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Optimum Talks Blog

Lessons From The Trenches – Succession Gone Well!

by Optimum Talent
July 29, 2011

Surprisingly, it’s rare that we are invited in to a company, which is going through succession, by the founder. More often, the invitation is via a discreet meeting initiated by a worried senior employee, or a frustrated family member who is anxious about their future and the future of the company.

A recent exception was the founder of a highly successful, growing company, employing approximately 150, who had just completed the financial and legal planning for the transition of ownership. As part of this planning, a portion of the shares (majority) were to be sold to his son, and a portion had been earmarked for members of the senior leadership team. Excited to share the news with the members of the team, the founder approached each of the senior managers individually with the opportunity. To his utter amazement, and mortification, not one of the five team members expressed an interest – despite the clear financial upside.

A little more investigation revealed uneasiness, worry, and hesitancy about the son’s agenda, and his ability to lead – despite his stellar education and experience. In a nutshell, the son was lacking two critical factors essential to strong leadership – followership, and a compelling vision.

Our task was to lead the creation of a vision and renewed strategic plan for the company, which would galvanize the team around a direction (and hopefully around the son), and to help to assess whether the son was indeed the right next president.

In the planning that followed, the team was able to explore together weighty questions such as

  • If and why growth?
  • Where do we fit in the marketplace relative to our competition?
  • What are our vulnerabilities and how can we mitigate them?
  • Where can we best allocate our resources?
  • How is our market changing and how can we stay ahead of the curve?

Probably more importantly, though, the team members were able to explore and reach consensus on what made sense for the company and for them as a management team. And, being part of that team, the son had a forum in which to hear those perspectives, and develop and share his points of view. The plan, as a result, had full buy-in from all team members, and laid out clear priorities and direction for the ensuing 5 years. And…the plan provided the basis for the new CEO selection (not the son!), and son’s preparation for the senior role.

If you’re an owner, either contemplating exit, or having transitioned – we’d love to hear from you. What’s been your biggest surprise, and what are the key messages that you’d offer others contemplating succession?

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