Hansel story highlights importance of family in succession planning

When Henry Hansel learned that his adult son Justin wanted to join the family's successful auto dealership business, he immediately went to work.

[caption id="attachment_88076" align="alignright" width="350"] Panelists at the Succession Planning Conference were (from left) Richard Stone, Richard Abbey, William Schrader, Jim Petray and Henry Hansel. Business Journal Publisher Brad Bollinger moderated.[/caption]

As a second-generation owner himself, Mr. Hansel still had fresh memories the process of transferring ownernship from his own father, Walter.

That process taught him many the lessons echoed by some of the North Bay's leaders in succession planning, wealth management, law and finance: that planning for a generational ownership transfer should start early, and transparency can help all parties to feel comfortable in their new roles.

"The thing that was important to me as we went through this -- how do we work this out so there's harmony with everybody?" Mr. Hansel said.

Speaking to a group gathered for the North Bay Business Journal's seventh-annual succession planning conference, Mr. Hansel recalled how three generations of Hansels have helped grow the company to 10 franchises and around 500 employees.

That growth, over more than 50 years, was something of a case study for giving family members a clear role and stake in the ongoing success of a closely-held company, according to Mr. Hansel and a panel of experts.

"This is not something to put off," said Richard Abbey, partner with Santa Rosa's Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery and participant in an expert panel. He advised owners to consider where they are in their own imagined timeline, and that "these are hard issues that don't get easier as we get down the road.

It was in 1961 that Walter Hansel, Henry's father, opened a Ford dealership in downtown Santa Rosa. Sales growth soon prompted the elder Hansel to call on his three sons for help, with Henry agreeing to leave a sales position at a large computer firm for a new role at his father's company.

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