When Mike McGrann announced in September that he had accepted a position at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, the search began for someone to replace him as executive director of the S. Dale High Center for Family Business at Elizabethtown College.
"We were specifically looking for someone who had experience in being part of a multigenerational family business," said David Beidleman, vice president of institutional advancement and community relations in the college's development department, who led the search.
Michael Mitchell, formerly president of Amelia's Grocery Outlet, qualified and became the center's choice from among many applicants. He will begin his duties with the center on March 19.
"It seems to be a pretty good fit," said Mitchell, who has been a member of the center for years. He hasn't previously done much consulting and advising but said his wide experience with the same situations that center members face should prove valuable.
Mitchell joined center leaders in his respect for McGrann's leadership and said his first step will be consulting him.
"Mike has ably served as the most recent executive director, building upon the outstanding leadership of Mary Beth Matteo and bringing the center to new levels of engagement," said Beidleman.
Center founder S. Dale High agreed.
"We're very happy with the leadership we've had," High said, so going forward is "not a matter of a seismic change, it's a matter of building on what has already been done."
High and center founding member John Reed said the center's offerings have evolved since its beginning in 1995, particularly over the past few years. Some they consider particularly successful are groupings of members who have similar positions in varied industries; they meet regularly and learn from each other's experiences.
"I work with a ton of family-owned businesses," Reed said. "They can be very isolated, whether they're the ones who started the business or the third generation. One of the big opportunities the center gives these members is that they get to meet each other, get to hear from each other, say, 'I thought I was the only one who had that problem!'"
Another innovation is what High describes as "quite a voluminous questionnaire" that all stakeholders at incoming member companies fill out anonymously "and that gets then fed back to all the shareholders in an open meeting with the feedback and a facilitated family meeting to kind of get a baseline on where they're at and what they should look at addressing."
The approach helps jump-start progress, High said, "sort of a safe way to weigh in, which can begin to open dialogue and discussion on what needs to happen."
On the side of what member businesses are looking for from the center, McGrann said he didn't detect any dramatic changes in his tenure, but there was a growing awareness of workforce issues — "dealing with the next generation, changing demographics, motivating young people in this day and age."
McGrann also said he tried to structure programs with an eye to increasing members' awareness that they are progressively having to operate "in a very tough global environment."
Mitchell said he doesn't have big plans for immediate changes — he wants to start by talking with everyone and seeing what input they have. Within a couple of months he hopes to have a strategic plan to keep the center moving forward.
"I would hope that we'll come out with things that are the same, because they're great and they're working," Mitchell said.
One thing Beidleman would like to see is increasing symbiosis between the college and the center, a relationship both parties say has become more integrated over the years.
And, Beidleman said, "With McGrann going to Philly, knowing that there are other centers beyond our Central Pennsylvania region, we have a vision that we might work with other centers for family business in creative ways."
Familiar face, new role
Michael Mitchell is no stranger to either the Center for Family Business, of which he has been a member for years, or Central Pennsylvania.
Mitchell had been with Amelia’s since 1995, helping it grow dramatically from a couple of stores to a $50 million chain of 15.
From 1989 through 1995, Mitchell worked for H.J. Heinz Co. in Pittsburgh, rising to senior product manager for its $200 million private-label food business. Prior to that, he spent several years as a territory manager for General Mills Inc. in Minnesota.
Mitchell is also a 1985 graduate of Elizabethtown College, earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He then earned an MBA in marketing and entrepreneurial management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1989.
Mitchell and his wife, Karen, live in Lititz and have two boys, Ryan and Justin, who are in high school.