Best Practices for Family Business Succession Planning

Running a family business is no walk in the park. The family dinners or holiday gatherings could be mistaken for board room meetings, with topics of conversation jumping between family matters and minute business topics. Discussions get further complicated when it comes time for a transition of ownership as the first generation of family businesses starts to look towards retirement and relinquishing control of day-to-day activities. Who will step in to lead the company? A number of succession issues arise ranging from siblings quarreling about how to divide up the business and inheritance to instability within the organization as employees wonder what their future holds. Yet, so many family owned businesses don’t have a solid plan.

Problems in Succession Planning in Family Business

Some owners prepare to sell the family business and about 30% of U.S. family-owned businesses turn into second-generation businesses, but often not without complication.

When you start to peel back the layers, the emotions and history of a family are always at the center. Ed Pendergast, a board executive who has sat on eight family boards and advised many more family businesses, often sees one or more family members feel that they are not being treated fairly by other family members. Whether it’s viewed as a grudge or just selective memory, these power dynamics among the next generation in line can cause headaches for the business.

But surprisingly, Pendergast doesn’t view the second generation as the biggest challenge: “It’s actually the third generation with the hardest road ahead,” he says. “The first generation runs the business and passes it on to the second generation. And then by the time the second is trying to figure out who to pass it on to, family member A has three kids, family member B has two, and family member C has none. Who’s going to be in the business? It becomes much more complex the more people are involved.”

The numbers show just how difficult this transition is. Approximately 12% of family-owned businesses are passed down successfully to a third generation and only 3% to a fourth or beyond.

So how can families avoid the common pitfalls in succession planning, and instead focus on best practices?

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Great, You Saved on Executive Compensation, But to What End?

Low price is the last refuge for marketers who don’t have the patience or guts to demonstrate value for those that need it. – Seth Godin

When it comes to buying gas for your car, fertilizer for your lawn, or for that matter the price Apple pays for the copper in your iPhone, lowest price makes sense. These are the classic definition of the word commodity – something which comes from the ground and whose price rises and falls with supply and demand.

Unfortunately, we all now use the word commodity to mean much more, applying the sense of generic-ness to just about every product and service available to us. If you are marketing soap, for example, you face over 1,000 competitors on Amazon. If however you’re the marketer behind Tesla or NetJets or the Chicago Bears football team, your job is simpler. You won’t sell as much, but your product is so highly differentiated that when your customer wants you, there’s no close substitute. You are not a commodity. You are unique.

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Supporting Your Team Through Tumultuous Times

When teams struggle, it affects their productivity and the company’s bottom line. As part of a research team that evaluated the effects of another “Black Swan” event, Hurricane Katrina, I can draw direct inferences from those effects to the impact of COVID-19 and the time that it will take teams to recover.

We know how important this issue is because we hear the refrain from business owners and executives every day: You’re exhausted. Your teams are exhausted. And you worry that there’s far more under the surface, things your teams are experiencing  that they’re  just not talking about.

Chances are, you’re right.

Do you know whether your team might be experiencing these effects?

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Why Project Management Fails and 10 Ways a CEO Can Fix It

Despite a plethora of project management software tools and project management certification programs and project management training, protocols and methodologies, there is not always project management success. Schedules slip, costs balloon, plans derail.

Cynical observers of the project management process suggest these stages of a project:

  • Euphoria
  • Disillusionment
  • Panic
  • Search for the guilty
  • Punishment of the innocent
  • Reward for the non-participants

Or so says William (Bill) Mince, InterimExecs RED Team member and Chief Operating Officer at iMedrix, the California-based maker of a mobile clinical-grade ECG device that connects to remote physicians in real time. Since his first job at 3M in the 70s, Mince has built a career focused on project management.

His passion is trying to improve the project management process across organizations. He’s even writing a book about it. Project Leadership: An Executive Handbook for Project Management Success is to be published in the fall of 2021.

He offers these 10 steps CEOs can take to help ensure the success of project management in their organizations.

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Navigating a Family Business Through the Generations

Growing up with sisters, I longed for a brother. No such luck.

But when I got into the world, I got close to my cousins Keith and Craig Landy, and they became as close as brothers to me. The bonus with my Landy brothers was that they were growing a fascinating family-owned business, Germfree Labs, that I got to watch, and eventually help strategize over.

Germfree is a world leader in manufacturing glass and steel enclosures that contain biological, chemical, and nuclear stuff – think of the most toxic or nasty substances, and Germfree’s the go-to supplier, serving the US Army, NIH, thousands of commercial, government, and hospital customers with products ranging from small gloveboxes you stick your hands in, to fully mobile labs transportable anywhere in the world.

