Business Succession Planning: A Lesson From the Mighty All Blacks

Blog, Business Contracts, Business Succession Planning / Business Contracts, Business Succession Planning, Mergers and Acquisitions / November 24, 2015

Business Succession Planning: A Lesson From the Mighty All Blacks

Imagine spending a week sprawled on the couch watching the Rugby in HD… while leaving your staff to their own devices. Would your business keep running? If the thought inspires panic, this article’s for you. (Especially because it features a surprise cameo from the All Blacks. We pulled a few strings).

We’re offering up the secrets (thank you James Kerr for imparting this knowledge in the excellent book “Legacy”. A must-read for all entrepreneurs and business owners) of building a business that stands alone; even when you bow-out. Because eventually, you’ll want to. Selling up and sailing into the sunset is the goal, right?

But unless you have a (smart) business succession plan, the company’s value relies solely on you. (And that’s one sail that will, whether you like it or not, deflate). That’s why creating a robust, self-sustaining business is a must. Starting with your team.

We see CEOs and business owners making this mistake, daily. Forging ahead on their sweat alone. But a wise man once said, “if the business stops running when you step away from it, you don’t have a business – you just have a job” (or words to that effect).

A better way to manage. Lead, pass the ball.

(Starring a team of muscled men in black shirts).

Enter: The All Blacks. A fascinating example of successful management and succession planning.

After choking at the 2003 Rugby World Cup Semi Final (against arch rivals, the Wallabies no less), they clawed their way to the pinnacle of performance to become one of the top sporting teams in the world today.


More impressive still was doing it on the cusp of a reshuffle, with six of their veterans poised to retire after this year’s Cup. Without their linchpins, they still stand solid as ever. In fact, the depth of their talent is such that even their C team is crushing it. How the heck did they manage that?
Let’s take a look at their process (and apply it to business).

 1. They turned leadership on its head

The term ‘leader’ traditionally conjures up the image of an individual. A single person who knows the best way to do things and micro-manages the team accordingly.

Many businesses still cling to this model. But in practice it builds a passive, rather than active and capable, team.

We call this: old-school.

New-school = dual leadership.

As seen here, modelled by the All Blacks. *polite applause*

After their dire results in 2003, the AB’s management decided to renovate.

Instead of coaches pulling strings like puppeteers, they invited players backstage to participate in planning and strategy. This taught responsiveness, creativity in the face of challenges and player-directed decision making.

“Dual leadership was a very important part of our success. Perhaps the reason for it” says Graham Henry, ABs coach to 2011. He knew that in order to build a strong and dynamic team, a team that would last beyond the playing career of any one individual, they needed to “transfer leadership from senior management to the players.” And the old-school “you and them” became “us”. James Kerr in Legacy, says “leaders create leaders by passing on responsibility, creating ownership, accountability and trust.”

This proved revolutionary.

The same principles can be applied to your business.

Giving staff the tools to make decisions confidently on the field (er, office) could enable you to step away at 9am each morning, knowing they’re armed with initiative and ability to fight the battles every day without you. Imagine that!


2. The All Blacks fundamentally changed their culture.

Rather than exalt one or two heroes, the ABs committed to working together towards a common goal: “to leave The Black Jersey in a better place”. They selected players based on character, not just talent. And enforced a ‘no d***head’ policy, where even senior players like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter were expected to sweep the sheds.

Placing egos aside and switching from an individualistic to a team performance view creates “active followers” who can step up and act when called upon. Jim Collins in his research of examination of 1,435 “good” companies over 40 years and discovering 11 that went from “good” to “great” describes such companies as having leaders who “channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. Their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”

The lesson for business owners?

It’s vital to nourish a culture of humility, and respect for something beyond one’s individual self.

Ask yourself: Do you reward and remunerate your team based on individual performance – with sales closed, hours billed the indicator – or do you incentivise performance to contribute to a larger goal?

The takeaway: 6 action steps for a stronger business (and killer business succession plan).

  1. Relinquish the throne. Embrace dual leadership.
  1. Nourish a culture of humility. Individual growth minus the egos.
  1. Have an inspiring common goal for your business, something beyond a dollar figure.
  1. Tool up your team. Spend meaningful time training and mentoring. Allow senior staff to train and mentor newer staff. Give your B and C team opportunities to prove themselves, too. You may be pleasantly surprised!
  1. Outline the plan and provide a timeframe. Allow your team to contribute, given they’ll be responsible for implementation.
  1. Inhale, step away and don’t look back. Leave everything else to the team. Trust that they’ll step up.

Forging a team with the vision of the All Blacks and the unity of a school of fish (we’re envisioning your future yacht here) is crucial for business succession capability. Your business will continue to thrive – beyond your involvement – allowing you to step away.

Meanwhile, you’ll be sailing into the sunset.

This article was originally written for Michael Field Strategic Marketing’s blog and appears here.

Want to learn more about planning for your business’s succession? Contact My-Linh Dang at

About Metis Law

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