ThinkstockPhotos-177360880“If you give the business to my brother, you will never see your grandchildren again.”
When Michael Powell heard that description of a family business succession plan gone wrong from another family in the area, he decided to do it right for his business. After a seven year process, ownership of the world’s largest independent purveyor of used books, Portland’s Powell’s Books, was successfully transitioned in 2010 from Michael to his daughter, Emily Powell, and Michael sees his grandson regularly.

On April 29, 2016, as part of the Family Business Legacy Series, Michael and Emily Powell shared with other family business owners their experiences transitioning Powell’s Books to its third generation. The Portland icon was founded by Michael’s father, Walter Powell, in 1971 after he was inspired by a book store Michael owned in Chicago. In 1982 Walter sold the business to Michael.

Michael described the transition from first to second generation as simple, and applauded his father’s ability to relinquish control over the business. Walter served as a valuable role model for Michael when he decided to turn the business over to Emily.

Emily and Michael attributed the successful transition to the third generation to several factors, highlighting the value of their professional advisors who made sure that Powell’s senior management team was included in the transition process. Michael acknowledged that having only one child helped prevent many of the issues facing family business owners working through succession issues. Both Emily and Michael advised other family businesses to engage third-party advisors to help with the process in order to avoid the classic business succession potholes.

The Portland Family Business Legacy Series is a quarterly gathering of Pacific Northwest family businesses that is co-sponsored by the Portland office of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Perkins & Co. and the Pacific Family Business Institute.

Maggie Vining counsels high-net-worth individuals, business owners, and families in trusts and estates matters. She advises on wealth transfer, estate, gift, and business succession planning, and represents clients in the administration of trusts and estates. Margaret also works with tax-exempt organizations and charitable foundations. Contact Maggie at 503.778.5249 or margaretvining@dwt.com.