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Martin Wright, owner of Magpie Jewellery, in Ottawa, Aug. 14, 2012 (Blair Gable For the Globe and Mail)
Martin Wright, owner of Magpie Jewellery, in Ottawa, Aug. 14, 2012 (Blair Gable For the Globe and Mail)

THE CHALLENGE

Growing business outgrows owner’s business acumen Add to ...

Each week, we seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue.

When Martin Wright opened his first jewellery business more than 20 years ago, he started small.

“We rented the front window of a dry cleaner,” Mr. Wright remembers. “He had a bay window, and we filled it full of jewellery.”

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What started as a “mom and pop” business, however, has grown significantly since then. Leaving the dry cleaner’s window behind, Mr. Wright incorporated Magpie Jewellery in 1994 and opened a new shop in Ottawa’s Rideau Centre. In 2003, he opened a second location in the nearby Glebe neighbourhood and last year, Magpie opened its third, and largest, location in Ottawa’s upscale Westboro neighbourhood.

With this expansion, Mr. Wright is concerned that his company’s size may be outgrowing his own business acumen. His formal training is in gemology, not business or management, he says.

“Personally, I don’t have any business background. I know a lot about jewellery. I know a lot about our company. But I really don’t know how to run a business in some respects,” admits Mr. Wright, whose 28-employee company generates annual revenues of $4-million to $4.5-million.

While Mr. Wright recognizes his business blind spots, he’s not really interested in taking any formal business training at this point in his career. “I like to be in front of the customers. I like to smile and talk,” he says.

That means he’s in the market for someone else to fill in his business blanks. Mr. Wright and his wife, Erin, hold top management positions; each store has a manager, with a jewellery buyer and district manager rounding out the management team.

To this, Mr. Wright would like to add what he calls a “systems thinker” – someone who can look at the day-to-day operations, analyze them in a big-picture way, and help to develop strategies. “The moves we’ve made have been good; I just want to be able to manage them better,” Mr. Wright says.

He’d like to hire someone with a business background and formal business education. “They don’t have to be in merchandising; they don’t have to have exquisite taste. They just have to be really thrilled by creating better systems and creating more efficiency in the workplace – not from a management standpoint, but from a systems standpoint,” he says.

While Mr. Wright knows what he wants to add to his team, he doesn’t know where to find it.

The Challenge: What are the best ways for the company to find the right person to add to its team?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Paul Foster, chartered accountant and founder and chief executive officer of Essex, Ont.-based The Business Therapist

In order to attract the best person for this role, the person needs to see an attractive long-term future and a cultural fit with the business.

Since the systems manager will most likely be 10 to 15 years younger, it is critical the Mr. Wright can have clarity of the future vision of the business, including future succession. You won’t get buy-in if there is the concern, ‘What will happen to me when Mr. Wright retires?’

The first place I would look is the current team. He may be surprised to find there is potential talent there. Otherwise, I think a district manager from a national franchise would have multi-locations skills as well as bring the systems thinking from the franchise environment.

Paul Simmonds, founder of Robert Simmonds Clothing, based in Fredericton, and chairman of the Retail Council of Canada’s MyStore

Congrats to the founder for recognizing his need to add talent outside his comfortable skill set. A lot of independents try wear all the hats, inhibiting their true fortes.

For our company, we looked inside to find and develop the right person supplying them with the right continual education and practical skills.

The business schools might have some eligible people. Other avenues might be to hire from the trade or complementary businesses, asking vendors, mentors and colleagues if they know a capable person who is looking for a change. Social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook), Internet job listing sites, and asking your customer base have worked for other businesses I know of.

Another thought might be to find a retired individual with this experience on a contract basis to set up the systems needed for this position and help with the search for this candidate or for that person to teach an existing employee the skills needed for this job. Headhunter agencies might be another route to find this person.

From my perspective, the most important attribute is that this person either embraces or can change for the better the vision, mission and culture of the company.

Jeff Appelt, president of Winnipeg-based Appelt’s Diamonds

If Mr. Wright wants to expand his business, he will not be able to be in front of the customers. Expanding a business means macro and strategic thinking and looking at the big picture with a five-and 10-year business plan. He has to be able to work on training his staff to see his vision and implement it in all his stores. As you expand, you will have to concentrate on HR and marketing issues. Mr. Wright has to decide what is more important: Does he want to be able to talk and sell to customers, or does he want to train others to sell like he does and focus on expanding his business? Unfortunately he cannot do both successfully.

Hiring someone to run business expansion will be very difficult. How will he be able to successfully monitor if they are doing a good job, or just telling Mr. Wright what he wants to hear? Hiring the wrong person to facilitate expansion could be very disastrous to the future of Magpie Jewellery.

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY CAN DO NOW

Look for opportunities to promote from within

Even if an existing employee doesn’t have exactly the desired skill set, he or she may have an appetite and willingness to develop it. Consider offering additional business training to an employee who already understands the vision and culture of the company.

Make sure the role is clear

Look out long-term to see how the person would fit into the company, including succession issues.

Search widely

From business schools to customers and vendors to headhunters, check out all potential sources.

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