Passing the torch Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
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 www.rbbsystems.com


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.”