Perspectives on Succession Planning

May 27, 2014

We just finished up our special report for the June issue of Farm Equipment, and I have to say that it was one of the more enjoyable projects I’ve participated in for some time because it gave me a glimpse into the future of the farm equipment business.

The report focuses on succession planning. But unlike most stories we’ve done on the subject in the past where we’ve focused on the dealer-principals who are making plans to move out, this one looked at the ones who have or are hoping to move in.

Mike Lessiter, Kim Schmidt and I had the great pleasure of interviewing eight young people (mind you, most people are young to me these days) who have been or are being groomed to run the dealerships where they are currently working. It was interesting that, during the process of being interviewed, several of them offered that they had never been interviewed for a story before. Some of them asked as we explored their past experiences and hoped-for futures, “Am I doing OK? I’m kind of nervous” or “I don’t think I said that right.”

The fact is if they didn’t say everything right, they said most things right.

Overall, I was impressed with how they expressed themselves. Their honesty was refreshing and their passion left me thinking, “If these eight are representative of this industry’s next generation of dealers and leaders, I believe we’re in pretty good shape.” I say this because they were not only confident in themselves and their dealerships, but they were also demonstrated a good measure of humility when they talked about need to earn the respect and trust of their customers and staff.

It reminded me of an article by Joel Peterson, chairman, JetBlue Airways, that I read a few months back in preparing for this report. It was entitled, “Want to be a Real Leader? Forget ‘You.’”

His comments on humility are what I remembered best about the piece.

“Strong leaders can often feel that they’re making the vital difference to everything — and everyone — in an organization. They believe that the firm’s legacy and their legacy is one and the same. But that kind of self-importance is toxic to trust building. Leaders with a me-first attitude are often too distracted playing the smartest guy in the room to realize the floodwaters have already begun to rise before they make their exits.

“That's exactly what happened at Enron. When Jeff Skilling proclaimed, ‘I am Enron,’ the energy giant was at its peak. If Skilling had had the humility to pull his head out of the clouds, he might have seen the water was already ankle-high. The hubris of the Lay-Skilling-Fastow team didn’t just destroy Enron; their lack of humility damaged the public’s trust in business leaders generally. With a raft of scandals at WorldCom, Tyco, Global Crossing and Enron, it wasn’t just these companies or their leaders who took the trust hit; we all did.”

If the young folks we interviewed for this special report remember anything about the apprenticeships they served on their way to becoming “leaders,” they need to remember that it’s OK to be confident. But they also need to continue putting people first — both employees and customers. And more than anything else, they must balance their success they achieve with a healthy dose of humility.