Family Business Mediation Video 48. Old Retainers. By Jon Kenfield. Family Business Mediator.

Common Causes of Family Conflict & What to Do About Them. Video No 48. Old Retainers.

Old retainers area a common cause of conflict in family businesses where Mum or Dad has worked with “old Phyllis / Sam” since the early days and has made promises that “we’ll always look after you”. The new business leaders are being made to feel obliged to honour these promises.


  • The old retainers are no longer adding much value to the business and,
  • They’re always suspected of spying for Mum or Dad on their successors and,
  • They can undermine modernisation attempts because “that’s not the way your father/mother would have done it”.


  • Work out what, if any promises have actually been made, and the family’s appetite for dealing with the situation, now it’s been openly ventilated.
  • Compare the old retainer’s competencies and contributions against objective HR requirements to get a proper baseline fix on the scale of the issue.
  • Negotiate, or impose a more constructive employment arrangement, if possible and appropriate.
  • Negotiate, or impose an exit plan, if appropriate.
  • Whatever you do, ensure that the final solution is approved and supported by Dad or Mum.

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