So as previously described, we have now had our first Operating Board of Directors meeting after twenty-five years of dancing around and not substantively working together to supervise or operate the business. The new CEO has got his feet on the ground and had demonstrated that he is a superior manager as compared to his predecessor. All are generally comforted that the new CEO decision appears to have been appropriate. Furthermore, there are a few other family business pearls of wisdom to be learned from this experience.
First the Mom, her two sons and even the CFO kept stepping on each other. The simultaneous efforts to be heard as well as to show knowledge and capability resulted in a mild and gentle form of chaos. Thank God for PowerPoint because most of the time I was not able to make sense out of most of what was said. Mom wanted to let everyone know she was still in control, the boys wanted to let management know they were a force to be dealt with and the CFO wanted to show everyone how smart he was. Thank goodness the new CEO was comfortable in this environment and did not compete for the podium. He allowed time for everyone to burn off their pent up insecurities and enthusiasm and allow me to fulfill what I promised which was to control the room. At one point before I concluded that the chaos had gone far enough I believe everyone in the room was talking at the same time. It was not uncommon for us to have two independent heated debates over nothing. The good news is I had low expectations for this meeting was to review year to date performance and get everyone to agree on the next meeting. And the bad news is that we barely fulfilled my expectations. This convergence of low expectations with the general frustration of all those who participated sets me up to convey another family business succession planning theorem: good meetings rarely just happen, they require forethought and practice.
After an hour and a half of reading the CEO’s PowerPoint and tolerating the gibberish I compelled everyone to stop talking for just a moment and asked them to reflect on what had occurred. Fortunately everyone agreed that the meeting was good as in better than no meeting at all but had to get better. Recognizing that collaboration was a new venture for this group we agreed that the group had to learn how to “operate” as a Board of Directors. In the absence of a better idea I suggested and they agreed that I would serve as parliamentarian and the group would respect my conclusion of who had the floor and how long they should speak. I would not have a vote but I would be responsible for order and productivity of the time we were investing into learning how to be an Operating Board. Note to self, the first step to learning how to operate a Board is have a plan. Sounds over simplified but maintaining order is not rocket science. History proves a plan for maintaining order is a fundamental component to an Operating Board of Directors.
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