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Stepping In

A sign of a small business closing led me inside a shop to a frail woman standing behind the counter. Her eyes though sad and exhausted were welcoming. To break the ice I made a purchase followed by some small talk before asking the reason for closing the business. Her response brought tears to my eyes. You see, her husband, founder and manager of the business had passed on two weeks earlier leaving her with no choice but to step in and run the business.

Fate had quickly had turned her from a housewife to a business owner denying her the time to mourn her loved one.  Only she could take over because their only child who lives and works in a foreign land had no intention of staying back to run the business.

At the back of my mind I knew that the decision to sell the business was rather an emotional one but this was not the time to wear my business advisory hat.

Three days later when I went to see her I was relieved to hear that she would not be selling the business any more as her in laws had pledged to support her to ensure the business stays afloat.

Each time I pass by her shop I am glad to see that she now much stronger, happier and in full control of the business.

Her case is quite rare in most African settings where you get the extended family rallying behind to help a business survive after the founder’s death. Normally what ensues are wrangles over property by immediate family members, extended families who seize the opportunity to make demands and before anyone knows it the business is turned into a battle ground which finally grinds the operations to a halt.

It also does not help that the most founders run their businesses as covert operations in which their immediate family members have no idea of what goes on the business and as a result they fall prey to opportunists who take advantage of their lack of knowledge.

Cultural dictates are sighted as the excuse of most small businesses lacking succession plan with most saying that planning for death is a taboo or even a bad omen so they would rather not. For others the size of a small business as a reason for not planning for its future postponing the action later when the business is substantial.

In my view mostly it control issues that grips most founders making them not plan for the future because they view planning as a means of ceding control which is very hard for most to grapple with. Reality is it helps to have a succession plan to safeguard your business in case of any eventuality.

Lastly always involve your family members in your business dealings. Let them know what your business is all about. Maybe we need to borrow from the Asian families who have meals together to discuss their businesses activities.