David McKinnon: Four steps to consider when choosing a successor

David McKinnon

David McKinnon, co-founder and chairman, Service Brands International

As an entrepreneur, I have spent more than 30 years focused on celebrating the growth of our franchise owners, creating jobs, providing opportunities for advancement and giving back through our company charity, the Ms. Molly Foundation. These activities help foster the overall good health of our organization.

However, a more challenging endeavor is the process of considering my replacement in the event of a tragedy, eventual retirement or desire for a less-intense position than overseeing the day-to-day operations of the business. It is a process I recently went through as we named a new CEO, while I retained my position as chairman of the board.

Succession planning for an entrepreneur is not a task that most are likely to enjoy or look forward to, and I am no different. Many never do it, but that is a mistake.

While the day you don’t go to the office, lead the meeting or make the decisions may not be a savory thought, it is the process that will allow the organization to outlast you. Think about succession planning as your emotional insurance for the preservation and continuation of your life’s work.

Here are four steps to help you through this process.


Every business owner should first review potential internal candidates who could take the baton from you and continue leading the company’s mission. Take your time during this important first step and consider all of the qualities you want in your successor.

Then, strengthen your bench and develop your team as the next generation of leaders. If no suitable internal candidates are found, you then need to set your sights on an external candidate who you feel meets your criteria.

Whether you’re planning to step away from the business in one year or in 10, this process can take years, so start early.


Among those who lead teams in your organization, there will be a few who accomplish more than their peers and who more closely mirror your vision for the future. By deciding on a pre-selected candidate to be your successor, it allows you to provide targeted, leadership training, which increases his or her confidence and yours.

Take time to document the succession process and how long it will take for the next-in-command to lead the way. This part of the process can actually generate sincere excitement at the prospect of your hand-selected replacement taking over.


The slow and steady process of your succession doesn’t have to be a luxury. You have identified and trained your No. 2 and determined the length of time it should take for him or her to take over more of your responsibilities as you put your plan into action. It is imperative to the success of your successor for each of you to be committed to the new roles each of you will take.

If done correctly, there will come a day in this process where you will stand back and admire the new leader as he or she steps into the spotlight you once commanded.


As the preparations you’ve made in your plan come to fruition, the time has come to fully embrace the position you’ve chosen for yourself. I’ve heard this feeling described as being gently placed on an ice flow and pushed out to sea.

By knowing the tenacity it takes to succeed in business, I would bet you’re not the type to be pushed out of anywhere, ever. The survival instincts of a businessperson are what keep the quarterly reports in the black and the satisfaction of your customers and team high.

I can honestly say we now have the right successor in the CEO’s role, and I have welcomed my sole role as chairman. I have renewed excitement about the growth still ahead for our constituents, and I believe this approach will pay off for all of stakeholders and for yours.

David McKinnon is the co-founder and chairman of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman, 1-800-DryClean and ProTect Painters. To contact David, send an email at [email protected]