Case study

Transferring a business to a family member

Succession planning in a family business - McKeever Hotel Group

McKeever Hotel Group is a family-run business based in Newtownabbey, which owns five hotels.

Eugene McKeever MBE founded the Group. He and his wife Catherine are Managing Directors of the company. Their daughter Bridgene Keeley holds the position of Marketing Director and their son Eddie McKeever is Operations Director.

Managing Director, Eugene explains how they successfully run the family business and manage succession planning.

How it started

“I have been working in the hospitality industry since the age of 12. I started washing dishes at Corrs Corner and then trained as a chef, which led to me holding the position of Head Chef for 11 years."

“In 1986, Catherine and I bought our first business, which was a small restaurant in Randalstown called Granagh House. In 1993, we returned to Corrs Corner as the owners. Four years later we added 30 bedrooms to the property turning it from a roadhouse into a hotel - this was our introduction to the hotel industry.”

“Today McKeever Hotel Group has five properties: Corrs Corner Hotel, Dunsilly Hotel in Antrim, Adair Arms Hotel, Ballymena, Dillons Hotel in Letterkenny, and in 2017 we took ownership of the Dunadry Hotel and Gardens, investing £4 million and achieving a 4 star accreditation from Tourism NI."

Building on family expertise

“Eddie, my son, and daughter, Bridgene showed an early interest in the business. Eddie has worked in many hotels in Ireland and Scotland having studied Hotel Management. Bridgene entered the family business after completing her Business Studies degree. We have three additional children who have followed different career paths and are not currently working in the business.”

Plan for the future

“Having a strategy is central to succession planning in a family business. We knew that family succession was the right option for us as our children, already involved in the business, showed a passion for running it in the future.”

“The biggest challenge that we faced when starting the succession planning process was how family members would react, especially our children who weren’t working in the business. We needed to balance protecting the business alongside maintaining the close family bond at the same time.”

“At the beginning, it was very emotional, as you don’t know how other family members will respond. Thankfully, everyone was supportive of the idea and agreed.”

Seek advice and guidance

“When we decided that family succession was the right option for our business, we attended a course to help us fully understand how to best approach it and the steps we needed to take.”

“We then engaged our accountant, who has handled succession planning for other family businesses, to help us start the conversations as well as guiding us through the process.”

“We also engaged a solicitor for the legal parts. We continue to keep up-to-date with forums, workshops and seminars on family business and succession planning.”

Document your plans

“In addition to engaging with specialist professionals to help start the process, we developed a family constitution. This document formalises the succession planning process. It includes details including, which family members will take over the business. We also created a shareholder agreement.”

“These documents ensure that everyone is aware of the current plans in place from family members to the senior management teams. Ensuring a gradual handover is important for us.”

Communicate effectively

“To help plan for a smooth transition to the next generation, we are open with each other as a family and continuously communicate.”

“We have formal Board meetings to help us reach decisions. Outside meetings, we constantly chat with each other about things happening within the business over a cup of tea at work or home.”

“We also run two annual family meetings. These meetings are for every family member, those working in the business and others sitting outside the daily activity. This is where we keep everyone up-to-date on company plans.”

“I have heard so many sad stories of how succession has ruined family bonds. We didn’t want that to happen to us. I am glad we started it early.”