Book review: Life after Boris by James Mendelssohn (a story about succession in a partnership)Posted on: June 21, 2013
I liked both “Who moved my cheese?” (Spencer Johnson) and “Our iceberg is melting” (John Kotter) – two fables about how to manage individual and business change. And now the professions have their own story about succession in a partnership.
With a distinctly “Watership Down” feel – the main characters are rabbits – the 75 page story takes just half an hour or so to read. And that’s great for the busy professional.
The essence of the story is that Boris, the warren leader, is dying. There’s concern about who will take over and unite the East, South and North (read departments or divisions) warrens which each have a different type of leadership. You can recognise the senior partner, the joint young rainmakers and the external COO models.
It’s skilfully observed to capture some of the common characters in partnerships:
- “They were ‘too kind and gentle’ because they were slow to speak their mind in family debates, but then grumbled about the outcome later”
- “With such experience such a rabbit would be well prepared to become the ‘Elder Statesman’”
- “They listened to our views, but ignored them”
- “Nobody had time to take on the management role, so we did it ourselves”
- “Eric realised that Trevor had the sort of confidence and presence that Eric simply didn’t have”
There’s a process in there – around problem solving, research, consultation and consensus building – although the hero is a little bit Machiavellian, which I suppose is an inevitable aspect of management in the professions. I guess my only criticism is that, like many firms, the rabbits shouldn’t have waited to do the succession planning when the leader is at death’s door. But the author does tackle this issue in the introduction indicating the need for a five year transition.
I’ve known James, the author, for many years. After studying law at Cambridge he worked in accountancy practices, built his own business and then spent the most recent part of his career building one of the most successful international legal and accountancy networks. So he knows what he’s talking about.
But will the professions – generally not known for their abstract thinking – understand the messages and understand how the ideas can be applied to their practice? It will be interesting to see. If not, it’s a great story to read to your kids at night – and they’ll probably come up with the right answer anyway.