Situation: The CEO of a family business is anticipating retirement in the next two years. Currently, there is no succession plan. Other family members do not seem interested in running the company. What steps should the CEO be taking? How do you plan for retirement?
Advice from the CEOs:
To set the stage for your successor, make sure that you are being paid adequately for your job. If you are being paid less than some of your key employees, nobody else will want your job. Raise your salary to a point where it is appropriate for a CEO, and so it is attractive enough to entice a qualified successor. This will also help attract a buyer should you decide to sell or merge the business. Raising your salary will also help your bottom line if your company is an S Corporation.
Once you identify a potential successor, bring this individual into the business as soon as possible so they have an opportunity to understand the business fully and can receive on-the-job training from you.
Understand the numbers and red flags that give you the information and authority to run the company and the respect of your employees. Teach these to your successor so that this person has the same overview of the company that you command.
Look at what skills your successor needs to be CEO and start mentoring that person on those as soon as possible.
You may need to delay your planned retirement so that you have time to select a successor and prepare that individual to take on your responsibilities. Your current 2-year plan may not work, at least without compromises.
Without a management succession plan, the company may not bring in as much in a sale or merger as you expect. It is important that you improve the numbers to maximize the value of the firm if you choose to sell or merge the business.
Look at your current range of projects. Focus on those which are most profitable to you and emphasize these. You may be able to reduce staff and expenses by being more focused.
Situation: A founder CEO, after many years building a business, has lost the passion that he had early on. He needs to hire someone to succeed him, assuring the ongoing growth and value of the company while minimizing ongoing personal involvement. How does a founder hire his (or her) replacement?
Advice from the CEOs:
When a founder has lost the passion to continue running a business it is time to move on. Passion is critical to meet the day-to-day demands of a business.
Before you start looking, decide whether you will continue to have a role in the business, and what that role will be. Will you remain Chairman of the Board and give up the CEO role? If so, are you ready to let go of the CEO role so that the right person can take it on? Typical company structures for Chairman/Top Manager roles are:
Chairman focuses on growth strategy, select PR and critical relationships.
CEO/COO/GM handles operational planning and day-to-day management.
The candidate that you seek will have the following profile:
Good energy, loves the business, but not ready for the risk of building a company.
When the right person has run the business for you for a few years that person may become your exit strategy.
Go to your next trade show with the mindset to find the right person. Many of the best candidates will be on the trade show floor – now working for someone else, but inwardly looking for their next opportunity.
Spread the news ahead of time that you’re looking. See who seeks you out.
Situation: A company wants to create a succession plan for key roles. Historically they haven’t had succession plans, but they are actively looking at candidates, skill sets, and so forth. The CEO wants to be able to make a recommendation to the Board. What are best practices in succession planning?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start with job and role descriptions. Select internal candidates for the positions and offer trial opportunities to assess their capabilities.
Test potential successors with projects to see if they can rise to the level of the higher responsibility. It may take more than one try to assess this.
Along the way you may discover hidden talents possessed by some of your employees.
Start with your incumbents. One of their responsibilities should be to identify possible inside candidates as successors for their positions, and to create a profile of qualifications for outside candidates. This should also be part of their job descriptions.
Succession candidates must desire the responsibility of the higher position. Don’t assume that everyone will want this. Some will be very good in their current role. Trying to force them to advance in responsibility can be counterproductive.
Do not assume that an outsider with a good resume and industry connections can fill the role of an insider who knows the company and its products and services.
Situation: A company’s Board is pressing the CEO to hire a COO to oversee operations. The Board’s concerns include succession planning for the CEO and a desire for the CEO to put more focus on the vision and strategy of the company. There are no current candidates within the company. How do you identify and bring in a COO?
Advice from the CEOs:
Think beyond roles and responsibilities and consider how you would describe the ideal candidate. This includes attitudes and behaviors, talents, experience, and essential skills. Map these attributes and use them to guide your recruitment and selection process.
Increasingly, companies are using a values-based process to evaluate personnel both for promotion and outside selection. Tony Hsieh of Zappos talks about this in his book “Delivering Happiness.” This doesn’t substitute for skills and experience, but helps to identify candidates who will help to strengthen your company’s culture.
Assure that you have a full process in place that will help you to recruit and select a good candidate. If it has been a while since you last recruited a high level executive, consider securing outside resources to assist. One of the CEOs even hires a 2nd expert to vet the recommendations of the primary expert.
Where can you look for good candidates?
Talk to your key vendors about who is really good in the industry. Look for a high potential individual in another company who doesn’t have room to grow in their current situation.
Also look at related industries where there will be cross-over knowledge and skills.
Don’t overlook the military. Talented officers are regularly rotating out of the services – people who have exceptional experience leading and motivating people.
On-boarding a new senior executive is different from a lower level employee. If you choose the right individual and they fit your culture, this will ease the process. Be aware that some of your current senior employees will likely be upset that they were passed over and may be difficult. If you haven’t done this in some time, it is worthwhile to secure counsel on the best ways to bring a new COO on-board.
Interview with Norman Boone, CEO, Mosaic Financial Partners
Situation: Many entrepreneurs who started companies in financial services and other industries are now 55+. They may be ready to move on, but not necessarily ready to move out. What questions should they be asking as they plan their exit strategies?
Advice from Norman Boone:
The most critical question is what you want to do with the rest of your life. Most people don’t give this enough thought. It all starts with what is most important to you.
Start with a self-inventory assessment – what are your resources, options, and what do you want to do or accomplish?
Discuss with your significant other or partner what will work for both of you.
Answering these questions helps to lay out the alternatives. Now, thinking about your company, what is important to you? Is it legacy, the future of your employees and business partners, the future of your clients? Does your business continue, or to you see a sunset?
If your business will continue, do you see an internal succession, or sale or merger of the company? If internal succession, here are the issues.
Who will be the new leadership? Do you have good candidates on staff, or do you need to hire someone who will take over?
Be careful not to expect your successor to be a mini-you. They need to be able to bring their own talents and perspectives to the leadership role, not try to duplicate you.
Do you need to beef up the training of current staff to increase their managerial capacities?
Is an employee buy-out an option? There is a variety of choices to investigate.
What will be your role during and after the transition? Will you accept that new leadership may take the company in new directions?
To be most effective, this needs to be a 5 or 10 year process. Ideally you will have two to four successor candidates to evaluate.
Do you sell to the highest bidder? Many of the questions here are like those above.
Will you sell to the highest bidder, or to the bidder who seems the best fit for your stakeholders and clients?
How much voice, if any, will you offer your employees and / or clients in the selection process?
What due diligence will you do on potential buyers?
Do you merge with a similar company?
If you can find a compatible merger partner the combination may be the best of two worlds.
What is the culture? If different, what will be the impact?
A merger of like companies may assume that the other party has a commitment to ongoing operation: but this is not guaranteed.
What will your role be, and what is the transition plan? How will you involve your key people in the transition?
The other option is to sunset the company. Here you must have enough in savings so that you can forgo future income from the business.
What about the other stakeholders and clients who’ve invested their careers and business in you?
Try to time your exit with the expiration of leases and other obligations to minimize exit cost.
How will you assist the transition of stakeholders and clients to new opportunities and providers?