Family Businesses: The Secrets of Successful Succession Part 2
So where did I leave you last week? I had no expectations of ever talking over the family business, I worked elsewhere before working for my dad, and I continued to learn the business from experts (other than my father) by continuing to work outside the family business. So now what?
Learn All Aspects of the Business. Finishing an undergrad at McGill University marked my return to Accent Inns. With a Psych Degree under my belt and no brainwaves about what to do with it, I humbly accepted a job in the family business. Luckily I didn’t have to clean rooms again, nor go back to the front desk where I began. But there were other places I’d never tried, such as the sales team. Cold calling was such a great skill to learn that I recommend it to all the young women that I mentor. Learning to pick up the phone, walk confidently through a door that says No Soliciting, squelch that fear in your stomach while you bravely make the ask and fine tuning those public speaking skills. No matter what job you end up in, you’ll always have to convince someone of something. Sales experience rocks.
Follow Your Passion. Even as a sales manager I had no expectations of moving up in the company (I was still believing my Dad’s yarn about the family biz never being passed down). As far as I was concerned this was a great job, post university, to really figure out what I wanted to do with my life. While sales and cold calling were extremely hard and most definitely not my forte, what I loved to do was brainstorm about what the company needed to do and where it needed to go. My dad started including me in his Head Office Meetings and I soon became an advisor to the President (dear old dad). I’d say, “Why aren’t we doing this?” and before you knew it, I was responsible for doing that. And so my dad let me follow my passions, my ideas and ultimately my ambition.
Get Training. After a few years of taking on larger projects and seeing the bigger picture of running a hotel chain, I thought to myself, this is pretty darn cool! I also realized that I just didn’t have the skills to take my ambition farther. So I went back to school and got an executive MBA from Royal Road University. I’ll be perfectly honest; not having the skills wasn’t my only reason for going back to school. I was young and still fairly inexperienced. I knew that if I wanted to command the respect of my colleagues I needed those letters after my name.
Apply that Training. An executive education was excellent for me because it allowed me to apply all my learning to the family business while working full time. Great for the business, but even better for dispelling my reputation as just “the boss’s kid”. By the end of my MBA I was leading the company through a 3-year strategic planning exercise. It soon became clear to me and probably everyone else in the company that maybe my dad hadn’t been telling the truth all these years.
Learn by Osmosis. Immediately after finishing my MBA, I was named VP of the company, a direct signal as to where we were headed. But there was still a lot to learn and to be brutally honest, as much as I look up to my dad as an amazing businessperson, he just isn’t a great teacher. So how was I going to learn everything that I needed to know? Well, I moved into his office (which we still share to this day). I listened in on all his phone calls, meetings and heads popping in the door. Then I would ask relentless questions about why, who, what, when, really? And slowly my apprenticeship began.
Founders, Please Let Go. There comes a time when every founder must let go, even if it’s just a little bit. My dad loves his job and was nowhere near ready for retirement, even though by this point he was pushing 70. Passing the torch is a humungous change that can bring a lot of fear to all those involved. So we took baby steps on this. Dad started talking longer weekends and vacations plus more volunteer work while I took on more and more of the responsibilities at work.
Founders – Seriously, Please Let Go! Okay, my mom kinda helped out on this one. I took over in July and Terry was still around. I could tell it was confusing to our team as to whom they should report to. I mean, Terry was still there, so should they just go and talk to him, or me? The correct answer was me, but how do you break the habit of a team that has worked together for over a decade? The solution was my mom whisking my father away on two back-to-back month long cruises. The problem was solved by the time he came back.
Next Gen: Never Kick the Founders Out; So by now, he’s finally out of the office more than he is in, but I still rely on the wisdom that my father has to offer. I feel an immense sense of security know that he is looking over my shoulder ready to catch a mistake. And basically this IS my dad’s company. Sure I’m one of the owners too and I lead the team as President and CEO, but it’s still his company and his baby. He will always have an office with us, even if he only comes in for a few hours a day. My dad spends most of his time these days vacationing with my mom around the world. When he’s home, he’s tireless in all of his community philanthropy and playing with his beloved grandchildren.
You often hear the expressions “it’s lonely at the top”. Well luckily, I’ve got my dad right here beside me (literally), eavesdropping on my conversations, strategizing about our next move and sharing stories as to what my kids did that morning. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
So there’s our story. Now what about you? Do you have any succession tips you’d like to share? Any questions about how we did it? I’d love to hear from you.