One of the most critical practices in high performing family-owned businesses is succession planning and execution. It is essential for the next generation to have the ability to fully understand the business life-cycle, what is needed to hire and retain the right employees, and to find innovative ways to maintain profitable growth in a competitive and changing environment.
Jori International Ltd., a family-owned and operated business, has reached this pivotal point. After 22 years as president of the fast-growing logistics company, Rick Woods is ready to retire and pass control of the business to his 20-something son, Sam.
As a non-capital asset based company, Jori's success lies with its people. Along with a good strategy, Jori needs to ensure that it is more successful at hiring, retaining, and motivating its employees, while facilitating an entrepreneurial culture.
Billionaire Warren Buffett once stated that success is based on merit and not inheritance. How does a family business continue to flourish, maintaining value, strategy and culture from the previous generation, when leadership is passed from one generation to the next?
Jori International provides customs brokerage, consulting, freight forwarding and other logistics related services. While headquartered in Calgary, Alberta and specializing in the Canadian market, the organization is able to move goods anywhere in the international market place. Since 1992, Jori has embraced Mr. Woods' commitment to excellence and personalized service, enabling them to become a boutique player in the customs brokerage and freight forwarding industries.
Transparency, strong governance, and a family strategic succession plan model are key elements in overcoming barriers and understanding the benefits of these values for the next generation.
The first order of business is a family meeting where discussions cover establishing who would run the company to how equity would be divided. Establishing family unity during this period is key. A non-judgmental, bias-free approach is to create a family constitution, which involves a governance structure and code of conduct for the decision-making processes around impending changes. Secondly, Jori needs to establish an advisory board, with members from a variety of backgrounds, to assist with high level business issues preventing individual biases from getting in the way of important decision making.
In addition to the challenges of passing the business from one generation to another, Mr. Woods faces the challenge of finding a way to shape the leadership and performance of non-family members. In order to do this, a human resources consulting firm could offer advice on shaping leadership and developing a culture of excellence in order to avoid poor performance and negative attitudes.
As Jori expands, it's imperative that the company maintain its original values, strategy and culture. Partnerships must be maintained in order to compete against larger adversaries. A strategy of product differentiation and constant innovation through customer service is also a strong mitigation tool against larger companies competing strictly on price.
A strong governance model exercise is unifying the business and the family, making for a smoother transition from one generation to the next. The exercises have kick-started important and fierce conversations among the six-member Jori family who have agreed to address issues early on instead of letting them cause conflict down the road. The family is now working with the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise (CAFÉ) to hold a strategy session on how to approach succession and are in the process of creating an advisory board before succession planning is fully implemented.
To attract and retain top talent, the company has made significant improvements on its hiring decisions. A much larger emphasis has been placed on planning for staffing to ensure that the right people are hired, with all new hires interviewed by both the president and human resources manager for final approval. The company is also looking to implement a new compensation structure to further motivate employees. As well, a subtle but distinct internal and external messaging of a culture of excellence has been adopted.
Jori has also made a further investment in technology to increase efficiency and provide much needed analytics for customer focus, profitability and business planning. Diversity of services and reducing excessive risk aversion have also been identified to increase competitive advantage and overall long-term performance.
Mr. Woods' work and family collaboration have instilled in the next generation the values strategic vision and culture on which the company has built its success. "My parents set out to create a company that would succeed because we take the time to listen to each and every client–no matter their size–in order to develop customized logistics solutions for them," says Sam, the incoming president of the company. "I intend to stay true to that foundation. To make sure our people are armed with the training, experience, system support motivation, and empowerment needed to continue this legacy."
Are you prepared for succession? Try this simple succession test from the Sydney Chamber of Commerce to find out:
- Do you have a strategy in place should you, or a key staff member, be unable to return to work for a long period, or never?
- Is this strategy documented and has it been communicated effectively to the business?
- Do you have a process in place that ensures qualified and appropriately trained people are able to take over competently when the current generation of managers and key people retire or move on?
- Has this strategy been documented and communicated to the key people involved?
- Do you have a ’vision’ for your business? Does it link easily to the ’values’ of the business and the behaviours of the people within the business?
- Has your ’vision’ been well articulated and communicated with the people in the business?
- Are you able to demonstrate your business plans for a clearly-defined viable future?
- Have these plans been clearly articulated, documented and communicated to the key people within your organization?
Sharaz Khan is a management information systems instructor at the Haskayne School of Business.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter