When a Son is a Better Leader than His Father

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

We are experiencing the reverse problem of much of what I read in your columns. The advisor who founded our firm and still runs it has brought in his 34-year old son as his clear successor. We all knew this would happen and the son, whom I will call “Bill,” has gained experience working in the institutional investment area for one of the large investment banks. Bill has never wanted to push himself on us and has been very respectful and deferential.

In fact, this is the problem.

Bill is a great leader. He is quiet yet serious and knowledgeable. His father, on the other hand, is a hothead. His father has embarrassed some of our administrative people by shouting at them in our lunchroom and berating them in meetings.

Sometimes we find it hard to believe Bill is actually his son because Bill is very pensive and thoughtful. And it’s not just the style differences. Bill has some good ideas about things we need to change in our investment process. Our results have not been excellent for a few years and many of us have been clamoring for some changes. Bill seems to know what to do and has the experience and capability to do it.

This is a “reverse” problem because I typically read about successors who came in and they didn’t know as much as or were less capable than the original founder. In our case we prefer Bill to his dad.

We can’t work with Bill without risking the wrath of his father. Not one of us is interested in getting chewed out in the lunchroom or belittled at our next team meeting.