Successful Transition in a Family Business
Reviewed By: Avraham Azrieli
Avraham Azrieli's most recent novel is "Deborah Rising" (HarperColllins 2016), the story of the first woman to lead a nation in history.

“Transition: How to Prepare Your Family and Business for the Greatest Wealth Transfer in History” by David Werdiger is a poignant work of invaluable guidance for owners and heirs of family businesses; it straddles the essential genres of Financial Advice, Family Business and Survivalist Manual. Successfully fusing personal narrative, academic data, original perspective, creative solutions, and practical takeaways for the fortunate reader, this is a must-read not only for family members involved in business transition, but for their advisors—accountants, lawyers, and even therapists.

Author David Werdiger shares relevant experiences from his own life and personal journey, as well as his family’s private and business life, while leading the reader on a journey of discovery and exploration. He brings to this book a wide spectrum of experiences, extensive and varied education, as well as clarity of mind and words. His goal is to illuminate the challenges facing a family business, especially when approaching a generational transition, and then, provide solid methods and solutions for a successful transition. In our opinion, the author succeeded in delivering on that goal.

For example, when it comes to generational differences, the author does not shy away from telling it as it is: “Our children are not replicas of ourselves. If we look at generation gaps, you have two conflicting things at play: nature and nurture.” He correctly points out the dramatic changes caused by the Internet and technological transformation: “Baby Boomers grew up without the Internet, but their children and grandchildren grew up in a world never knowing that there wasn’t such a thing as the internet. […] Baby Boomers tend to prefer face-to-face or telephone communication. On the other hand, their children and grandchildren look at those methods of communication as archaic and anachronistic. Why talk to somebody face-to-face when you can SMS or WhatsApp them? […] they look at the process of interpersonal communication in a completely different manner.”

The book draws from rich and varied sources, and provides some of the most potent (and relevant quotes. For example, in addressing another fascinating aspect in the evolution of a family business, as succeeding generations have dramatically different levels of appetite for risk: “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” is an old proverb that warns of the ups and downs of multi-generational family wealth. This proverb exists in many cultures—both Western and non-Western—and its origin is unknown. The Scottish express it well: “The father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs.” The risk expressed here is real and tangible, and this book provides the tools to address and avoid it by ensuring that “the third generation is given the proper tools, education, and guidance in order to minimize the risk of this happening.”

Concluding this journey, the author wisely advises to find balance: “Hedonism […] is about personal gratification […] about what they take, how they enjoy life, and how they indulge […]. The altruist is there purely for others […].” “In a family business, it can be easy to lose balance and fall to one extreme or the other. […] Work together to find the middle ground that will bring happiness and meaning to your lives.”

In summary, “Transition: How to Prepare Your Family and Business for the Greatest Wealth Transfer in History” by David Werdiger is a concise yet thorough guide for all stakeholders in a family business who care to see it survive transition and thrive in its aftermath. The author successfully incorporates his personal experiences, vast knowledge, and gift for clear explanation of complex issues, delivering a highly readable and easily accessible guidance while emphasizing that a family business is, indeed, both a family and a business. This is a thorough and exemplary book that charts new grounds and provides a wealth of solid resources and wise advice. Highly recommended!