I think it was last month. I met this really nice guy, very knowledgeable, who was the star salesman for a family-owned printing company. He had some dire concerns about his job. The company had been founded and built by the family patriarch, the sole owner, who ran it with an iron fist. Then one day BOOM, the owner had a massive stroke and dropped dead. His family, unprepared for change and paralyzed with grief, made a snap decision they would soon regret. Without thinking it through, his only daughter, just 28, was chosen to fill the void. She was pretty, well educated and known to all as his pride and joy. But, excuse me, was that enough to make her heir apparent? Apparently so, the salesman said, “She was family.” Other candidates were not even considered. She became the new CEO. Her management style? Speak slowly and smile a lot.
Unfortunately, with no written plan for succession in place, the company nearly died right along with the owner.
Turns out this young lady knew more about spending money than making it. She also lacked any real working knowledge of the company or how to manage the staff. Whereas Dad was very “hands on,” she was completely “hands off.” She kept no schedule or regular hours. Worse yet, she often holed up in her office all day behind closed doors, completely unable to cope. I’d call that:
Filling A Void With A Void.
It was a bad move. An important decision made in haste. Now six months later the company was floundering, a ship without a rudder. Without a leader barking orders, all communications broke down. Chaos ensued. Loyal clients took a hike, sales fell off a cliff, and all the employees were terrified. The ship was sinking. So WTF is really going on? There’s something I don’t know.
So I probed a little. And a little more. Finally it comes to light that the new CEO was addicted to prescription pain pills. And her usage was escalating. It was the elephant in the living room that nobody talked about. The Company Secret.
A leader with compromised judgment can send the whole company south in a flash.
So you have to start right there: Fix the CEO! Advise the family that it’s crucial they get her into Rehab…like, today! Then everybody sit down and FINALLY get some kind of transition plan drafted immediately. I thought why couldn’t this star salesman lead that effort? He cares about the company. He knows how to sell. He’s just the guy to rally the troops and sell them some hope for the future. Who knows, once the daughter is all cleaned up and clear-headed she might be able to actually do her job, even be good at it. In the meantime, almost anyone else in the company could run it better. Our salesman could do it. Put him in charge while she’s away.
I had to smile when I heard yesterday that our salesman had been made an Executive Vice President and Acting CEO. And business was picking up.
Perhaps you, too, are trying to solve a “pervasive and vexing business problem.”
Sometimes you gotta dig deep. A successful succession plan must address potentially negative family issues HEAD ON. It can get gnarly. Toes will get stepped on. But it must be done. Blood may be thicker than water, but it can drown you just the same. Check it out: “Changing Places: Making a Success of Succession Planning for Entrepreneurs and Family Business Owners” (published by AuthorHouse).
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