For Many Family-Owned Businesses, Handing Off The Baton Is Tricky

By Kim Lyons
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


The Mascilli family, which owns a plumbing business in suburban Pittsburgh, started several years ago to transition day-to-day operations from the parents to their grown children. And sons Anthony and Arthur Jr. are keenly aware of how much of the succession of a family business depends on the second generation.

Arthur Mascilli started the company in 1957 with $4,000 from a cashed-in life insurance policy, and worked hard to build it into a company that now sees between $3 million and $4 million in annual revenue.

“We want them involved in the business,” Anthony Mascilli said of his parents. “They don’t hold us back, let us do our thing, and we’ve never felt compelled to change the ownership.”

To that end, the older Mascillis created a trust, so that when either one of them dies or becomes ill, their sons will assume control of the business. “That helps us avoid having to think about a lot of the issues that are hard to talk about, because we know the trust covers them,” Anthony Mascilli said.

But for many family-owned businesses, handing off the baton to the next generation can lead to challenges beyond operations and payroll, said Sam Goncz, an attorney who represents clients in estate planning matters. He specializes in business succession.

Some bruised egos may be inevitable, as specifics about who will control what, and when, are worked out. It’s understandable that a business owner who has built a company from scratch would take the transfer of authority very personally, he said.

“Most business owners eventually realize that what’s in the best interest for the family is that the business is not paralyzed by fear of hurting someone’s feelings,” Goncz said.

Just starting the process of a succession plan can feel daunting for small business owners, he added. “It’s difficult to begin the process because you focus so much energy on sales and profits and building a customer base, and that’s your sole focus for so long.

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