The education continues for leaders of today and tomorrow

Life should be a continuous education process. I’ve now written four articles on the succession training of my son for our business. One area that fascinates him is networking with people from his generation who are in the same position, learning the business from the older generation.

I am fortunate to be in multiple CEO networking groups associated with our printing industry. So I have been able to find a few companies with parent/child situations similar to Eric and I, and we have started home/home meetings. We go to their facility for one to two days, then they come to our facility for the same time period.

Some of these visits have been in Northeast Ohio, while others have allowed us to visit other parts of the country. It’s always fun to travel with Eric, especially when we can take our golf clubs. The agendas have been very open.

The concept has been to have both generations involved in discussions at the same time. We share best practices and the glaring issues of the day.

This gets back to the lesson I learned from a mentor who, 20 years ago, taught me the value of an open door policy. If you open your door to friendly and trustworthy competitors, you will receive back more than you share. We don’t have proprietary manufacturing facilities.

So in my opinion there is nothing to be stolen in terms of process. They can also see our customers by the items being manufactured. I have no concern on them being stolen because we should have built a strong business relationship with our customers.

Our typical home/home agendas include a detailed facility tour and then a conversation, sometimes with other managers present, to have a very open discussion on today’s business. The older generation discusses their success and failures while the younger generation questions us on how to improve and grow. That’s when the fun really starts.

By listening to their input, I have learned more about my son and his goals. What drives Eric? What are his areas of interest? Listening to the other company’s younger generation has been a great learning tool for me too. How can I improve my succession planning for Eric?

Sometimes we old folks think we know it all, but the largest percentage of the workforce today is the millennial generation. I need to learn how to position my company to attract and retain young bright talent.

Of course, we have managed to include fun in these trips as well. Eric and I are avid golfers and spending time on the golf course with the other parties really improves the relationships. There is no place better to really build friendships than when you have dedicated time on a beautiful golf course. Then we end the day with a good meal while we continue the education for both generations.

Dolf Kahle is CEO at Visual Marking Systems Inc. This is the fifth column in a series on building an effective succession planning strategy as a family business owner. Read the previous four at and search Dolf Kahle.