I’ve mentioned before (see here and here) that one of the conflicts in my novel, Playing the Game, is succession planning behind the CEO who is injured at the beginning of the book. What should a family-owned business do, when none of the family members seems right to lead the organization?
Here’s a scene from Chapter 1 that describes the problem. Rick Players is the CEO of PlayLand Inc., and he is in a coma. His brothers Vince and Kevin are discussing what to do about the business.
Late Sunday evening, Kevin Players sat on a plastic chair in ICU beside his brother Vince. Machines beeped rhythmically, monitoring Rick’s heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and brain waves. He heard the constant patter of voices from the nurses’ station and the squeaks of carts rolling down the hall.
The doctors hadn’t given a definite prognosis. “He has some injuries in the cerebral hemispheres,” the neurologist had said. “His brain is still swelling, though not as rapidly as earlier. If it continues, we may need to surgically extract some of the dead tissue. Or at least relieve the pressure caused by the swelling. All we can do is wait.”
Now Kevin and Vince sat waiting. Kevin leaned back and stretched his arms over his head. They needed to make some plans about the business. Kevin didn’t want an argument, but Vince wouldn’t do a damn thing unless Kevin brought it up.
Kevin squinted at Vince. “We have to decide what to do about tomorrow’s officer meeting.”
Vince was forty-six, several years younger than Rick, but eleven years older than Kevin. Vince’s hair was thin on top, Kevin noticed in surprise. Rick hadn’t lost any hair yet. Kevin ran a hand over his own head. Would he go bald like Vince in another ten years? Would he get Vince’s paunch, or Rick’s six-pack abs?
“If we cancel, it’ll seem like no one’s running the show,” Kevin said.
“But you heard the doctor. How can we go on, business as usual?”
“The doctor said anything could happen,” Kevin argued. “We’ve got to think about how people will react. Employees. Customers. Lenders. What’ll they do if they think no one’s in charge?”
“How can we keep going without Rick?” Vince asked.
“I don’t know,” Kevin said. He stretched again. He’d expected some resistance, but Vince wasn’t helping at all. “We have to give the impression things are under control. Starting with the meeting tomorrow. Can you lead it?”
“You’re head of Product Development. You’re next in the family after Rick. People will expect you to do it.”
“Christ!” Vince groaned. “What’s on the agenda?”
“How the hell should I know? Rick keeps his own agendas.”
Vince grimaced. “What should we say? You’re the great communicator.”
Kevin shrugged. “Give the group an update on Rick. Then ask everyone for status reports. It’s mostly for show. So the rest of the company thinks we know what we’re doing. Even without Rick.”
Vince nodded. “Okay. But you back me up.”
“Sure.” Kevin closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. With his eyes still closed, he asked, “What’s on your plate this week?”
“Nothing much Monday. Staff meetings. A couple of new product meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. Don’t remember after that.”
“Paige gave me Rick’s cell phone,” Kevin said. “I looked at his calendar. There’s a big meeting with Toy Mart sometime this week with our Sales group. One of us should go. I think it’s mostly about marketing programs. I can get up to speed. I’ll go.”
Vince grunted again.
Kevin decided that meant Vince didn’t care who went to Toy Mart. “He was also getting ready for the bank meeting next week,” Kevin said. “It’d look pretty weird for me to go. No reason for Marketing to be there. You’ll have to cover that one. Alex will know the details. Talk to him.”
Vince glared at Kevin. “Hell, you know I hate financial crap.”
“Alex can handle the numbers. Just act like an owner,” Kevin replied. Sometimes he didn’t think Vince cared about the family business. Kevin had been the kid brother all his life, but now he spent half his time pushing Vince.
“All right.” Vince belched. “I’ll call Alex.”
Relieved that he had covered the immediate business issues, Kevin turned to the family problems—the bigger challenge, he thought. “We’re going to have to watch Paige,” he said.
“Why?” Vince asked.
“She was hysterical this evening,” Kevin said. “She’s worried about Rick, obviously. And pissed at him for racing with the boys. She said he must have been drunk. But his blood alcohol was legal.” Kevin shook his head. “I don’t know if she can cope.”
“Christ,” said Vince. “I couldn’t deal with a wife when I was married. How can we handle Paige and PlayLand both?”
Kevin squirmed to get comfortable in the small chair. Paige had always been a handful. Spoiled her whole life, first by her father and then by Rick. She’d freaked out when Jason broke his arm last year. “I don’t know,” he said. “But we’ve got to.”
* * *