Succession planning relies on the passing of knowledge

My 26-year-old son, Eric, made me a very happy man when he joined my company six months ago. He had worked part time for Visual Marking Systems Inc. throughout high school and during summers while attending college. Therefore, he knows the basic manufacturing processes and products.

My goal is for him to have an in-depth knowledge of every aspect of the business. I know this will take time, so I created a 10-year training program for him.

Create profitable revenue
I began with the estimating and accounting department. I want him to understand the difference between bringing in revenue and making money. He works closely with our sales staff to help define our customers’ requirements.

This part of his training is really learning about profit margins and selling our products.

So far, the beauty of it has been his desire to educate everyone he meets on the benefits of working with VMS, and he is beginning to fully understand the need for an organization to create profitable revenue.

Make networking a priority
I am a big believer in positive networking to create business relationships that are mutually beneficial. His networking involves four different sources.

First is an owner roundtable forum that helps us evaluate our company’s strengths and weaknesses. It includes six companies — four of which are two-generation, family-owned businesses. Eric can brainstorm with his peers on the pitfalls of being the next generation. Hearing it only from your father is one-sided.

Second, he will be involved in an industry-specific CEO roundtable group. This group shares best practices while bringing in outside speakers, and will provide him with industry experts that he can turn to for answers.

Third, he recently attended a trade organization’s annual technical trade show. This was an opportunity for me to introduce him to our suppliers so that he can stay up-to-date on industry trends to help the company stay innovative. And the last group he has chosen to join is our local chamber of commerce, which works closely with three surrounding chambers.

He is establishing himself as a local businessman who wants to give back to his community.

Look beyond your walls
Many training programs I have seen are too internally planned. I believe there is much for Eric to learn from the outside world. When my children said they wanted to work for the family business, I told them that they needed to bring two things with them.

First, a passion for a career in our business with a specific area of concentration; I believe their college education and subsequent jobs after college gave them a good idea of what they really want to do for a living.

Second, bring ideas and talent that we don’t currently have. Every organization needs brain talent to help it grow. Networking with peers — within your own industry, with suppliers and with your local chamber — will hopefully bring those ideas into your business.

Dolf Kahle is CEO at Visual Marking Systems Inc.