Best Practices for Successful Leadership Transitions in Family Businesses

  • First Bank
  • 09/25/2023
Finding, grooming, and retaining top talent to grow a family-owned business is critical to its long-term success.
Mikel Williamson
President and Chief Executive Officer, First Bank
On November 1, 2023, First Bank’s Chief Executive Officer Shelley Seifert retired and Mikel Williamson, an experienced banking executive and First Bank president, was promoted to CEO. This important transition is bringing executive leadership transitions front and center for First Bank. 
Earlier this year, the First Bank Center for Family-Owned Businesses released survey findings from its Family Business Survey of Family-Owned Businesses. This inaugural survey polled qualified respondents from family businesses of all generations, industries, and regions* to gather data on family business member involvement, succession planning and support, growing and evolving family business, and optimism regarding the future of family business.

Survey findings uncovered that while a slim majority of family businesses surveyed have a structured succession plan (55%), only twenty-seven percent are confident with it, and 28% say it’s a work in progress. Whether your company has structured succession plans or not, the following best practices can help ensure your leadership and organizational transitions go smoothly.
  1. Start with business strategy: Whether you are hiring for the C-suite or another leadership role, anchor your criteria back to the goals of the business. What are you hoping for this person to accomplish? What does success look like in 30/60/90 days and beyond? Does he/she have the long-term vision your organization needs to be successful? Engage a broad and diverse team to weigh in on the key skills and criteria needed to do the job well.
  2. Consider partnering with an executive search firm: Executive search firms can play a key role in bringing qualified candidates to you and your team based on the success profile you and the team develop. Finding an executive search firm that understands your business and the intricacies of your company’s culture are important to establishing a strong working relationship and for securing top talent. This will also help the search firm weed out candidates who don’t align.
  3. Hire for cultural fit: Assessing whether someone is a cultural fit for a company can be complicated. Having a formal set of questions and allowing qualified candidates the opportunity to spend time with the team and family members can help uncover whether the person is a cultural fit. It’s also important that the candidate has a positive experience from their perspective, too. Hiring needs to be mutually beneficial for both parties. 
  4. Be open to interim solutions: Finding the right talent for executive-level roles can take up to 12 months and often longer. At times, candidates can make it all the way to the end and then something doesn’t work out. Consider who could step into the role in the interim so you are prepared and won’t have a gap or lose momentum executing against your business strategy and goals.
  5. Invest the time in onboarding: A new hire’s first 90 days are critical to getting off to a fast start in the role. It’s important that the leadership team helps support this process and can utilize what was found on the pre-hire assessments to foster open dialogue, learning, and growth.
Maggie Curcio
Chief Human Resources Officer,
First Bank
"We engaged with an external executive search firm which went very smoothly. Mikel rose up in our internal rankings pretty quickly and it was so great to see his interest and excitement match ours,” said Maggie Curcio, Chief Human Resources Officer, First Bank. “Mikel’s strong leadership and demonstrated past CEO success will be a huge asset as he guides the First Bank team into its next phase of growth with our long-term vision in mind."
Succession planning helps support long-term goals and vision planning for companies. Ensuring you have talent who can step in when key executive leaders retire or move on to another role is critical to the overall health and sustainability of your family business. 
For more information on transitioning the family business successfully, be sure to read, “Ensuring a Seamless Transition in Leadership.
As First Bank prepares for a new CEO to take the helm, the team is excited to have found a leader who shares the commitment and passion for making a difference as well as supporting our teams, clients, and broader communities.
To learn more about the First Bank Center for Family-Owned Businesses, our free offerings for family businesses, or to engage in a conversation about best practices for transitioning your family business, contact the First Bank Center for Family-Owned Businesses or visit
*A qualified respondent is currently involved with a family business AND is a family member.