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The 6 Biggest Mistakes Companies Make

“Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” is a quote commonly attributed to John Kennedy as he accepted responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The idea, however, is an old one. Roman historian and politician Tacitus said that, “This is an unfair thing about war: victory is claimed by all, failure to one alone.”

When things are going well, it’s easy to share credit as a team. When things go sideways, buck-passing and finger-pointing rule the day. Success has many fathers, but for companies, so does failure. The thing about business is that it is always about the people, the process, and systems already in place. And those can fail over time, even at the most successful organizations. Errors, however, can actually help a business move forward – if the problem is identified and fixed. It’s how the owner and management team respond to those mistakes, misses, omissions — or even complacency — that can make all the difference.

InterimExecs surveyed interim leaders from around the world for our 2020 Interim Executives Survey. In addition to asking executives about who’s hiring them and the roles they’re taking on, we asked executives for insights into “The Biggest Mistakes Companies Make.” While their responses varied, clear themes emerged in the areas of leadership, operations, human capital, strategy, financials, and change initiatives. Focusing on these fundamentals is a good starting point for any struggling business.

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How to Communicate Powerfully in a World of Zoom

“More than anything else…people want to hear stories!”
― James Rosebush, Winning Your Audience: Deliver a Message with the Confidence of a President

James Rosebush knows a thing or two about effective communication. A former senior aide to President Ronald Reagan, known as “The Great Communicator,” James is a coach of public speaking who has given hundreds of speeches to audiences worldwide. In his latest book, Winning Your Audience: Deliver a Message with the Confidence of a President, James draws on his decades of experience working with presidents, politicians, and business leaders to teach others the art of impactful oration. One reviewer called Winning Your Audience “the new bible for public speaking.”

InterimExecs spoke with James about his experience working with President Reagan, the new challenges facing leaders, how Millennials’ can advance their careers, the way to command an audience even when you’re not in the same room together, and how to overcome fear of public speaking.

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How To Reverse Merge Into a Public Shell

When it’s time for a private company to go public, or fundraising is needed on a large scale, an IPO is not the only option. There’s also a less-well-known and, until recently, less-well-respected option: a reverse merger into a public shell oftentimes called an Alternative Public Offering (APO).

This process, which can be faster and cheaper than a traditional Initial Public Offering, is growing in popularity and might grow faster in our confusing coronavirus world.

Scott Jordan (no relation to InterimExecs’ CEO Robert Jordan), an investment banker and CFO who spent 30+ years working in biotech, engineered a reverse merger of a biopharma company in 2019. He says that while the virus has caused capital flow interruptions, investors in the private markets are still providing capital to companies with novel / scientifically validated biotechnology companies. That means reverse mergers and PIPEs (Private Investment in a Public Entity) can still raise money needed to complete their deals. He estimates that about 20 biotech firms debuted in the public markets last year as a result of reverse mergers and the number is on track to repeat in 2020, despite the virus.

But let’s back up a step and begin at the beginning.

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What is the Role of Human Resources During a Crisis?

Can “good” HR be a strategic advantage in a crisis?

Through the largest and longest bull market in history, many business leaders continued to dismiss the human resources (HR) function as an operational, and largely administrative function. HR’s activities can appear to be – and often are – disconnected from the “real work” of an organization. But effective HR leadership is so much more, and can be a strategic advantage as businesses deal with the COVID pandemic. Let’s unpeel the several roles of HR to better understand how it can contribute.

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How Companies Can Stay Ahead of Rising Cyber Security Threats

There are plenty of new challenges to keeping a company afloat while the world endures the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Here are just a few: 

  • Applying for government assistance to keep paying payroll. 
  • Developing a work-from-home system for employees following stay-at-home orders. 
  • Working out accommodations and new digital venues with customers and suppliers that will help everyone come through a cataclysmic crisis still in business. 

Add to the list a new one: Cyber security threats to business.  

InterimExecs RED Team executive and CISO, Zeeshan Kazmi, says times like these are prime for opportunistic hackers. 

Just look at financial technology company, Finastra, to see a cyber security nightmare in action. After coronavirus hit, the company was in the middle of developing an emergency plan to operate when hackers found a backdoor into their servers. Malware quickly spread locking down server after server on their network, taking down many of their customers which include 90 of the world’s top 100 banks.   

“We haven’t taken cyber security threats as seriously as they should be taken,” says Kazmi, who has spent 15 years working in the cyber security space. “Companies have been reactive. They protected their business transactions and their reputation. It became a corporate risk management function.”