Too Old To Be The Boss

Are business owners hurting their companies by staying in command too long?

Often when leaders step aside to make way for the next generation, their successions are planned, methodical and designed to allow for a smooth transition to the next leader. But as one distributor principle points out, this isn’t always the case. “It’s unfortunate that in some companies, the leaders just hang on to the reins too late.” The business owner asked to remain unnamed as his company is amidst a leadership transition of its own, a move not yet made public.

“I came to the realization that I could actually hinder my company more than help it if I don’t make a change,” he says. “We all have egos, but every leader reaches a point where fresh ideas aren’t fresh anymore. It happened in my family before me, and my father was a visionary. Even though he knew a lot more than I did, he saw that I had energy and ideas and gave me a chance to show what I could do. I want the same opportunity for our company’s next leaders.”

The notion that a leader could be hindering his or her company’s growth is a harsh reality, but it’s one that other GAWDA members see as well. Hereford Welding Supply (Hereford, TX) President Rosendo Gonzalez, agrees that many leaders hang on too long. “You get to an age where you don’t realize where the last 30 or 40 years have gone. That’s why so many people want to hang on—because it doesn’t seem fair. You work so hard, and all the sudden they’re telling you, ‘The door is in that direction, sir.’”

Gonzalez, who will be 60 next year, started the process of giving some control to his son Jeremy about two years ago. “It’s a training process. It’s wise to make sure your successor knows what’s going on and has a good feel for what it takes to run the company.” He adds, “You have to make room for the new generation here and there, otherwise they’re going to starve to death.”

However, David Hodges, president at Hodges Welding Supply (El Campo, TX), warns that letting the next generation take over too early can be treacherous for any company with a history of success. “My son’s champing at the bit,” he says. “The next generation always has a lot of ideas, but we have to be careful. Sure, we can probably get more customers, but at what cost? If we start a price war with our competitors, that’s a battle we’re not going to win.”

Any time a business goes through a change in leadership, there is a risk of losing customers. In “Succeeding With Succession,” Vern Lewis, president of Vern Lewis Welding Supply (Phoenix, AZ) told Welding & Gases Today, “Customers want to know that someone will be there for them, and continuity of ownership is not to be taken lightly.”

Too Old To Be The Boss

Technology can serve as a barometer for when it's time to bring in the next generation.

So how does a business owner know when the time is right to turn over the reins?

Flint Welding Supply President Tom Budae says that technology can be a good barometer. “When my father was running the company, technology was not at the forefront of his mind. He resisted accepting credit cards because he didn’t want to pay what the fee was at the time. But ultimately it gets to the point where you’re not keeping up with the industry. It gets to the point where if you don’t get on board, you’re going to sink.”

Budae adds that sometimes a business needs fresh ideas to thrive. “It’s easy to get comfortable with the way things are instead of changing. The older I get, the more I start to think, ‘I’ll stick with this because it’s easier.’”

Hereford Welding Supply’s Gonzalez says age was a factor in his decision to start training the next generation of leaders. “I’m not old by any stretch in today’s world, but you never know what’s going to happen.” Gonzalez reminds business owners, “We’re all replaceable. The Earth keeps spinning after we’re gone.”

Succession planning is an important measure in helping business leaders prepare for the unexpected. GAWDA members shared their succession stories in “Succeeding With Succession.”

What do you think? At what point should a business owner give up the reins and bring in the next generation of leaders? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association