A Family-owned Business Accesses the Courage, Smarts to Reach out to Interims

Family-owned companies are classic examples of companies that could benefit greatly by utilizing outside expertise. However, bringing in an outsider is often a concept that is difficult for a family-owned company to swallow.

Gimbal’s Fine Candies isn’t one of them. The candy company has called San Francisco home for more than 100 years. Founded in 1898 by Alexander Gimbal, the company is still making candy four generations later.

Lance Gimbal, the company’s current president, ultimately purchased Gimbal’s from the founder. Although he’d spent his career at the company, he primarily was involved in production. A new host of responsibilities came along with ownership, and Gimbal decided to seek expertise from outside.

“Knowing when it’s time to bring in experts, and not letting ego get in the way, has been extremely valuable to me and my company,” Gimbal said.

One expert he brought in was change-management interim executive Jan White, founder of JW Business Solutions. White got involved in all the departments and functionalities to help propel a company “rooted in routine” up to speed. “It was not just the business aspect but the manufacturing process,” White said. Many of Gimbal’s employees had been there for a number of years and needed to be convinced that change was needed, she said.

“She said that employee base required a lot of communication and hand-holding through the change process. That included “what is happening, what will happen, how it will affect you personally, and what benefit you will get from it” White said. That approach included written communications like newsletters, as well as a one-on-one approach.

The thing about change management is that it doesn’t matter who you hire if the employees are not going to continue to support it. You could put a wonderful 4-million-dollar system in place, but if people are afraid or antagonistic, it’s not going to work,” she said. In that vein, if people don’t feel that they’re part of decision-making, they’re not going to support and maintain the changes in the long run, she said.

White got that message loud and clear while standing on a cook deck two stories above the huge kettle used to begin the slurry, stage one of the candy-making process. It became clear that the procedure being followed was not cost-saving, and she encouraged the cook to brainstorm a solution. White called a companywide meeting where she publicized the insights to the cook’s delight, and opened up the paths of communication. “Everybody was coming to me about their ideas to save the company money,” she said.

As for Gimbal, he’s glad he looked outside for a unique, objective perspective in the midst of change. “Throughout my life, when faced with decisions, I asked lots of people for advice. I believed this was a weakness in my character. Now, as I reflect back on my life and career, I realize that this trait is actually one of my best strengths,” Gimbal said.