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Solving succession: How executive coaching helped one of Spain’s wealthiest families

It's good enough for presidents and Hollywood stars, so why shouldn't executive coaching help you and your family to improve the way you interact for the benefit of the business? André Ribeiro, an executive coach himself, reveals how it helped one of Spain's largest industrial groups to overcome a tricky succession issue …

Executive coaching can provide support to an individual, team or organisation. It aims to assist the recipient to develop specific abilities, become aware of how to improve the efficacy and efficiency of the business, personal and interpersonal communication and to define and reach desired goals.

In a family businesses setting, executive coaching can improve communication and relationships between family members, establish goals, and guarantee the success of the company in times of succession.

Two years ago I was contacted by a family member of one of the biggest industrial groups in the north of Spain, which is owned by one of the country's wealthiest families.

A coaching programme was developed to help the succession process from the 60-year-old leader of the business to his two sons, who were both in their 30s. At the start succession was a forbidden word as there was both rivalry and fear between the brothers.

Dialogue was very scarce – most of the important issues in terms of business and responsibilities were avoided or not talked about at all. The relationship among family members working in the company was confused, with a great mixture between family and work. This was also noted in conversations at home or during family gatherings where business topics were frequently the issue.

The father was mostly seen as the business leader and as a boss instead of a father. Personal and professional interests of the family mixed with the business and generated uncomfortable situations that disturbed the business, other directors and workers.

First, the two sons were trained individually in a half-day session for each. Within a couple of months, when the brothers were at a similar level in several topics, they were trained together in a one-day session every week and then every two weeks.

The coaching process consisted of training and exercises in management and leadership skills, where business and communication issues were analysed and strategies studied. Situations were rehearsed, while role-playing and tasks were assigned between sessions. Feedback was provided during and after the sessions to support the learning cycle and consolidate the action flow.

The coaching programme was then expanded to include the rest of the company's directors who were trained in specific skills, such as leadership, communication, conflict management, time management and goal setting.

During the coaching process, which lasted for one year, the role of each individual in the company was identified, the way in which they participate in the business was defined and professional and business goals were set up. The responsibilities of the two sons were progressively increased and adjusted.

Several possibilities were studied: hiring an external CEO, promoting a new CEO from within management, yearly rotation of each son as CEO, dividing the group into two so that each would manage one part or choosing one of the sons as the CEO. Towards the end of the process it was agreed that one of the sons would be the CEO and the other the chairman.

Direct and clear communication between the two sons made rumours and intrigue disappear and allowed important business decisions to be taken, such as investment decisions and reorganisation of the management team, which resulted in incorporating new directors and replacing others. The father has since retired but continues to accompany the progress of the business by participating in board meetings.

The coaching process enabled dialogue to be established, relationships to be strengthened and, therefore, succession occurred in a progressive and consolidated way. A follow-up was conducted to carry on with adaptation and adjustments.

Besides income generation, executive coaching enabled this family business to be a place of harmonious relationships and free dialogue among family members and other professionals, with an open communication and orientation towards business development.

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