2023 Private Business Owner Survey

May 15, 2023
  • Private Banking
BBH presents its 2023 Private Business Owner Survey, which was conducted to see how owners are addressing current economic conditions, future succession planning, and family communication dynamics. Read the results.

Private businesses in the U.S. vary greatly in terms of size, sector, service, and product. So how do business owners plan for the future of their businesses and families based on common challenges?

  • Governance structures
  • Succession planning
  • Long-term strategic objectives
  • Capital needs
  • Strategies to handle complicated family dynamics (in some cases)

We set out to unearth how business owners think and feel about those challenges and opportunities and how it shapes how they run their enterprises. 

Read the full report here.

Communicating about your wealth and your business

Starting with articulating what is most important – to you, your family, and your business – provides a North Star for decisions about wealth and planning.

  • 98% of private business owners report that they have an estate plan
  • 94% say there are factors that have prevented them from communicating their estate plan to family 
  • 49% of private business owners want to be sure the plan is right before sharing it
  • 42% of private business owners dread the emotions and potential arguments that would likely come up
  • 36% of private business owners feel unprepared to answer questions likely to come up in these discussions

Signing estate planning documents is merely the beginning of the process of creating a resilient estate plan that will allow both a family and a business to thrive. Too often families focus only on tax savings, to the exclusion of other priorities. While tax planning is essential, knowing the “why” – or said differently, the values – that underpin how money is spent and allocated is critical to creating a wealth plan that meets a family’s objectives and allows for long-term success.

Starting with articulating what is most important provides a North Star for decisions about wealth and planning. Our values are inherited from parents and grandparents, so they tend to provide common ground and bring families together, rather than drive them apart. For many, an additional benefit of spending time articulating and understanding the values behind planning decisions is that communicating with the next generation becomes more approachable – you now have the answer to the question: “Why?”

When specific family members are expected to take on a prominent role in the future of family business, business owners have often not socialized that decision widely:

  •     52% say only those people selected for the prominent roles have been told
  •     18% say few or no one had been told

After values are examined and estate planning documents are inked, the next step is communication planning. The most important factor in successful wealth planning is communication among family members. Information about wealth planning should be shared in a thoughtful and age-appropriate manner. Use your advisors to prepare for challenging questions and to create a multistep plan to help you deliver information alongside education in right-size bites.

Values are your North Star as you think about how and when to distribute your wealth; they are also an excellent starting place in talking with next generation family members about wealth and estate planning. While these conversations can be intimidating, preparation is your best ally. Creating a robust communication plan helps families feel more comfortable wading into these discussions, and ultimately will make the family and the business more successful.

To learn more about how we work with families to identify and communicate their values, contact a BBH relationship manager or wealth planner

Keeping the business in the family 

While most business owners wish to keep the business in the family, few have tackled the myriad complex issues around succession of ownership and management directly. 


Planning for the future of a business can be both challenging and emotionally charged; however, proactive planning and open communication are the keys to setting up the business to succeed long term.

  • 85% of owners of private, family-owned businesses feel it's very or extremely important that their business remain in the family for at least another generation

One of the most challenging issues that many business leaders face, especially owner-operators of private businesses, is that eventually, their role as leaders will end. For family businesses, the connection between the family legacy and the ownership of the business is often one of the most common reasons business leaders want the company to stay in the family.

  • 100% of private family business owners have taken steps to prepare the next generation to take over
  • 75% of private family business owners say the roles are either not well defined or fully communicated
  • 43% of private family business owners say it's a challenge to choose a successor knowing it will cause conflict within the family

Creating – and communicating – a succession plan is key to long-term success and family harmony, including having a clear plan for cultivating family and nonfamily member leaders.

There are many reasons why family business owners find themselves wishing they were further along on succession planning. Sometimes it’s not knowing how to choose leaders. Other times it’s struggling to let the next generation take risks. The generation in charge can also have a hard time letting go of doing what they love. Helping families come to terms with the real issues standing in the way of progress is a first step in the work we do to ensure the multi-generational success of our clients’ businesses and families.

If you are interested in learning more about how we work with family businesses to navigate the complexities surrounding succession, contact our Center for Family Business.

If you are interested in learning more about how we work with private business owners to help them achieve their business and personal goals throughout disruption, contact our Corporate Advisory & Banking team.

Charting your course: Eye toward the horizon

After years of building a business, the mere thought of selling can feel unsettling. While inertia or sentimentality can often lead to maintaining the status quo, there are many reasons why selling may be the best decision for a business owner or family.

  • 76% of private business owners agree that every time they have to navigate through economic uncertainty, they lean more towards selling their business
  • 27% of private business owners anticipate selling at least part of their business when it is time to step away

The decision to sell a business is complex and requires careful consideration; a key question for business owners is how to maximize value in a sale. The answer is multifaceted, as many factors drive value, such as size, profitability, growth potential, market conditions, and industry dynamics, to name a few – but ultimately, there are no “silver bullets” or shortcuts. The situation demands you look at the financial, technical, and personal sides of the business. 

The best way to maximize value in a sale is to take a long-term approach to building value in the business well before taking steps toward selling. This strategy is rooted in basic business-building initiatives:

  • Implementing structure
  • Investing in the team
  • Planning for the future
  • Understanding the key value drivers
  • Engaging with advisors

75% of private business owners say leadership-related reasons may lead them to selling their business.

  • This includes more than a third (36%) who say there is a lack of talent/strong leader so take over
  • More than a quarter (26%) say their children aren't interested in running the business
  • Another 26% believe that, as current owners, they are not the right leader to guide the business through its next chapter


If you are interested in learning more about how we work with private business owners to help them navigate a transaction process, contact our Corporate Advisory & Banking team.

Who We Surveyed

The BBH Private Business Owner Survey was conducted among 400 U.S. private business owners, excluding institutionally owned businesses or those owned by a fund, with quotas set for 100 respondents for each of the following enterprise value segments: $10 million to $50 million, $50 million to $150 million, $150 million to $500 million, and $500 million or more.

  • 400 private business owners, with 100 respondents for each of the following enterprise value segments: $10 million to $50 million, $50 million to $150 million, $150 million to $500 million, and $500 million or more
  • Owner gender: 74% of owners are male. 26% of owners are female
  • Ownership type: 87% are family-owned. 13% are non-family owned
  • Ownership tenure: 32% betwen 0 to 5 years, 39% between 6-10 years, and 29% 11 or more years


The BBH Private Business Owner Survey was conducted among 400 US Private Business Owners, excluding institutionally-owned businesses or those owned by a fund, with quotas set for 100 respondents for each of the following enterprise value segments: $10m to $50m; $50m to $150m; $150m to $500m; $500m+. Fielding was conducted by Wakefield Research between March 14th and March 26th, 2023, using an email invitation and an online survey. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation.

The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 4.9 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.

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