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Laying the foundation for a successful succession plan


As I prepare to retire from 415 Group this November, I’ve been reflecting on the succession process. When working in a service business like public accounting, you develop many personal relationships. These relationships, in many instances, define who you are as an individual. As important as these personal relationships are, the transition to the next generation is equally important to be sure that your clients — who have become so much more than that — will be taken care of when you retire.

Prepare the next generation

When it comes to succession planning, start preparing the next generation early. Make client introductions while you’re still actively involved in day-to-day operations and available to provide support, whenever needed. Being a part of the transition process reassures clients that they will still be effectively served, after your departure.

Entrusting the next generation with more responsibility gives them the confidence and the freedom they need to grow, so they can continue to challenge themselves both personally and professionally. I’ve joked with our staff that during the transition process, I often feel like a quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes coached by Woody Hayes — hand off the ball and get out of the way.

Transfer your knowledge

The final part of the transition (and probably the most difficult) is going to be the transfer of your history with the client. When you’ve worked with clients for more than 30 years, you become a trusted advisor. There are facts you may know about the family that even other members of the family do not know. It’s a concern for not only the client, but also the new client service representative. I’ve shared with my clients, friends and our staff that I will only be a phone call away, whenever they need me ... even if I’m at the beach (HA!).

Signs of a successful transition

As much as I am looking forward to retirement, it is not without apprehension, as the structure of the job has been there for forty-plus years. Friends have congratulated me, and I’m pleased to see our clients working more closely with our staff. It’s reassuring to see that our clients have embraced the transition, and it speaks volumes to the quality of our team. That being said, I would be remiss to not mention that it’s difficult for me when I spend half the day at a meeting and come back to the office and there are no messages. But I remind myself that this means the transition is going well.

A new chapter

As my retirement date nears, it is consistently on my mind as to what the future will hold. The best advice I have received is this — don’t try to plan too much, just let it happen.

My priority will be spending time with my wife, Paula, whose support and sacrifice were of utmost importance to any success I experienced. We’re looking forward to spending time in Florida, enjoying life and hopefully spending more time with our son, David, who is on the West Coast. It will be new chapter in my life and my family’s life.

One of the most important things I have realized is that I am an individual, and my job does not define me. We all have heard the story of the individual on their death bed who said, “I wish I would have spent less time at the office.” My first client, John Klusch, encouraged me to leave the “Big 8” accounting environment, join a small accounting firm and become more entrepreneurial. John was more dedicated to his business than anyone I ever worked with, and his business was a very important part of his life. As John and his wife, Roene, had no children, he treated me like a son. Six months prior to his death, he called me to the nursing home to share his words of wisdom. He said, “Scotty, you remind me a lot of myself. You need to know that my business was my life. I spent too much time at the office. Remember that.” I never forgot.

The transition to retirement is harder than it might appear and takes longer than you think it should. But with the succession process now almost complete, I can say the effort has been worth it. As the next chapter begins, I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that await.

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