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Breakout session with Philip Mackeown

By Glen Ferris

A fifth-generation family business owner, family talent advisor and successor development coach and mentor, Philip Mackeown knows more than most about the importance of nurturing family talent.

A member of the renowned Irish wholesale and trading Musgrave family, Mackeown has worked in his family business as an executive and non-executive family director and head of the family council.

After 30 years working for his own family, he has crafted a successful second career advising family enterprise owners and principals and is currently writing a book, The Successor’s Voice. “I’m trying to write a book that I would have liked to read when I started out,” he says.

Ahead of chairing the 18th European Families in Business Forum in Berlin, Germany, from March 30-31, Mackeown talks to Campden FB about successful successorship, encouraging talent and the importance of being fully informed.

Where are you right now?
I'm in Cork in southern Ireland.

Where would you rather be right now?
Looking at a finished copy of my book!

What do you do for a living?
I am a family talent advisor. My background is in family business and family ownership. I develop leadership in successors and I act as a coach and mentor to them. I'm also a writer.

When did you identify the need for what you do?
I think if I was to look at why I've focused on family talent development, it's because of my experience over 30 years as a manager, owner and non-profit founder. There is now a need to relook at the area of successor talent development.

50 years ago, there was one successor. He - normally he - took over the family business while siblings found an alternative. Now with successors following their own careers or people joining the family business later (if at all), getting involved in non-profits and social entrepreneurship, contributing to family governance and/or company governance, people transitioning out of family business or looking to understand issues around wealth, it seemed to me that there was a real need to answer the main questions I think these successors will face.

As a family talent advisor, what are the key issues that families need solving?
Families are looking to continue the successful run on asset growth, that's the real foundation of continuity.

The other thing that families look at is consensus within the family. If you look at all the efforts around family governance and organisation, constitutions and getting people in the one room to talk about the things they really should be talking about, that's a lot of effort, it takes a lot of time. It is rightly something that has gained a lot more impetus.

The other foundation is talent. The emphasis now is on non-family talent. I worked in a business where we had an abundance of non-family talent and very little family talent. I think that the real question for families remains, how can they encourage and prepare their family talent? If they don't, they aren't going to continue as a family business. It's as simple as that.

What does a good working day look like for you?
If I'm not traveling, I’m writing my current book and other another pieces during the morning. In the afternoon, it’s meeting clients, online and face-to-face mentoring and coaching meetings, writing client briefs or feedback on sessions or maybe just doing research on the market. Along with copious cups of coffee!

What do you do in your downtime?
I've learned to space out my work a little better than I used to. I know what it's like when you try to take on too much. Downtime now is family, gardening and an awful lot of tennis.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think as a successor and an owner, I would say be fully informed before you make important career decisions. Look to set up your requisite support and spend more time developing relationships with key senior members in your family.

What keeps you awake at night?
One that I'm not going to get the book finished. And when I do, no one's going to want to read it. And even if they do read it, that my advice doesn't resonate!

I suppose if one gets to my stage where you have ideas, the hope is that by sharing them and trying to put them into words that gets to the essence of one's learning and helps people to make better decisions and live better lives as successors and owners. If I can do that, stepping out of the family business after a 25-year career won't seem like it was done without a valid third stage in mind.

Philip Mackeown will be chairing the 18th European Families in Business Forum in Berlin, Germany, from March 30-31. More information here.

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