Growth and succession planning should go hand in hand. That’s the biggest lesson President Jim Wasserstrom of Advance Sign Group can share from his ongoing succession planning journey.
“I think that’s the nugget: It can’t be a trade out of one family member to another. It has to come with growth,” he says.
Wasserstrom has observed a lot of family businesses over the years. He comes from a legacy family business, where he was in the third generation of the Wasserstrom family that’s in restaurant supply. But he felt like he was too low on the totem pole to spread his wings, so he struck out on his own — first with Vorys Brothers, a sheet metal service center and distributor of residential HVAC equipment and supplies that he eventually shuttered after turning the company around, and then by acquiring Advance Sign Group in 2001.
He’s also learned from belonging to peer groups through the Conway Family Business Center and Entrepreneurs’ Organization. It’s been more hearing what not to do, Wasserstrom says.
“One of the things that was very intriguing to me is some of them had certain visions, but it was never solidified,” he says.
The upcoming generation couldn’t follow the wishes of the preceding generation because they didn’t have the people to do it.
“To do a succession plan, it’s just not trading one person out with another. It’s creating a team that is really driving the company forward,” Wasserstrom says.
Treat them right
Wasserstrom’s son joined the business in 2008, and two years later committed to a career with Advance Sign Group. Since then, Wasserstrom has been working to grow the business into a national sign company and create a road map for the future — a future that also includes career paths for nonfamily members.
“The vision came really from my desire to have a legacy business. That’s basically what I was brought up with … a legacy business, and having it for not just myself, but for the people who want to be a part of our company,” he says.
Wasserstrom wanted to be proactive with succession planning, unlike many of his peers. He’s also encouraged other families to join the business and has three family members out in the shop doing different jobs.