Succession a sticky issue for businesses

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Succession is a fraught matter. For companies that survive their first three years — and 90 per cent don’t — life settles into lower risk for years, right until the founder hands over, at which point their risk of collapse soars again. In fact, three-quarters of businesses don’t survive the leadership handover.

It’s a point that has struck me following the nationwide celebrations in the UK to mark the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Last year, the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, passed away, and the change in the Queen has been sudden and dramatic. Barely a year ago, she was still out horse riding, which was formidable for a woman in her 90s.

Now, to join her family on a balcony is nearly more than she can manage, having to retreat from many of her jubilee celebration events, worn out from the first engagements.

As her cancellations have grown, her son Prince Charles, now in his 70s, has been taking over many of her events, ready for him to succeed as king.

But with every week that passes we see that this is not going to be a continuation of the fine leadership the Queen has given, with her humour and measured tolerance, her valuing of so many around her, and her ability to take knocks without ever showing them.

In this, a CEO of a Kenyan media group once told me how vital it was that officers present a united front to the rank and file, and his point was correct.

We have seen many times how it undermines everyone when we see fighting between CEO and board of directors or our managers.

In the case of the royal family, there is a new nexus of power that has recently emerged around the throne’s successor, Prince Charles, and his successor and eldest son, Prince William, and, frankly, it is an ugly thing.

For, this family, that has lived under the wise leadership of the Queen and her consort for so many decades, is now changing its tone completely, and in difficult times.

On their recent tour of the Caribbean, Prince William and his wife Kate met protests to the continuing role of the monarchy in Commonwealth countries.

Yet, their undoing looks set to be on their public display of petty squabbling and nastiness, rather than any republican issues of the 21st Century. For the younger son of Prince Charles, Prince Harry, married an American actress a few years ago, and then stepped down from royal duties to go and live in America.

He and his new wife gave an interview on the high-profile Oprah Winfrey show, and said they weren’t given enough support in his wife adapting to her royal role, and mentioned racism too, since his wife is of mixed race.

For most families, a sibling claiming they weren’t given enough support, or even relaying a pre-wedding argument over bridesmaids’ dresses, wouldn’t be enough to terminate a lifetime of sibling love. But for the UK’s Prince William, it is.

Prince Harry returned with his wife to London for the Jubilee. It’s hard to imagine what the family’s new leadership thinks of Kate Middleton throwing a sarcastic ‘Wow’ as her only comment on Harry’s wife in the church for the jubilee service.

Harry is next in line for the throne after his brother and his brother’s children, yet every rule of Royal Family etiquette was broken to seat Harry in a row behind minor royals on the opposite side of the church. Almost the entire family then snubbed him and his wife.

It was a horrible humiliation to watch, but it affects attitudes. I have never been a royalist, but I have admired Prince William and Kate. Now, I just cannot look at them the same way. If it ever comes to re-evaluating their role, I won’t be coming out for anyone who can see his own brother arrive, cap in hand, from the US and completely ignore and humiliate him.

But that’s where we are. The UK now has a royal family that cares about being vicious to its own more than it cares about we think about that, and that’s not a successful succession underway.