At The Appointed Hour

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Succession woes plague many small businesses. But a company called New Year Ltd. has always had the process as organized as a Times Square party.

Until this year.

“We’ve made a tradition of turning new beginnings into celebrations,” says the current CEO, Ephemeral “Flying” Time. “At New Year we’re firm believers in the motto ‘out with the old, in with the new’.”

Mr. Time took over the business from his father and—until recently—had resolved to pass it along to his daughter, Eve, in a midnight extravaganza. Unfortunately, in late December, just as New Year was placing orders for party hats and confetti, Ms. Time made it clear she was unwilling to continue the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ tradition.

“I know Father has begun the countdown toward his retirement,” says Ms. Time, “but I’ve seen how the past year has affected him. He started January with great optimism, only to have his spirit flattened by broken promises, a poor economy, labor woes and conflicts with competitors around the globe. New Year is a demanding business that can wear a person down. I want more balance in my life.”

Family business therapists agree that few issues cause more problems for business owners than the transfer of power and assets from one generation to the next. In addition to practical concerns like estate tax planning, there’s the less tangible ordeal of upsetting the delicate balance that characterizes parent-child relationships. Conflicts like the one New Year is experiencing can put strain on what was once a happy family.

Mr. Time, for his part, is maintaining an upbeat outlook despite his disappointment. “In the good old days, her answer might have been different,” he says. “But this is the 21st century. She has a right to plan her own parade.”

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