Many B.C. companies have dropped the ball when it comes to succession planning. But the Fuller family is making moves to get it right with their restaurant empire
How does a family ensure the continuation of its business as family members approach retirement age? In the case of the Fuller family, the solution lay with another family, the Jessas.
The Fuller family’s restaurant empire includes major chains Earls, Joey and a controlling financial interest in Cactus Club, as well as some odds and ends. All told, there are some 150 restaurants across North America, employing more than 10,000 people. Moreover, the family part comprises founder Bus Fuller and all four of his sons: Stan, Jeff, Stewart and Clay. Plus there’s the prospect of a third generation as their children come of age.
Over most of the last couple of decades, family roles have evolved in a way that had Stan running Earls and Jeff in charge of Joey, with Stewart and Clay taking on additional roles and projects. (Cactus Club has its own management team with minimal family involvement.) Bus, who is 86, has also maintained an active role in several areas of the business, especially finance and real estate.
In recent years, Jeff and Stan each came to the realization that they should be looking for ways to recede from their roles running the companies and independently found their solutions in the form of twin brothers Al and Mo Jessa, who are 50. Each of the twins started with Earls in the late 1980s, while still at university in Calgary. Highly competitive, the two spent a period of several years not talking to each other as they worked their way up through the ranks, Mo at Earls and Al at Joey; in 2013, Mo was named president of Earls, while earlier this year Al assumed the same position at Joey.
Stan Fuller recognizes the irony in a situation that’s seen a pair of highly competitive brothers replace themselves with another set of brothers who are, if anything, even more competitive. He also thinks that the family was able to dodge a lot of the problems that many businesses face when it comes to succession. “We were lucky in that we had a pair of guys who had been with us for 27 years and worked in every part of the business,” he says. “The trust levels were there.”
Accordingly, the Fullers have turned over all aspects of day-to-day operations, says Stan. “It’s Mo’s company to run,” he says of Earls. “He is my only report.” At the same time, Stan and Jeff retain CEO positions. “I look out at a high level for the brand,” says Stan.
The prospect of a third generation of Fullers taking a role exists, but isn’t imminent, Stan believes. In the meantime, the family has retained advisors to help create a structure that enables decisions to be reached among them. The brothers have the example of an octogenarian father still working day to day, after all. They could be in this for a while.