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Father to son: how to hand over the reins

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For the past 50 years, Henry Amar has been working at RH Amar, a fine food distributor based in High Wycombe. The company, which supplies more than 35 fine food brands across a dozen product categories, was set up by his father, Raoul Amar, in 1945.

Henry joined the company in 1960. He was appointed sales director in 1966, managing director in 1983, and became chairman in 1998. During his tenure, sales have risen from £1m to £50m and the company has clinched new distribution deals with companies such as Starbucks, Del Monte and Cirio.

Last year, he handed over the reins to his 35-year old son Rob Amar.  

As Henry scales down his day-to-day involvement and the third generation of the family steps in, he talks to Real Business about putting your child in charge:

  1. “Make sure that the moment is right for the company. I delayed stepping down for two-and-half years. With the onset of the recession in 2008, it seemed the wrong time to make a major change at the top of the company and it might have been a very difficult moment for Rob to take over. When, in 2010, it was clear that we had stabilised the business, the time was right for the generation change.” 
  2. “You have to be ready to hand over and be confident that the new generation is capable of running the business effectively. Accept that the business needs the energy and new ideas that the new generation will provide.”
  3. “Make sure your successor is ready to assume leadership of the company. There should be a handover period where you fully explain what the role involves. I did this by keeping a diary describing my role over a period of time and discussing it in detail with Rob. This gave him time to think about which elements had to remain, and which he would like to change.”
  4. “When you do hand over the reins, your new role has to be very clearly defined. In my case, it was agreed with Rob that I would not retire completely, but would assume a non-executive chairman’s role, expecting to be fully advised of the key elements within the business, and concerning myself with some clearly defined projects which would in no way diminish Rob’s status. We set up a reporting regime and a routine of meetings between ourselves, to make sure that I retained a full understanding of the business, without affecting Rob’s executive authority.”
  5. “It is important that the generational change is clearly explained to all members of staff, and that there are outward signs that the change is happening. In my own case, I handed over my office to Rob, and took a small office elsewhere in the building, ceased to attend our weekly management meetings, and took a back seat at official company occasions.”
  6. “It is equally important that the generational change is explained in a sensitive and positive manner to your trading partners – suppliers, customers and service providers, so that they are confident that there will be no negative impact on their business. I personally explained the change to key trading partners with whom I had long-standing relationships, and continued conversing with them until I was confident that the change was fully accepted and welcomed.”
  7. “For some time after the generational change, it is important to continue reviewing progress as new ideas and ways of working are introduced. You still have a responsibility, and should offer advice where applicable. The company should benefit from the experience of the old generation and the energy and creativity of the new generation.” 

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