Sweeping the floors of my parents' first Kolache Factory store in Houston, Texas, at 9 years old, I dreamed of being a veterinarian. By the time I was a teenager, I was working behind the counter and starting at 3:00 a.m. to bake kolaches--homemade pastries filled with fruits, meats and cheeses. Somewhere along the line, it just became understood that one day I would take over the family business that my parents, John and Jerri Banks, had grown into a successful franchise. I was running the marketing/advertising department when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in her early 60s. When she died two years later, I wasn't prepared to fill her shoes. Who really is?
My peer, Michael Plummer, CEO of Our Town America, thought he knew everything there was to know about the welcome-package mailer franchise business his father started in 1972. But when his dad died suddenly in 2009 Michael learned, "However much you think you know, you don't know everything."
Navigating the rough waters of stepping into our parents' shoes and forging a franchise legacy of our own has not been easy, but we have learned some valuable lessons.
Lesson 1: TRIAGE AND TRANSPARENCY
The range of emotions experienced when a parent dies is magnified when the family business also has lost a key executive. I lost my mother, my best friend, and the company's co-founder and financial whiz in one fell swoop. It was sad and scary. Michael recalls sitting at his father's desk the day after his father died and feeling like he was in a mausoleum. It's tough. The key is to keep moving forward, or as Michael calls it, going into "triage mode."
Start by focusing on what needs to be done today so your employees can keep food on the table and send kids to college. A family franchise is a business that takes care of its people, so your people need to be your priority. They will be sad and scared too. As hard as it may be, it's critical your franchisees hear from you that everything will be OK. Be as transparent as you can, be direct, be confident. If you need to, fake it until you make it.
Lesson 2: PLAN AND DOCUMENT
As with most things, the more planning done beforehand, the better the outcome. A well-documented succession plan makes life so much easier when there is a transition of power. Make it a priority. It's great to have passwords and sensitive reports tucked away in a safe place but I wish I had more "how and why" conversations with my mom before she got too sick. Fortunately...