Transition in a family business, when generations have varied backgrounds, could be difficult. A mother and two daughters navigate the landmines.
Sarasota health care executive Sue Wise knows the true value of business succession, partly from a family tragedy nearly 40 years ago.
It happened in 1977, when her father and two brothers, who ran a family cattle farm in Michigan, were among seven people who died in a plane crash. Three other employees died in the crash, too, and the business soon began to struggle. “There was nobody left,” says Wise, now CEO of Sarasota-based Take Care Private Duty Home Health Care.
While nothing as nearly dramatic, Take Care, which Wise founded in 1995, recently made a big step in its succession plan: The company named Wise's daughter, Courtney Wise Snyder, president. Snyder, 35, has been with the business since 2008.
Snyder isn't replacing Sue Wise, 62, who has no plans to retire. But the title is a clearer definition of roles at the company, with 575 employees and offices in Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties. Wise will do more of her passion, seeing and helping clients. Snyder will handle day-to-day operations and long-term vision.
“I think adding this layer makes a world of difference,” says Wise, who has a nursing degree and an M.B.A. “This will take the company in a different direction. It's bigger than a succession plan.”
Snyder and her sister Erika Wise Borland, another Take Care executive, who joined the firm 2009, didn't come to the company with a nursing background. Snyder's experience was in gerontology, while Borland, 34, worked in publishing and marketing. Wise believes that's an advantage in succession. Says Wise: “When they came into the business it caused us to look at things differently.”
For the sisters, the pressure is on to maintain Take Care's family-first workplace culture and stellar reputation among clients. Another challenge: The home health care business in the region, with a low barrier to entry, is exceedingly competitive.
One of the first moves, led by Snyder, is a redo of the performance evaluation process, from one year to three times a year. “Sitting down only once a year is a long time to go,” without feedback, says Snyder.
Managers have also worked with staff to create individual goals and department goals. “We want to challenge employees,” says Borland.
Another goal is to host semi-annual meetings with all the employees to talk transition and strategy. The first full meeting was held in June. “We want to be more transparent as a company,” says Snyder.
More changes have come recently in a major overhaul of Take Care's software system that handles reports and schedules. The program cost at least $300,000, not including monthly and other fees. “That was a huge investment,” Borland says. “It's really improved our efficiency.”
Even with the changes, and the early seeds of succession, Wise's lessons learned through two decades of building a company from nothing resonate. A big one: care for clients is always a priority. “You can never rest on your laurels,” says Wise. “Just because something is right today, doesn't mean it will be right tomorrow.”
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