Phil Ryser is not a member of the Bates family that launched Stanley Steemer International Inc. back in 1947. But his involvement in the 2,000-employee cleaning company is vital to its success.
Ryser says one of the keys to that success is a willingness to reach outside the family and provide opportunities to anyone who can help the business grow.
“There are a number of different avenues of opportunity within our organization that have nothing to do with whether you are a family member or nonfamily member that enable you to achieve success,” says Ryser, the $400 million company’s executive vice president, secretary and general counsel.
“Candidly, as an adviser or nonfamily member, you need to help them identify what are the strengths and weaknesses in terms of the ability of the company to achieve the growth mode that they have communicated to you,” Ryser says.
Smart Business spoke with Ryser about some of the keys to making a family-run organization work.
Come up with a plan. What are the primary goals of the family? What is it the family or the entrepreneur wants to accomplish long term? Do they want to be the biggest? Do they want to be the best? Do they want to be the richest? What is it that they are seeking to accomplish?
Entrepreneurs seem to have the ability to envision what it is they want to accomplish and where it is they want to go with a concept or idea from infancy to fruition. Along those lines, you also have to take the temperature of the family itself beyond the business goals. Ultimately, what is their goal?
Do they want to keep the business in the family for generations to come? Do they want to sell? Are they willing to bring in venture capital partners to help them grow the business? Do they want to go public? Some of those goals may be formulated early on and some of those goals may take a period of years to be formulated. Sooner or later, they need to be addressed.
It’s very important that they understand ultimately what it is they want that identity to be now and what they want it to be down the road.
Put someone in charge. One person ultimately has to have control and be in charge. My experience with rulership by committee is it’s not an effective platform to run a business. It may not always be the fairest arrangement, but typically, it seems to be the most effective.
At the same time, it’s important to have either an independent board of directors or at the very least an advisory board with whom the senior management of the company meets regularly.
When I say regularly, I would typically recommend at least once a quarter. That should serve as a platform at which there is always full disclosure. There is a discussion of all issues, both financial and otherwise.
Have an effective advisory team of people with whom management deals with on a regular basis. Typically, those are going to be comprised of an attorney or group of attorneys with various expertise, CPAs, insurance professionals, then of course, your banker and, in some cases, if it’s appropriate, a financial planner.
It’s important those people all work together. Oftentimes, I’ll see a mistake made where perhaps the entrepreneur will want to have each of the type of people I described, but then they’ll want to work with each one of them separate.
Then decisions get made in a vacuum and you kind of lose some of the effectiveness of the cohesive combined effort of all those people going in the same direction. You have people pulling and pushing each other in different directions.
Don’t be afraid to make decisions. When you can effectively demonstrate to people why you’re taking a certain course of action and what the benefits ultimately to the organization will be after you’ve weighed the risks involved in making that decision, typically, you’ll be able to convince people.
Even if you can’t convince them, the entrepreneur has to make the decision and sometimes you might drag a few people kicking and screaming.
We had a situation back in the late ’90s at our company where we were convinced that we needed to start our national TV advertising program. When we decided we were going to implement the program, we did have some resistance from a small faction in our organization.
Our management group, led by our chairman and CEO at the time, decided, ‘Well, we need to do this. These are the benefits.’ We implemented it. Ten years later, after experiencing up through late 2008 and early 2009, we had double-digit growth. Sometimes, the decision has to be made one way or the other, whether it’s popular or not. That’s why ultimately one person or entity has to be in charge. If you try to make decisions based on popular consensus, sometimes decisions just don’t get made. Then you wind up a ship without a rudder that’s being moved by the waves.
Build a strong board. When you interview and network, you have to drill down in terms of what are the respective strengths and weaknesses of the candidate? What is their experience outside the boards that they serve on? What accomplishments have they experienced beyond serving on a board?
Talk to the CEOs of other companies who are recommending these people to see what type of input, advice and counsel they offer. You don’t just want your friends on the board who sit around the table, pat you on the back and say, ‘Great job,’ even if you did a bad job. You don’t want people who come to meetings and offer nothing other than taking up space.
You want people that are enthusiastic about your business, that are interested in your business, that know you and perhaps know your strengths and weaknesses and are willing to put personal relationships aside from time to time. They can offer you the candor necessary to give you good insight, advice and counsel and also challenge some of the things you’ve done as to the advisability of doing them.
How to reach: Stanley Steemer International Inc., (800) 783-3637 or www.stanleysteemer.com