[caption id="attachment_27466" align="alignright" width="389" caption="William Schrader, left, Dick Abbey and Jim Andersen"][/caption]
SANTA ROSA – At Burr Pilger Mayer’s fifth-annual succession planning conference, Will, Nancy and Karl Seppi of Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg talked about their experience with putting a successful succession process in place, and a panel of experts discussed the dos and don’ts of having a well-thought-out plan.
Steve Jannicelli of BPM monitored the panel, which consisted of Jim Andersen, partner with BPM and a succession planning expert; Dick Abbey, an attorney with Abbey Wietzenberg, Warren & Emery; and William Schrader, president and chief executive officer of Exchange Bank.
The event, which focused on how to move local family owned businesses from generation to generation, was held earlier this month at the Vintners Inn.
Initially, Will Seppi talked about his decision to leave the corporate world, where he was working in high-level positions, to come run the family bakery.
“I got burned out,” said the 35-year-old accountant.
Seeing that Sonoma County had changed in the years since he left and Healdsburg seemed to have come into its own, he thought he would give the bakery a shot.
“And it has been go, go, go ever since,” he said.
Karl and Nancy wanted to turn the business over to their children at some point, and Will was the only one who wanted to step in.
The most important element in navigating a successful succession is maintaining trust, Will said. While there were challenges often, he and his parents trusted each other.
“That determines how successful the succession will be,” he said.
Following is a summary of the comments and advice offered by the event panelists.
“You have a lawyer. You have an accountant. You have a banker. The person that is missing is the shrink,” he said of the emotional side of the succession planning process.
Both with the children and their relationships and with parents not wanting to feel left out in the cold, he said that bringing up all those things one doesn’t want to talk about proves to be a recipe for success.
Mr. Andersen stressed the point of not confusing the succession plan with estate plans and the valuation of the business.
“Look at the business on an annual basis and once you have a benchmark, every year put in a value for the next 12 months.”
He said the most important reason of all to have a succession plan is to preserve the relationships of the siblings after the older generation passes on.
“The last thing you want is for your kids to end up in court,” he said.
The valuation part of it is that you are leaving a legacy.
“There is a real value and a perceived value to the business, and without having annual meetings you will not know how to make some of those tough decisions.”
Mr. Andersen also stressed working closely with the younger generation.