Walker Mowers has long been known as being family-owned, operated and oriented. As the third generation makes their transition into the business, many of the company's dealers and end-users are wondering what changes are in store. To assist with the transition, a consultant has been brought on to see it through. The hands-on, thorough transition will likely lead to some changes in the end, but the company's core values will remain the same.
Trusting in an expert for the transition
When brothers Bob and Dean Walker took over the family business decades ago, it was a very different transition in a different time. The company was smaller, still coming into its own. As Dean's sons Ryan and Ted begin their transition, Bob and Dean reflect on their own experience and the transition they hope to facilitate for the third generation.
"When I started with my dad, it was 15 people and we did a lot of different things," says Bob. "I basically just came to work and learned the business. The company now is 150 to 160 people. The complexity of the company and business today is a lot different from 30 years ago."
Bob and Dean spent a lot of time working in the business experiencing the day-to-day activities. The time they spent there prepared them for an unfortunate event that required an immediate transition. Father and founder Max Walker had a stroke that left the company in the hands of his sons. Bob now oversees the business and marketing, while Dean oversees product development and manufacturing.
"When we joined we did so in purely a working role," says Dean. "We were in survival mode as a company and didn’t know where we were going or if we had a future. The transition came much later, but by that time we had been involved in the business and working with our parents for years. It was almost a seamless transition when it happened."
As the company has grown and the day-to-day business has become more complex, the brothers agreed that bringing on a consultant for the succession would help their chances at another smooth and successful transition.
"We both felt that instead of trying to be the trainers in a family setting, it would be better to have someone that is more objective," says Bob. "My brother and I are both very emotionally connected to the business. You tend to get into your groove or way of thinking. It's good to have the next generation ask a lot of questions and have a better answer than 'that’s the way we have always done it.'"
The consultant will not only be a neutral party to bounce thoughts and ideas off of, but is specialized in the succession process and possesses the tools Bob and Dean may not.
"Like a lot of things, if you try to wade through the water yourself, you will find it to be much more difficult than if you have somebody to guide you through the process," explains Dean. "Part of the function is the outside perspective our consultant gives us and them. He can listen and advise based on his experience and perspective."
Time on the job gaining experience
Bob and Dean gleaned their experience with Walker Mowers through many years on the job. While they gained a lot of experience before their transition into their more active roles, it was not a premeditated transition.
"It was much less intentional than what we are doing," says Dean. "We are in a much quicker transition as far as the time between bringing them in and when we plan to turn the business over to them. It is going to be a much shorter time period and there is a lot more pressure on them than what Bob and I had on us."
The consultant has developed a plan that involves Ted and Ryan spending periods of time experiencing and proving their knowledge in six areas of the business. Those six areas are: finance, manufacturing, engineering, purchasing, customer service, and sales and marketing. The consultant has worked with the heads of each of these departments to develop a curriculum for teaching the ins and outs to Ted and Ryan through hands-on experience.