Passing the torch

After buying out his partners in 1982
and leading RBB Systems Inc. through
two decades of ups and downs, Dick Beery decided it was time to pass the company torch. Though he has maintained his ownership and his title of founder, in 2001, he
handed off the operational leadership responsibilities of RBB to Bruce Hendrick, a member of RBB’s management team who was
brought on board a year earlier.

As Beery saw both himself and his company getting older, the thought of what would
happen to RBB and its employees after him
began to weigh on his mind.

“As I approached 50 and had been running
the company for a number of years, I knew
that I wanted it to continue without me,” Beery
says. “The continuation has always been very
important for the people who work here.”

When Beery realized that his skill set as a
leader no longer matched the skill set
required by the position, it was a red flag that
he needed to start thinking seriously about
succession. As business grows and matures,
Beery says a new brand of leadership is in
order, and it’s not necessarily the company’s
founder who is best suited to provide it.

“When you have an ongoing organization
you really don’t want to expose 70 people to
your personal risk level,” Beery says. “You
need stability. You still need people who are
entrepreneurs in your organization to push
you to try new things, but you need better risk
analysis and financial management.”

So when Hendrick joined RBB’s management team, Beery quickly realized that not
only did Hendrick have the organizational
skill set to lead the company, but his motivations and values jibed with those that Beery
had spent decades establishing.

“Ours went from an entrepreneurship to a
more professionally run organization,” Beery
says. “It was very important that I find a person that meshed with me personally on the
important values.”

Because companies founded and led by an
entrepreneur often become dependent on
that individual’s vision and leadership to function, Beery says that for an organization to
continue to grow, an organizational structure
must be implemented that decentralizes the
emphasis on the company’s leader.
Introducing Hendrick as RBB’s new leader
helped Beery achieve that goal.

“You want to get the organization to the
point where if the president is not there, you don’t know it,” Beery says. “You really want
an organization where the upper management has done such a good job with the
organization that they’re not needed. In the
end, they are needed, but the customer is not
going to notice the difference when he or she
isn’t there.”

Achieving that stability and making a transition to new leadership does not come without potential pitfalls, however. Beery no
longer runs the day-to-day operations of the
company, and he says that it is of utmost
importance that he make every effort to
avoid stepping on the toes of his successor.

“You have to really be willing to not subtly
undercut the other person,” Beery says.
“That’s something that you have to be aware
of, because you can really create the impression that you are unhappy with the person
you put into the position.”

Though it is often a difficult decision for an
entrepreneur to part ways with his brainchild, Beery says the best thing a leader can
do is avoid being a hanger-on.

“Move it forward,” he says. “If you hesitate
and wait too long, you can negatively impact
the company, and you probably should do it
sooner than you really think.”

HOW TO REACH: RBB Systems Inc., (330) 567-2906 or

Balancing act

Bruce Hendrick, president and CEO
of RBB Systems, shares his thoughts
on what a new leader needs to do
when taking the reins of a company
from its founder.

“The balance that you have to find is
to preserve what’s healthy about the
culture, but don’t be afraid to say,
‘Here’s what the business needs.’ Be
clear that you’re trying to preserve
what’s best in the company, but don’t
have any fear about making the right
decisions, because that’s your job.

“Always tell the truth, whether it’s
popular or not. It’s also your job to
hold a mirror up to the organization.
That’s what the next generation leader
must do. Don’t judge it, but say, ‘This
is how it really is.’ That’s an important
value you bring as the second generation, so don’t shirk that responsibility.

“The employees should not give the
benefit of the doubt. You need to earn
the benefit of the doubt. Trust is not
given lightly, and loyalty is not something to take for granted, so it’s firmly
on the shoulders of a new leader to
establish a direction, earn credibility
and lead by having solid relationships
with the people.

“The main point is to honor the past
but not live in it. Make that a mantra.”