The next generation: How to prepare future leadership in family businesses

When he founded Wexas Travel in 1970, London-based entrepreneur Ian Wilson couldn’t have anticipated that forty-six years later, he would still be working alongside the next generation of company leadership - or that that generation would include his son, Mark.

But where many family businesses hand off leadership relatively quickly to the younger generation, the Wilsons have taken a different approach. While Mark has been an active member of the board of directors for two decades, since his early twenties, from the beginning was always clear that he also wanted to look outside the office walls for experience. He pursued plenty of other projects - founding a streaming video business, working with investors, writing and directing short films, and more.

Though Ian has plenty of experience to pass on to his son, Mark believes that time spent away from the helm has been just as valuable as the years under his father’s tutelage. 

"I needed to find my own feet in entrepreneurship," he said.

"It’s quite intense to be in the family fold, especially as a young person, and that time was my chance to be my own person and develop my own interests. Plus, I learned more aspects of running a business than I might have from within Wexas."

Since returning to work more closely with Wexas, Mark has been learning the ins and outs of the business on a day-to-day level. With four brands comprising the company - Wexas, Best Served Scandinavia, The Luxury Cruise Company, and Wexas Travel Management - there are plenty of opportunities for a hands-on education, and Mark makes a point of managing detail work, from adjusting itinerary copy to personally outreaching tourist boards and analysing digital data.

Mark is clear that when Ian chooses to step back, he’s not planning to take over his father’s exact role. He emphasises that he wants to understand other people’s jobs first, noting that when you observe a company solely from a director’s level, it can be easy to forget how hard people work - and just how many details and how much expertise is in the building.

Read: Why Indiegogo is not a family business

For Ian, working alongside Mark is fulfilling. "Every parent wants to influence their child, and feel their lives are connected. Working at Wexas both in a leadership role at on an everyday level is a blend of personal interest and family insurance." The Wilsons make sure they are united in their decisions, but generally come to those decisions somewhat independently. For example, when hiring the company’s current Managing Director, they made the decision together - after separately interviewing candidates.

"It was only after I did a couple of things and had experience of my own that I could come back and be more fully involved," says Mark. But that diverse education will provide stability that many other businesses would be lucky to have.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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