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BILL LEE: Do You Have the Next Generation of Leaders on Board?

Five necessary steps to ensure you’re investing in quality employees.


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A good amount of the key people who populate a family-owned construction supply business came to work there right out of school. They came up through the ranks and are now in their late forties and early fifties and virtually everything they know they learned from the owner.

These middle managers—sales managers, operations managers, controllers, store managers, etc.—love the company. They feel comfortable working there. And if the truth were known, they love the owner, too, and possess a great deal of trust that he/she will take care of them until they reach retirement age.

When young men and women graduate from high school or college and want to avoid relocating to a larger city, the local lumberyard is often one of the opportunities considered to be a viable hometown employment option. After all, it’s home-owned and operated. They have driven past the business all their lives and watched it grow. They see its trucks all over the county. It looks like a good possibility for local employment.

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They stop in, fill out a job application and after a couple of interviews are hired to either start out working in the yard or behind the sales counter. They are assured that everyone in the company starts out in one of these two jobs. “You have to develop some product knowledge before you can move up,” they’re told. “Joe Swain, our sales manager, started on the sales counter 12 years ago. Al LeBlanc, our operations manager, started as a driver.”

Depending upon the maturity level of these new employees, and their level of ambition, they almost always have some apprehension about casting their lot with a family-owned business. Will it perpetuate? What happens if the owner sells out or worse, what if he gets run over by the proverbial truck? What will happen to us, to our jobs?

There are solutions to these questions and the solutions almost always involve several steps:

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1. Develop a Plan

Assure veteran managers, as well as new talent, that the owner and his top management team have considered the pitfalls that can sink a family-owned business, and have developed a plan to prevent that from happening.

2. Education

Make continuing education a part of the plan. Sharp new hires know that a business that’s not investing in its people has a doubtful future. They believe when management invests in them, it’s a good sign there will be a future for both them and the company.

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