“Good morning, Jacob. Thank you for the fine dinner last evening. It was nice to spend time with you and Sandy. It is very apparent that you married above yourself.”
“Oh yes, Loyd. You continue to have an outstanding ability to pick up on the obvious,” he responded with a chuckle. Dr. Merlot, my succession planning alter-ego, joined us as we enjoyed a cup of coffee before continuing the prior day’s discussion about Successor Development Curriculums for Jake Jr. and Sally, Jacob’s son and daughter who were both working in the dealerships.
Putting my coffee down, I grabbed my pad reviewing my notes from the previous day. “Okay; we stopped as we were wrapping up our thoughts on Sally and were about to begin discussing Jake Jr. Before we jump right in, allow me to review what you expressed as your vision for Sally, who already completed her MBA and has been working here a couple of years. You stated you felt that she would do well in HR, you expect her to get married and you believe she will be a great mother to your future grandchildren.”
“Yes,” responded the second-generation owner of an impressive three-franchise campus. “She’s very bright and aggressive, but I believe that as soon as she meets Mr. Right she will follow in her mother’s footsteps.”
“Are you talking about the same Sally I know?” countered Dr. Merlot. “All I have ever heard her talk about is business. She is beyond bright, strong as an acre of garlic and focused as a heat-seeking missile. She could handle HR for your 200 employees before the morning coffee break and I’m guessing you know she is considered the best desk manager in the building.”
“Really?” responded Doc. “If you believe her highest role is the production of your grandchildren, why did you encourage her to get her MBA?”
“Frankly we did not have a job for her at the time,” he responded curtly looking straight at Dr. Merlot to hopefully shut him up. “And truthfully,” he continued, directing his attention back to me, “Staying in school was better than her pestering me. Her mother convinced me to create the HR role for her.”
Realizing that an argument between these two hardheads was going to get us nowhere, I seized control of the discussion. “So you don’t anticipate that Sally’s Successor Development Curriculum should include the NADA Dealer Academy, sales training, service training and working in the various departments?”
“Hell no!” responded Jacob with a smile. “I don’t even know why we are wasting time talking about her curriculum. You cannot imagine the amount of time she can spend on the phone with my wife. I am totally convinced that her best place is at home. I want her to do anything it takes to meet her husband. The only guys she meets here are self-serving jerks who want to marry money. Now Jake, he’s another story. You ought to see this guy hit a golf ball. He could have gone on tour but he hurt his back playing football in high school. I want to see a plan for him to go to the Dealer Academy right away. After he graduates, I anticipate we should move him out of the internet department for a brief stint as the new car GSM and then promptly to new car manager. I’ll be 66, maybe 67 by then and he can take this desk. I want to spend winters at my place in Phoenix and summers working on the farm about an hour from here. I might try to play a little more golf too; maybe even enter a few pro-ams.”
“Better send Jake to play in the pro-ams, dude,” offered Doc as he crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.
“What do you mean by that Doc?” responded Jacob who was noticeably perturbed that someone was not accepting his plan as the gospel.
“What I mean Jacob, is you should send Jake to play in the pro-ams because he is not going to be ready to run these dealerships in two or three years. I would even venture to say that if we could get him to tell the truth—which is very unlikely because you intimidate him so much—he would tell us that he does not want to be the leader. This young man is very detailed, not particularly sociable and very comfortable working alone. Do you realize that you son is quite the computer whiz?”
“Computer whiz!” rebutted Jacob. “All kids are computer whizzes. But my son is a natural leader. He played quarterback in high school, and I have no doubt that he will make a great dealer,” After this heated exchange, Jacob looked over to me for support.
“Jacob, there’s no doubt you have confidence in your vision that Jake will be your successor. But, I have to agree with Doc. We are hearing a different story.”
“How could you be hearing something different? All he has ever talked about is working in the dealership and his sister just talks houses, cooking and stuff with my wife.”
“The reason we are hearing something different is we are listening,” blurted Doc to get back in the debate. “You are so sold on your vision that you have not taken the time to listen to what your kids are saying. The reason Sally talks to your wife is because you will not listen to her, something incidentally that you dear wife excels at. This is going to be a shocker to you,” Doc asserted with a big smile. “Do you know what Sally talks to her Mom about?”
“Of course!” Jacob responded with frustration.” I just told you! They talk about houses, cooking and all that woman stuff!”
“Brace yourself, that’s what they talk about only when your wife knows you are listening because she knows you get mad when you hear her expressing her opinion on how operations could be improved. When you are not listening, they are talking business. Your daughter loves this place. When you go out of town, she goes straight to the desk.”
Dr. Merlot scooted up to the edge of his seat with anticipation for dropping his next bomb. “And you know why the managers don’t rat Sally out for working the desk? They love her intensity; they respect her! She really adds value!”
Then the Doc took a deep breath and leaned back into his chair to confidently deliver his close. “She would pay you to work here. She loves this business. Dude, it is high time that you stopped pushing your vision upon your children about how they should live their lives. If you are genuinely interested in succession, it is high time that you listen and start promoting a plan compatible to the feelings, goals and core competencies of your successors. I guarantee you, if you dropped dead tonight, Sally would be your lead successor and Jake would love supporting her. The biggest deal is that the manufacturers would love it too.”
Jacob sat back in his seat and gazed down at his desk. We were now in one of those profoundly loud, yet quiet moments. It was apparent that Jacob was pondering what to say, which I anticipated would include developing a Successor Development Curriculum for Sally. The silence was unusual and offered a vestige of hope that what we offered had impacted Jacob’s thinking. Jacob then looked at Doc and then quickly popped over to me with a smile. “Okay, do you want to talk NADA Dealer Academy dates for Jake? Let’s keep him on the hot path!”
“Holy crap!” I thought to myself as I stared back at Jacob while trying to recover from a profound face plant. I then looked over to Dr. Merlot who was already staring at me with his shoulders slumped in disbelief. “How ’bout those Cowboys!” I chuckled.
“Beware of Washington!” Doc responded with a forced smile. He then looked back over to Jacob and offered, “The difficult we do right away; the impossible takes a little time. So, we will check on the January class for Jake. Next subject?”
Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to stay informed on how to overcome related succession planning issues.