There comes a time in every executive or entrepreneur’s life when they have to decide if they want to continue doing what they’re doing or make a change.
Deciding when to cash in your chips and walk away from the great poker game that is business used to be called retirement, but in the modern world where people can have five or more careers in a lifetime, it’s simply called a transition. Today, because careers are so much shorter, these times of self-reflection and re-evaluation occur more frequently and are often more acute. Problem Geoffrey Hair, co-founder of the Blenz coffee chain, recently had to face this moment of truth. In 1991, Hair founded the franchise chain with two partners, and he was its president for 12 years. Two years ago, at age 45, he stepped away and became a director. During his tenure, Hair had seen the chain grow from a couple of stores to 82 locations in B.C., Japan, China and the United Arab Emirates. The Blenz system now shows about $35 million in annual sales and employs 850 people. Hair also saw his role as president change considerably as the chain grew. Click here to read Tony's blog. “When you start a company from the ground, it can be fun,” he explains. “I liked to greet customers and talk to them. But growth changes things: it requires more technology, more managing. You have to codify everything, build systems, write manuals. Then you have to worry about taxes, documentation, hiring and all those things. There arrived a time when I realized I wasn’t enjoying it as much as when I started, so I probably wasn’t as good at it as I could have been.” Solution Hair was also an older father with a young family he wanted to spend time with. This requirement for work-life balance, combined with his sense that the thrill of building a company was waning, led him to look for a successor to handle the day-to-day managing. He found one in Mark West, a valued head-office employee who was displaying good instincts for the role. Hair began grooming him to take it over. Hair’s first step was to let West know he had been identified as the designated successor. The next was to help him soak up all the knowledge required to juggle the many demands of managing. This kind of on-the-job training included such subtleties as being able to understand the needs of franchisees as well as the overall franchisor. It also required some skills upgrading and training. And it required some mentoring. “The main thing,” explains Hair, “was to fill the role. I told him to act like the president, even if he wasn’t the president, so he could understand it. He’d take on more responsibility, and we’d meet once a week to discuss issues.” When the time for the full transition came, Hair didn’t just leave; he simply moved to an office next door, where he became more involved in the chain’s international expansion strategy. There was a door between his office and the new president’s office. When Hair’s door was open, it was a signal that he was available for mentoring; when it was closed, it meant he could not be involved in operational issues. Since the transition, Hair has found new joy in his work because he’s once again involved more in growing the company than in running it. And apparently, West learned not only how to be president but also how to stop being one. In February, he moved over to spearhead operational and product development initiatives. George Moen, a veteran franchise developer and executive, became the new president. So the transitioning continues. Lessons • Know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. If you’re enjoying yourself, you can stay in the game; if not, get out. It’s not worth it to anyone if you stay when your heart’s not in it. • Exit gracefully. If you have a key role, ensure there is a transition strategy in place. • Smooth the transition. Just walking out the door might leave the organization in a lurch. Better to do it slowly in gradual stages.