Succession for SMEs: an interview with Transeo

The University Industry Innovation Network (UIIN) had the unique chance to speak to Marie Depelssemaker, the secretary general of Transeo, one of the largest networks in Europe when it comes to succession. Marie has an extreme wealth of knowledge in transfers and acquisitions of businesses, international relations, and communication. Within Transeo, she manages a network of 75+ Members from all over the world of individuals passionate about business transfer and organises events for members such as working groups and peer sharing, European conferences, communication, advocacy and recruitment of new members. She has also taken part as expert in several EU Commission expert groups and panels.

On the one hand, Marie argues that the top three challenges for SMEs in transferring leadership of a business are:

  • Emotions of the business owner: emotional attachment to their company often prevents business owners to start planning the transfer in a timely manner, as well as limits their objectivity.
  • Lack of governance in SMEs: after the pandemic, several entrepreneurs are failing to build a business model that is future-proof. This is often combined with an overvaluation of their business (emotional pricing).
  • Fragmented ecosystem: there are still gaps in terms of information and adequate support for business owners and potential buyers/successors.

On the other hand, Marie claims that business transfers are most likely to be successful when SMEs start planning timely and prepare their business for the transfer. Preparation should follow several steps which include:

  • Information, awareness, and orientation
  • Prepare the business for sale
  • Identify succession options & preferred strategy
  • Enter the transfer process with successor/buyer
  • Due diligence / negotiation, and signing of a deal
  • Post-transfer transition

In conclusion, for the transfer to be a success, it is necessary that entrepreneurs seek advice externally, and that they are open to discussion on what they would like to see and have for their business.