What Happens Next?

Sounds like a hypothetical question but it isn’t. I was at dinner with a client last week. She was NED to a company. And in comes the phone call from the hospital. The young MD has just had a massive heart attack and died.

I repeat, this is not hypothetical or made-up. This happened and it may happen to you, your business or a business you work with. So, the big question is “What next? What do you do first? And then what?”

For me there are two angles to this story. First, how should one react? Second, what should have been put in place to make the business resilient?

The first reaction is naturally, shock, horror, grief, disbelief and all the confused emotions that accompany such bombshell news. The first thought is for the young family that has been left behind. And then all the “what if?” and “what could I have done?” and “there but for the grace of God go I” thoughts and questions spring to mind. This is natural. And then the second wave of thoughts are about the business.

How do you tell the staff? Who do you tell first? How will they react? What will happen next? What can you expect people to think, feel or do?

Rationally, another set of questions emerge. What will the impact be on sales and cash-flow? What will the impact be on the top 20% of clients? How will the MD’s roles and tasks be continued immediately and then in the foreseeable future? Is there any kind of business continuity planning in place?

A little like will-writing, I believe that most businesses never confront the “what if…?” question of “What if one of our directors dies?” You need to.

As a consequence of the events above (no names to protect the innocent), we have taken steps at The Directors’ Centre to carefully consider some scenarios that seem unthinkable but we do need to be prepared for. After all the business employs people and they have mortgages and bills to pay. We have long-term clients and the service provided shouldn’t stop because of a tragedy at our end. No business should rest on the shoulders of just one or two people, no matter how indispensable we think and feel they are. 


  • Have you mapped out some of the possible ‘unthinkable’ scenarios and how your business might respond? 
  • Do you have business continuity plans in place? 
  • Do you have adequate insurance (life and health) for your key employees? 
  • How would the business continue immediately after a critical disaster? 
  • Are all systems and processes in place so that business can continue and so that another person could step in to do the job of someone who is suddenly taken out of the business? 


End of sermon.