Entrepreneur views the future with cautious excitement

I am going to part from the usual business strategies article and instead begin a series of succession planning diaries to share an experience I am now living daily.

For 34 years, I have built my company from 15 to 115 employees with a 7 percent annual compound growth rate. During that time, my wife and I have raised three children who worked in the business while in high school and college.

I told them if they ever wanted to join the family business, they would need to do two things. First they would need to graduate college and get a job for at least three years somewhere else. That was for them to experience the real world with non-family bosses while learning what their career passion would be.

Second, if they came back, they needed to come back with a clear passion for their career and what they would bring to the organization from the outside world.

One kid went west, the other east and the third became a doctor. So when two of them informed me that they wanted to return to Northeast Ohio to be near family and help take our company to the next level, I was surprised and ecstatic.

Now comes the difficult part
I built an incredible senior management team. How would they react to two new family members joining us even though they knew my kids well? What would I do with the detailed succession plan I had already put into place without regard to the two kids in the business? And how the heck would I train the next generation (think millennials versus baby boomer)?

First, the issue with the senior management team. They were happy because we were bringing in new brain power with a passion for the business. Every business needs to bring in brain power to help it sustain and grow. They recognized the incredible passion my children had for the business. There wasn’t the threat I expected them to feel, but rather they welcomed them because we had new resources that looked at our company as a career and not just a job.

As to the succession planning, well that is going to be a major project of mine over the next few years. I will say that my son and I will be joining an owners’ roundtable forum monthly to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our business.

Lots to learn
When it comes to training millennials, I have a ton to learn even though I have sat through a few generational communication seminars. My son understands it is a 10-year training program. Not the typical 10 weeks a millennial expects with a promotion and a doubling of salary. He gets it, but I hope to learn much more myself on this training job.

Stay tuned for future installments as I navigate my new succession planning. Feel free to communicate any suggestions you may have for me.

Dolf Kahle is CEO at Visual Marking Systems Inc.