There is no clear right or wrong in whether succession for a role is more appropriate from within a family or from outside the family. This is true for any role and in any kind of field — business, social service, sports, or for that matter, politics.
Above all, the two characteristics that make a person successful in a role are passion and competence. Those are the two qualities to look for when considering a successor. Passion for family members comes from the commitment to ensuring continuity of the legacy. Survival of the dream beyond themselves is often the main driver for family members, irrespective of the field of choice. Grooming for family members happens informally from the time they are born and formally from the time they start their higher education. This builds their competence for the future role from an early age. Therefore I would say, more often than not, family members actually have a clear advantage to be natural successors, and that is for everyone’s benefit.
In politics, if anything, a candidate has to go through much tougher scrutiny both at selection and in performance than in business. The person needs to be elected against one or many alternatives for the same role. This election is by a simple majority vote, as opposed to being appointed, as is the case in most business roles. Nothing can be a better test of a candidate’s suitability for selection. How many family business leaders would be willing to put themselves up for being voted in based on a manifesto, in a transparent and fair election against other suitable candidates? Most families struggle with their ability to measure the performance of family members who are in management roles in a family business. For families who are in politics, the measurement is done by the public when one returns to seek a mandate, and it is visible to everyone.
Obviously at the same time, appointment of family members in politics (sometimes whilst the elected member is behind bars!) is a huge mistake. It would be exactly the same for a large public-listed business to appoint the promoter’s son CEO the day he finished his education.
For any founder/patriarch, who thinks of handing over reins, the first priority usually is and should be to find a successor who will continue the journey within the same set of core values, whether from the family or outside. If there is a competent family member available, it is much easier to groom such a family member than to find a suitable external successor. The difference between success and failure is often the grooming for the role, and how early the same starts, how much work the candidate puts in to understand the dynamics and win the confidence of all the key stakeholders.
In politics just like in business, it is critical that the family member being considered for succession is groomed at work by people other than the father or the mother, and ideally in an area quite remote where the largerthan-life image of the older generation does not influence the younger generation directly. Finally, family successors can be only successful if they do not take their position as a right that accrues because of their surnames, but always remember the tremendous responsibility that the surname brings with it. To uphold the values that got the family to that position is a significant obligation and the benchmarks and tests for someone from the family are and should always be higher in their minds.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that there is a key difference between what’s being handed down in business and public roles like politics. The biggest difference is the lack of an ‘inheritance’ or ‘real assets’ that are always owned by the person making the succession decision in a business, whereas in politics there are no rights over any such assets. Even from our current administration, whilst we have been in times of desperate doom and gloom all around, one of the main rays of hope have been the young family successors in politics. They are all passionate, extremely well qualified, have done work at the grassroots, and committed to continuity as well as progress in line with the times. Of course there are exceptions, and family successors do not come across positively when their role is unclear, their ambitions are ambiguous and their competence is a matter of public debate. However, most people would still have a family successor in politics in that role, as opposed to a non-family maverick who has neither the legacy nor the grooming.
By Vishesh Chandiok, National Managing Partner, Grant Thornton India LLP.
The article was published in The Economic Times dated 30 March 2013.