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How to Protect a Family Business

A well-crafted succession plan will bolster the company and head off feuds

Crane & Co. in Dalton, Mass., holds a reunion at its annual shareholders' meeting in May. The corporation of 1,500 employees manufactures paper and security features for U.S. currency, as well as bank notes and passports for other countries. While strengthening family ties to the business and to each other, the gathering also helps bring new talent on board.

"As the family grows and moves out of Dalton, the family isn't as connected with the company as they used to be," says Charlie Kittredge, 58, chairman and CEO, a sixth-generation descendant of Zenas Crane, the founder in 1801.

The company has more than 100 shareholders and an 11-member board of directors. When Kittredge can no longer lead, the board will appoint the best replacement. "It's important not to favor an individual who's a family member over someone else," says Kittredge, adding that two former CEOs weren't relatives. "It's a meritocracy."

At Velvet Ice Cream — which sells 5 million gallons per year mainly in supermarkets and convenience stores — Joe Dager and his wife, Tatla, own 51 percent of the stock. Three daughters own a combined 49 percent. They acquired the business in 2005, when Dager's brother and then half-owner, Mike, wanted to retire. "All of us found our comfort area and what we're good at doing," says Joe, 70. "As we evolved, we had to make a few adjustments and changes, but we all decided we needed to assign new officers."

By age 72, Joe hopes to completely turn over the stock to his daughters. "They have to earn it, like I earned it," he insists. "You earn it as you move along in life."

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Susan Kreimer is a New York-based writer specializing in business and health.

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