A Gift to You – from My Brother-In-Law

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Gift with Measuring Tape and Hammer

How we handle adversity is the measure of an individual – both personally and professionally. In many cases, in the world of small business, one bleeds into the other. It has been written over, and over, and over again: There are constant challenges in business. Being a small business owner, I get it, believe me. There isn’t a day I don’t wake up worrying about cash flow, about my clients and the next project, or about our next marketing campaign and whether it will work out…it never ends.

But that is the adrenaline I feed off of, as do many of my small business brethren. We look at problems and figure them out. We keep looking forward to the next challenge, or as we consultants like to say, “opportunity for growth.”

Succession Planning – “The Ideal”

Every once in a while, when we get our head above water, we think about Succession Planning. If we actually do take the time to do it, we tend to look at it as something that will happen far off in the future.

  1. The first scenario is a beautiful transfer of responsibility to our children who love our business as much as we do, and they bring a new energy to the company while we just sit back and watch them succeed.
  2. The second scenario is a Pollyanna-ish vision of larger company coming in, buying our company on our terms, keeping every employee (because they see what a great job of hiring you have done), and pay us a premium for the amazing business we have created. We then retire in complete financial security and become mentors to young entrepreneurs struggling to achieve the same greatness.

Succession Planning – Not “The Ideal”

What if the opposite happens? I’m experiencing this right now with my sister. We tragically lost my brother-in-law John in a car accident just two weeks ago today (from the day this blog post was posted). For the last 30 years, John has run his own HVAC business in Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, he grew up doing it with his dad. If you had any question about air conditioning or heating, John knew the answers. He worked on large commercial projects, new construction, multi-tenant installations, and high-end homes. (He has great stories about working on some of the celebrity homes in L.A.; then again, he has great stories for just about everything.) You name it, he knew how to do it and had the gift of creativity to make unique construction work.

John’s employees loved him. His clients loved him. His suppliers loved him. His current foreman has worked for him for 10 years, has known him for 25 years, and is devastated by this unexpected loss. The day my sister delivered the news to me, somehow she managed to think about the future of the business while we were on the phone, and asked for my help. She wondered out loud what to do. Should she sell it? Have someone take over the contracts? What is next? They didn’t plan for this because this was not supposed to happen. This was not part of the Succession Plan.

Don’t Panic

I am fortunate. I have an amazing group of friends that I happen to also call business partners, clients and colleagues. I reached out to one, and he put me in touch with another Heating & Air Conditioning contractor. Initially, he said he might be interested in buying the business. I was happy with the response and appreciated his interest. The next morning I received a call on my cell phone from an “unknown” number. I answered anyway since I thought it might have something to do with my brother-in-law. Sure enough, it was the contractor I had talked to the night before. I’ll never forget how he started the conversation:

“Don’t panic. Don’t panic! Don’t Panic! Jack, this is Matthew from last night. Don’t Panic.” He went on, “Please tell your sister this: She can run the business; she can do it. Don’t have a fire sale. She needs to see what she can do first. Don’t Panic!”

Matthew went on to explain the approach to running his business and how he has often spoken to his own wife about what to do should something happen to him. I listened, trying to maintain my composure, took notes and thanked him profusely. I was blown away by the compassion this person showed, even though we had never met before. We were practically strangers, and yet he was willing to put his own priorities aside for me, my sister and her family.

We don’t know the path my sister will take at this point, but this has given us an option we were unable to wrap our heads around initially. It gives us options!

One Step at a Time

My wish for you is that this never happens to you and your family. My request of you is that you take the time to plan as if it might happen. I have not done this yet, but I will. Who will I be asking for help? The same community of people who have risen to help and provide me and my sister amazing support during this difficult time.

Reach out to your network; reach out to your friends; reach out to your family; and ask for help. Whether you are 20, 50 or 70 years old, chances are, you may not have done this before. But, there is a pretty good chance that someone you know, knows someone who has, and is willing to help.

So take that first step and start the conversation. My wish is that our family’s tragedy will provide you the motivation to prepare your business now and have the conversations you never wanted to have. In the long run, it could make all the difference in the world to your family, business partners, clients and colleagues. Consider it John’s gift to you.

John C
*John K. Canfield died on January 8, 2015 near San Quintin, Mexico driving back from his daughter’s wedding in Cabo San Lucas. John was an avid fisherman and loved spending time in Mexico doing just that. I will miss his bigger-than-life personality and love of all things fish, family and food-related. I will especially miss how much I would laugh when I was with him. Rest in peace John.

Jack Kelly
Jack Kelly
Jack founded the Corlea Group in early 2009 with his first client coming on board in January of that year. Jack loves to coach. He coaches his clients and he helps coach his kid’s teams – it’s his passion and has been for over 25 years as a professional, father and volunteer. Why? Because he likes to help a team succeed.
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