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Succession for success

Lack of succession planning for businesses in Sudbury raising alarm
Todd Wilkinson
Sudbury clothier Todd Wilkinson

Todd Wilkinson is a third-generation owner of men’s clothier Reg Wilkinson in Sudbury, and in its 68 years in business, he'll be the first to pass it along to someone who's not in the family.

But he does have a formal succession plan and a message for other business owners who want their businesses to continue on without them.

“Hope is not enough,” said Wilkinson, who addressed the crowd gathered at his store, Nov. 4, for the release of “Your Business, your Future,” a Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce report on the state of succession planning in the city.

According to their report, over 50 per cent of 150 Sudbury businesses surveyed do not have a succession plan.

This is worrisome to the chamber because around 80 per cent of businesses without a succession plan in place will wind up shutting their doors as their form of transition. “We want to develop a sense of urgency at this turning point,” said Andre Dumais, chair of the committee behind the report.

Dumais said it is alarming that almost half of the respondents expressed a desire to retire or exit their businesses within 10 years, and don't recognize that it's a long process, at least five to 10 years.

“Time flies, ten years is like one year... the next thing you know you're in your 70s about to close your doors,” agreed Wilkinson, pointing out that the transition from his father Bob to himself is an ongoing, eight-year process, and one that is facilitated by their family connection.

“It's driven by age,” added Paul Seccaspina, president of Oraclepoll, who was commissioned for the survey.

“The older they are the more likely they are to consider it.”

But younger business owners with a “millennial” mindset are less likely to be considering it, he said, much like they're not thinking of RRSPs because “it seems so far off.”

It might be far off for some, but Seccaspina encouraged business owners to start early.

Barriers to succession planning identified in the report included a lack of training and knowledge transfer, time, dealing with future income flows, uncertainty, and finding buyers.

A more specific result of the survey was that around 40 per cent of respondents did not even know what was involved in succession planning, or who to contact for help.

The chamber released the first of a series of videos urging business owners to start the process, and to involve a business professional like their lawyer, economic advisor,