warren Buffet is concerned about succession planning – my advice is that we sure better be too. It is a key part of legacy planning. It is a key part of business continuity planning. It is central to planning in general. So many of us believe we are invincible. It will never happen to us. But it does, and I guarantee it will, so now is the time to put plans in place – on paper just like Warren says – so there is clarity about how things should proceed without you. That is legacy – what happens after you are no longer in the picture. Have you made those decisions? If so, have you written it down and actually shared it with anyone, particularly the one who is listed? Amazingly people will put guardians in their will to take care of their kids if something happens without ever telling the people they are listed. Now that would be a very rude awakening. But the same would be true for your business. You need a plan – you need it now – it is time to take this step.

I can’t encourage you enough to create your legacy plan today. It is one thing you can’t do after the fact. If you don’t do it – someone will do it for you. My suggestion is that a decision this important is something that you want to handle. Don’t leave it to chance or be late to the party.

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