By: Larry Fish, President
The stage had been set. The company’s founder and patriarch was getting ready to remove himself from the business and pass it on to his son. The son had been working in the business for a while and both of them felt comfortable about the transition of power that was about to occur.
The business had grown slowly but steadily over the past 25 years and developed a superb reputation among its commercial and residential customers who had come to rely on them for completing unique landscape installations that no one else would touch. Many solid, long-term customer relationships had been developed and the resulting word of mouth referrals had been the source of steady and profitable business for many years.
Many of the crew members had been with the company for a long time and the father had made sure he protected their employment even in hard times because they were skilled at their work and cared about his customers almost as much as he did.
“Well, I gotta go,” he said and turned to walk toward his truck. “It’s yours now,’’ he called over his shoulder to his son.
Things started to change shortly afterward. The son started to forget about what it was that made the company successful. He thought it would be neat to convert four acres of their property to a nursery operation. He looked at the equipment maintenance and repair bills and made a snap decision to “take it in house.” Before long, a 4,000 square foot maintenance facility was being built on a freshly poured concrete slab. A mechanic was hired and tools and equipment were purchased. Vehicles started stacking up in front of the shop awaiting parts and maintenance. Crews were put to work doing busy work around the yard while their equipment was being repaired. Accounts payable started piling up. Accounts receivable stayed flat.
His dad starting getting calls from old customers. “What’s going on over there?” they’d ask. “Your crew was supposed to be here a week ago and we haven’t heard a word from them yet.” He was stunned, since this was the first time he could ever remember getting calls like this. Worse yet, they were calling him and not his son. A quick visit to the yard told him all he needed to know. Company trucks that worked fine when he was there were now parked around with their hoods up and parts strewn on the fenders and in their beds. The nursery was over grown with weeds. Dead and dying plants and trees were everywhere. It was a mess and his son was nowhere to be seen.
This story doesn’t end here. It gets worse. The customer base the company had worked so hard to build up was moving away from them. New upscale sub-divisions were being built in another part of town. The company had been out flanked by their competition and was now in jeopardy of losing any market presence they ever had. The lack of focus and journey into other ventures had hurt them badly in terms of financial strength. Cash flow was weak and they had a mountain of debt.
The father had learned a bitter lesson about his son. He was more interested in doing the work than running the business. At the very time he thought he would be enjoying things in life, he was involved with saving the business he had entrusted to his son.
This little narrative is not fiction … it’s true.
The company is in a turnaround mode today. Many of its unprofitable ventures have been sold and it has moved its entire location to a different part of town, smack dab in the middle of a growing, wealthy residential area. The prospects are good, but they are not out of the woods yet. Money is tight and lots of other competitors have been attracted to this growing area. Some of them have deep pockets too. Sadly, the toughest blow they have received is that they have lost 25 years of momentum and have been forced to prove themselves all over again, this time from a diminished financial base.
Drive in the yard today, and you will see a new General Manager in charge. He spends a lot of time biting his nails and worrying about whether or not the payroll will be met this week. The son…well, here he comes now, pulling into the yard at 10 o’clock in the morning in a brand new pick-up. Some things never change.
The dad… he plays a little golf and still comes in a couple of days a week. He bites his nails too.
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