Creative Thinking Helps Business Succession

Creative Thinking Helps Business Succession

This actual case shows how creative thinking helps business succession. The people involved were too close to see the solution. So Michael Zolno was able to bring a fresh set of eyes to the situation. And everyone was happy in the end.

The Business

This family business was a plastics recycling company with annual revenues of $5 to $10 million and growing. 

History & Situation

The three primary owners of the business (the father, the son, and the silent partner) had previously owned a metal recycling company that they had sold a few years previously. At the time of our engagement, the family members working in the company were Father (President), Son (Operations VP) and Son-in-Law (VP Sales &Marketing). Father wanted to retire within a year and have the son-in-law become President. The son and the silent partner agreed with that goal.

The son-in-law had no prior experience in the business world before coming to work for his father-in-law. But both the father and son felt he could handle the promotion. The son-in-law did not want the promotion. He never clearly stated why he was not interested in the position. Further, there was a total lack of communication between the son and the son-in-law. Primarily, this was because the son-in-law was uncommunicative.

Initial Goals

The goals that the primary owners wanted were:

(1) Have the son-in-law accept the promotion and agree to be mentored by the current President.

(2) Improve the relationship between the son and the son-in-law as reflected in appropriate communication at work.

(3) Make certain that the relationship between the son-in-law and the son at work did not spill over into the family dynamic.

What We Did

Michael Zolno made an assessment of the situation. He conducted face-to-face interviews with all relevant parties and the silent partner as well as selected employees. In addition, Michael used surveys and questionnaires to obtain data.

The interview with the son-in-law was brief. He was not interested in being at the meeting. There were two other significant findings:

(1) The lack of communication between the son and son-in-law was having a negative impact on company personnel, and

(2) While the son-in-law was good at buying and selling materials, recycled plastics, and running the sales department, his people skills needed improvement.

The plan was to meet with the son and son-in-law with the goal of improving their relationship and finding a common purpose – agenda – that would benefit the company. Secondarily, to have the President begin mentoring the son-in-law. Work with the son-in-law on improving his people and management skills.

Michael met with the son and the son-in-law for 10 sessions in an effort to resolve the communications and conflict issues. He also tried to help them find a common purpose. Additionally, Michael met with the President four times to get additional input and perspective. The planned mentoring never started.

Lastly, Michael met with the son-in-law and his sales staff twice so that he could hear what they wanted from him and then implemented new procedures for the department.

Outcome: Creative Thinking Helps Business Succession

The lack of communication and co-operation between the son and son-in-law was not resolvable. The son-in-law was totally uncooperative. The son-in-law became a better manager. The son became President and father retired. A few years later the company was split in two – the son ran the newly formed Green Consulting Firm, and the son-in-law ran the recycling company. That made both of them happy.

Everyone agreed to do all they could so that their differences would not affect the family.

Lessons Learned

Succession does not always go as planned. Not all issues are resolvable – we don’t do therapy – so the son-in-law’s resistance was not fully explored. One must be willing to accept and work with the reality of the situation. Eventually they both got to do what they wanted – run their own companies and not have to deal with each other.

Bad work situations do not have to destroy a family.

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About the Author

Michael Zolno has an MBA and MA in research psychology and almost 40 years’ experience as a consultant. He is also a co-founder of How to Create a Legacy, LLC.

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