When the fairytale comes true

We often hear stories of family businesses hiring non-family professionals and of those appointments not working out, with the person recruited leaving the business within a relatively short period of time.

In my experience, very rarely does it transpire that the person hired wasn’t technically competent. Instead, the issues when this happens typically revolve around:

  • The business owners not creating an environment conducive to success, with family-related issues impacting on the capacity of the new recruit to perform to a high level in the role; and/or
  • The person recruited not being prepared or able to align themselves with the owners’ vision, values and purpose.

As a result, I often find business owners reluctant to recruit outside talent into key roles, even though the expertise the right person can bring is often badly needed.

I’ve written about these issues previously, but I’d like to tell you a story demonstrating how well this process can work.

Let me go back to 2005 and the founder of a business that had grown from a start-up in a garage in the late 1960’s to an enterprise turning over $70M.

A founder who knew it was time to step down as CEO, and whose son was keen to take the reins from his father. A son who had spent his career since graduating working in the family business from the bottom up.

A founder concerned that his son wasn’t ready yet. And who knew that he wasn’t the person to mentor his son into the CEO role – that the two of them would struggle to be objective. But who also knew it was time to step aside as CEO just the same.

Thankfully, the founder, his son and the broader family were able to talk the issues through, resulting in the decision to recruit a non-family CEO with a very particular brief: to run the business successfully and to groom the son as their successor while doing so.

After a search, the family recruited someone whose career aspirations, not just their skills as a CEO, aligned. An executive who felt she had five years of her professional life left and wanted them to count, to have impact.

She was a CEO who embraced the family’s vision, values and purpose and who made the commitment to understand the family as well as the business.

She and the son worked together for the next five years, growing the business organically and via an acquisition, until she retired and took up a position on the company’s Board, where she remains today.

The business has doubled revenues since 2005, has bucked the trend by progressively on-shoring manufacturing operations in recent years and continues to experience strong, profitable growth.

A third generation – the current CEO’s son and daughter – have now joined the family business to start their journeys and are being mentored by the retired CEO as part of their development.

Many attempts to hire outside talent fail, but many do not. There are hugely talented professionals who specifically want to work for family businesses, make a positive impact, and perhaps create their own legacy along the way. Who realise that being great at what they do is only part of the puzzle.

Finding them is what I do.