"Some people like to put a lot of emphasis on talent, but I feel it is sometimes overstated. I think you need a blend of experience and ability—the experience part comes over time," explains Bob. "We will try to align them with where their strengths are, but in the beginning they just need to get a feel for how the company works."
The amount of time they spend in each area is entirely dependent on how long it takes them to grasp the role and challenges of each area of the business. It is up to the consultant and department heads to evaluate their performance and decide when they are ready to move on to the next area of the business. Once all six areas are mastered, they will move on to the next step in the transition.
"The rotations are phase one, then they will begin to mentor for leadership in the company. My brother and I don’t intend to retire and walk away at that time," says Bob. "Hopefully we can do as well as my dad did. We told him we wanted responsibility. It wasn’t always easy, but he gave us more and more every day."
Expect some changes, but the same principles remain
The full transition before the third-generation brothers assume leadership roles will be eight to 10 years. At that time, and perhaps during the transition, it would be reasonable to expect some changes. Bob and Dean are already witnessing the effects of the new perspective and positive energy Ted and Ryan bring to the business.
"As you go generation by generation, there are always changes," says Bob. "It is fairly naïve to think it will stay the same. There are foundational principles that have been developed, and those will stay the same and be used and appreciated by the next generation as much as the previous generations. If you are going to bring a family member into a business, they have to be passionate about the business. They can't be there just because they are in the family."
In the last year, Ted and Ryan have both displayed their passion and concern for the business and its success. Dean hopes their presence in the day-to-day operations will help to put others at ease.
"Our employees and our channel have been concerned for a long time about what the future of our company was," says Dean. "People both inside and outside are excited and very receptive to Ted and Ryan and the future of the company. Any time there is possibility of change down the road it’s always a little bit unnerving and unsettling. The best thing is that people can see what kind of people they are and where their heads and hearts are."
Bob says that the day he signed on as president of the company didn’t feel any different than the day before. He and Dean are hoping they can set Ted and Ryan up for just as comfortable a shift. They trust that the decisions made by the third generation will be in line with their core values and have everyone's best interests in mind.
"The person driven by ego wants things to fall apart so everyone will notice they are gone," says Bob. "We look at all the other people beside the owners that have a stake. Suppliers, distributors, over 1,000 dealers, and the end customers that bought the product with the promise that there would be spare parts and continued support. When you look at it that way, it becomes less about 'me' and more about 'us'. When you have that view, careful succession planning makes perfect sense."
Ted and Ryan's goals are in line with Bob's desire to take each person the Walker brand touches into consideration when they take on their future responsibilities. Their time spent in the different rotations during the transitional process is helping them to better understand each individual involved.
"The rotations are certainly valuable from a purely educational standpoint, but what I've discovered to be even more important is the opportunity to develop relationships with the people that really make this business possible," explains Ted. "We are dependent on people to be successful, and we have a great group of people here at Walker and in our distribution channel."
Along with great people, the brothers have a growing respect for Walker products. Ryan says he hopes to maintain the company's core principles while helping Walker Mowers continue to create innovative products.