When Dave Povlitz filed his business corporation paperwork in 1989, he was already thinking about who would take over the company when he was ready to retire. Though that day was 30 or so years in the future, he knew that it mattered even then – in the beginning – if he wanted to ensure the continued success of his legacy at Anago Cleaning Systems.
And like many business owners with a family, Dave dreamed of one day watching one of his children – daughter Lisa or son Adam – grow to love his business as much as he did and want to lead its continued growth. But as much as he dreamed of this family legacy, Dave also knew that leading his business had to be something that the next leader – family or not – valued, believed in, and wanted.
To build his company into something both successful and sustainable, Dave established Seven Unifying Principles to guide the company in setting overarching strategy and addressing day-to-day challenges. And it’s these seven principles, or core values, that have guided his approach to succession planning.
1. Believe in People
“You’re not working for me,” Dave told Adam when he graduated from college with a degree in finance. “You need to go out and work and learn something.”
The leader of a company needs to have enviable attention to detail, intricate financial expertise, and great operational/managerial skills. S/he must be a self-starter and a person who is continually creating ways to do everything better. This person is your biggest sales person and brand advocate, the most human and approachable member of your company. And above all, the company CEO must have a great heart.
“We are here for our franchisees’ success,” says Dave. “That’s our motto.” And that’s where Adam started with Anago after he’d worked in corporate America – as a regional franchise development manager helping franchisees get set up and troubleshoot challenges.
2. Have Personal and Professional Integrity
“The difference between good and excellent is a person’s attention to detail while having empathy.”
One of the hardest parts of creating a family legacy through natural succession is avoiding even the appearance of nepotism. When a business owner brings family members directly into a leadership position, they often inherit a target on their backs at the same time. It’s more than just important, it’s critical to ensure that anyone being promoted into a leadership position has a solid foundation in the inner workings of the company.
Before college, Adam had spent some time telemarketing for the Anago franchisees by day and cleaning a daycare center by night. His sister Lisa started out as a bookkeeper while she went to college. Dave worked hard to make sure that both of his children could speak to every part of the business before considering them – or anyone else – for promotion.
3. Give People the Opportunity for Advancement
“No matter what I did, I was only going to ever be one tiny little cog,” explained Adam about what made him start searching for more than the standard career in finance.
When a leader starts to think about succession, it’s tempting to try to think of finding a person who’s ready to just step right in. But the reality is that very few people like that exist – someone with just the right skills, perspective, and knowledge to step out of an existing job and into the CEO shoes. That’s why it’s vital that a company have and support an employee structure that not only allows for a few to grow into new levels of responsibility, but that actively promotes advancement.
The Master franchise structure that Anago uses does exactly that. It put Adam and Lisa through their paces and helped them grow into the leaders they are today. Adam is the Executive Vice President, having worked his way from cleaning technician and telemarketer to regional franchise development manager to financial officer to the executive team leader. Lisa is the Vice President of Internal Operations, having started as one of the bookkeepers, and now oversees 20 administrative staff responsible for telemarketing, regulatory compliance, human resources, and more.
4. Promote Training and Education
“The primary barrier to entry in the cleaning industry is not cleaning, but the other stuff,” claims Adam. “There are smarter ways to do business, and that’s what we teach our franchisees.”
As important as the formal and on-the-job training is that top-level executive candidates bring to the leadership of the company, it’s just as critical to consider the role of all levels of management within the company in two key areas:
- Their need to continue learning and be growing contributors to the existing and future leadership.
- Their ability to impart both skill training and institutional knowledge to other leaders-in-training.
Dave made sure that both Lisa and Adam would value continuous training and education by having them learn the business from lower management roles. They needed both job skill training and company culture experience.
5. Reserve the Right to Make Mistakes
“Move slowly. Analyze the details of a person’s career,” explains Dave. “Try to find someone from within the organization that has grown up while experiencing the ups and downs and pitfalls of growth. It takes a lot of negotiating in every aspect of life to be a great CEO.”
Those mistakes are an important part of evaluating a person’s ability to lead because mistakes expose a person’s ability to exhibit several of the core values. In fact, a question about a mistake is one of the best questions any interviewer can ask a candidate for any position. The value to the person making a mistake is in recognizing the need for change. The value to the interviewer is the glimpse into the candidate’s reaction to change and ability to see and maximize opportunities.
That’s another reason Dave insisted Adam and Lisa both work from deep within the company to earn their current leadership roles: to ensure that they had ample opportunity to make and learn from their mistakes as part of growing into excellent leaders.
6. Provide a Sense of Achievement and Enjoyment
“The best ideas for development come from our franchisees,” says Adam. And as he’s worked with franchisees, Adam has come to value the growth driven by their knowledge.
The greatest sense of self comes with being encouraged to tell a story about what you go through to arrive at a point of resolution. In other words, when you describe a challenge and are also able to explain how you developed a solution. And to do that, you need someone to listen to your story. That’s one of the ways that the success process can bring the excitement of change and inspiration into a company.
Adam has made it an essential part of his role to listen to the company’s franchisees and support their solutions and recommendations for global development.
7. Manage with Goals
“We don’t want to be your father’s cleaning company,” laughs Adam as he starts to list some of the ways the same old goal of growing the company looks so different in a technology-enabled world.
Business growth is driven by a company’s ability to continually differentiate itself from its competitors, and today a company’s use of technology to create an outstanding user experience is critical to meeting that expectation. More business owners are emerging from the millennial generation in their 20s-30s; they are the rising decision makers, and they’ve been conducting business in an app-based, automated, instant information and accountability world.
As the Executive Vice President and CEO-elect, Adam is already moving the company in some new directions with that growth goal:
- Developing tablet-based software to support easier client interactions and improve technician job delivery and unit franchise operations.
- Expanding the franchise both nationally and internationally, empowered by the ability to use technology to bridge many international challenges.
Passing On the Family Business
With Adam poised to advance to CEO upon Dave’s retirement, both had a few additional cautions for business owners who want nothing more than to see their family join and grow their dream into a true family business:
- You – the business owner – have to make sure that son or daughter, sister or brother really want to work in the industry and work hard to develop a full set of leadership skills – even the uncomfortable ones.
- Be careful to compartmentalize emotions when interacting with family members – both at the office and at home.
- Minimize the appearance of a family clique within or above the full leadership team; Dave, Adam and Lisa limit their family time to one lunch a week.
- Power is taken, not given, even within families; be careful to avoid “taking over” before the current CEO is ready to hand over the reins.
Anago Cleaning Systems, led by Chairman and Founder David Povlitz, is enjoying its top growth year ever and will celebrate its 25th Anniversary in 2014. Anago encourages the growth of family-run businesses; in fact, its most successful Master Franchisees are those with a family element in the business dynamic. David has seen the rewards of working at his company with his son Adam, the Executive Vice President, who plays a growing role on the Executive Team of the company, responsible for operations, Master training, and management of vendor relationships.