Lancaster-based excavation company H.L. Wiker has added two long-standing employees to its ownership team as part of the 34-year-old company’s succession plan.
H.L. Wiker announced this week that Kevin Eshleman, vice president of operations, and Blake Murphy, project manager, will be joining President Donna Shoff and Vice President Jeffrey Wiker as owners.
Eshleman joined Wiker in 2002 and was recently promoted to vice president of operations where he provides leadership and oversight to field operations and the project management team.
Eshleman has held nearly every position in field operations within the company and is an active member of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., Keystone Chapter, serving on its Workforce Development Committee.
Murphy has worked at Wiker since 1997, serving as laborer, survey crew member and estimator before being promoted to project manager in 2018. He is also an active member of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., Keystone Chapter and serves on its Government Affairs Committee.
“The success of our team has always been a direct result of our dedicated team and strong leaders like Kevin and Blake. As we look to the future of our company, expanding our ownership team is an essential and deliberate step in securing the vision and mission set forth by our father, Harold L. Wiker,” said Donna Shoff, president of H.L. Wiker.
There seems to be a false notion floating around – and we all buy into – that somehow, we’re going to get everything in order tomorrow. That tomorrow, when we wake up, it will be the perfect day, where we will have ample time for the planning and legal work needed to minimize risk in the future.
We talk a good game, but that’s not what happens. Life is messy and full of distractions.
Today will not go as planned. So, what was planned for tomorrow remains undone for yet another day. I’m not referring to mundane tasks. I’m referring to the heavy lifts in business around succession, governance and transition that most owners just do not want to tackle. There is always tomorrow, they say, until there’s not.
As a family business owner, it’s critical to understand there are events that will affect the transition of your business. In fact, one out of every two reading this blog will be impacted by an event beyond your control. And if you haven’t run through the checklist to prepare your business, you’re not only putting the business at risk, but your family as well.
Think all this is a bit dramatic? Below are REAL situations I’ve witnessed over the years:
Owner/husband died under the current shareholder agreement, but his wife remained a minority shareholder even though she worked every day by his side.
No insurance in place for the employees to buyout the family and continue the business.
No succession plan because the owner stubbornly remains the hub despite failing health.
Yes, we talk a lot about the 5Ds – Death, Disability, Divorce, Distress, and Disagreement – with good reason: all business owners will exit their business, yet only half will do it on their terms. The other half will scramble.
And, by the way, a 5D event doesn’t have to happen directly to you to disrupt the business. Think about the fallout if it involved:
A key member of leadership team; tribal knowledge gone and no documentation exists.
Ownership member and the shareholders agreement is out of date.
Family member owner who can’t step away to grieve or care for a loved one.
Begin by adopting the mindset of “my business is always for sale” (and, actually, that’s the way it should be.)
Working with the mindset that your business is always ready to be sold means:
You’ve got great financials.
You play in a growing market.
You have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
You have limited customer concentration.
You have customers who repeat and refer.
Your business generates cash like a spigot vs sucking it out like a drain.
You’ve got a strong cash balance and balance sheet.
The business doesn’t rely on you as the owner.
You have good governance in place, with an ownership council, a board of directors, a family constitution, and a family council.
All these things will not only make your business successful today, but attractive to potential buyers as well, including internal successors. Ultimately, building a business that’s transferable means that it can run without you and that’s also the best way to survive one of these 5Ds.
Do the right things – the hard things – to position your business for whatever life throws your way. It will be more financially successful, more fun to operate and will better protect those you love.
Life is messy, but the future of the business doesn’t need to be. Make the commitment to tackle one “what if” today and check it off your list so it’s done.
Tom Garrity is managing partner at Compass Point Consulting LLC in Hanover Township, Northampton County. He can be reached at [email protected].
Today, the phrase management succession plan is used almost exclusively in the context of an exit strategy, part of preparing an organization to replace top executives who will leave, retire or die.
But, especially in this time of high turnover, management succession at all levels needs to be as critical to an organization as bench strength is to a sports roster. Every sports team knows who is playing what position in the event of an injury or trade. Without that depth chart, senior executives would spend more time fighting fires than on strategy and long-term planning.
Investment in back-up quarterbacks, for example, is extremely high among football organizations because the starter is “always only one hard hit from the bench” (see Super Bowl 52, or Foles, Nick).
A change in ownership may happen once — or possibly twice — in the life of a company. But turnover at the first-line and middle management level happens all the time, and that trend is not going to change soon. Unfortunately, some common responses to a supervisor’s or manager’s resignation include:
Panic and despair (“Oh, no.”)
Offer the employee more money to stay (buying you time, but not loyalty)
Pay others overtime (burdening employees while spending too much)
Advertise online (takes time, effort and prayer)
These negative reactions can be avoided with a company culture of career path and promoting-from-within, leading to a state of affairs in which much of the hiring need can be at the lower, easier-to-find-and-train level.
In the high-turnover world of big-box, national chain retailing, where I spent many years, we gave a lot of time and attention to, and were aware of, “who was next up” for any management position. Both human resources and top management knew of these high-potential employees, who had not only expressed interest in upward mobility, but who had also been given individual training programs to ready themselves for those moments.
One boss gave me this great advice: “Every month, look around and make sure that the business will run just as well on the day after any manager leaves.”
Here’s how it should work:
Manufacturing supervisor Rick announces that he’s leaving to get his degree. Part of every supervisor’s annual review has included getting at least one of the machine operators prepared for promotion. An operator in another part of the plant, Jill, has had access to supervisor reports and has attended meetings with her supervisor. Jill can be promoted, shadow Rick for a week, and, with proper mentoring, have high odds of success. Because of this continual company process, HR is, therefore, constantly looking for potential new hires to be entry-level floor operators — who will also become “the bench.”
The above process is repeated at every level of the company. The newly-promoted employees will still have learning curves, of course; but because they are already employees, there is much less chance of their not fitting in to the company culture. They also become models to the rest of their peers —proof that the company cares about its own employees and prefers to promote from within.
Once a philosophy like this is in place, managers manage better, too. They can concentrate on motivation and development instead of moving from personnel crisis to personnel crisis.
And managers can lead from strength instead of from fear: It is just human nature to coach or discipline differently depending on the answer to “Can I afford to make this employee uncomfortable right now?” A problem employee with no potential successor knows that he has leverage.
Again, another sports metaphor: coaches often say that depth at a position pushes both athletes to perform better, because one is “looking behind” and knows she is not irreplaceable, and the other wants to prove himself and be ready.
A total organization commitment to creating bench strength and a depth chart leads to a culture of career-laddering, employee development, retention and success (again, see Super Bowl 52, or Foles, Nick).
Marty Rogoff, a Harrisburg-based consultant, works with senior management to identify and train a company’s next leaders.
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