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Episode 38: Psychological Barriers to Transition in Family Business

In this episode of the Family Biz Show, host Michael Palumbos engages with guests Renee Fellman and Stephen Rolfe to delve into the complex world of family business transitions. The discussion highlights the crucial blend of psychological and practical considerations essential in navigating these often challenging waters.

Renee Fellman, a seasoned turnaround expert, shares her journey from teaching to becoming a mayor and eventually specializing in business turnarounds, with a significant focus on family-owned enterprises. She emphasizes the common pitfalls in family business transitions, such as inadequate planning, selecting inappropriate successors, and the failure to adapt to changing business landscapes. Fellman stresses the importance of having a concrete, action-oriented plan that includes clear roles, responsibilities, and accountability measures to ensure successful business continuity.

Stephen Rolfe, originally trained as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, brings a unique perspective on the psychological dynamics at play in family businesses. He discusses the challenges leaders face, including the loneliness at the top and the pressures associated with leadership roles. Rolfe also touches on the significance of external advisors or boards in providing objective insights and helping family businesses make informed, strategic decisions about succession and transition.

The conversation underlines the critical need for family businesses to distinguish between family and business interests, ensuring decisions are made in the best interest of the business's future. It highlights the importance of preparing the next generation for leadership roles, whether within the family business or elsewhere, advocating for a balanced approach that fosters personal growth and business success.

In summary, this episode offers a comprehensive look at the intricate interplay between the psychological elements and practical strategies essential for successful transitions in family businesses. It provides valuable insights for family business members, advisors, and anyone interested in the sustainability and growth of these unique enterprises.

Episode 38 Transcript


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Michael Palumbos: Welcome everybody to the family biz show my name is Michael Columbus from family wealth and legacy here in Rochester New York, where we actually have a little bit of sun it's one of the seven days were allotted.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I want to welcome everybody, today we are going to be talking about the psychological and practical pitfalls in family business transitions and we have two incredible guests with us today renee fellman and Stephen Roth welcome both of you.

 

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Renee Fellman: Thank you, Michael.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Thank you very much.

 

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Michael Palumbos: glad that you are here um as we dive into this conversation, and before we dive into this conversation rather what one of the traditions that we have on the show is we just ask people to.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Tell us about your journey, how did you end up where you know you're engaged with family businesses, you know 20 years ago that wasn't even a career path today there's actually courses and whatnot at universities that are teaching, you know some of those you know.

 

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Michael Palumbos: frameworks and whatnot so renee why don't you kick us off tell us about what you do and about your journey.

 

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Renee Fellman: So my journey, I think, by any definition is Sir cute what has been circuitous so my undergraduate degree from northwestern is in history, after I graduated I taught eighth grade for four years, trust me Michael if you can handle eighth graders you can handle anything.

 

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Renee Fellman: At the ripe old age of 30 I was the first woman elected to the city council of beaverton Oregon two years later at 32 I was elected mayor.

 

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Renee Fellman: In the same election, however, there was a charter change and the position to which I had been elected was abolished the form of government was changed and I didn't want the new position, so I ended up running the campaign for the guy, who was the first to be elected.

 

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Renee Fellman: Then I went back to get my MBA and while I was in my MBA program there was a woman in the Program.

 

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Renee Fellman: who's the guy she was living with lead hospital turnarounds and as soon as I heard about turnarounds I knew that's what I wanted to do, I mean think about it, anyone who teaches eighth grade is a challenge junkie right.

 

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Renee Fellman: And so, when I after my after I got out of my Program.

 

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Renee Fellman: At that time, you know you're talking about a family business, not being a thing turnarounds weren't really a thing this is 1986.

 

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Renee Fellman: Here, and so I told people i'm looking for a company that needs an organizer and they had seen me organize everything.

 

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Renee Fellman: From the PTC rummage sale to the neighborhood effort to fight City Hall to running political campaigns, so it only took me three months to get my first project and actually my first three clients were family on businesses.

 

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Renee Fellman: So at this point i've been leading turnaround since 1986 I was the first woman to win the turnaround of the year award from the International turnaround management association.

 

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Renee Fellman: For my turnaround of a publicly held but family controlled company, the third largest supplier of culture, media in North America.

 

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Renee Fellman: And about two thirds of my clients have been family owned businesses i've been an outside consultant for 12 and actually served as interim CEO for 11 family owned businesses.

 

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Renee Fellman: So I am a doctor to sick businesses, the thing the thing I want you to understand is i'm never on the preventive side, I can tell you Oh, I can tell you the problems that have been caused by transition mistakes.

 

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Michael Palumbos: awesome, thank you for sharing.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Stephen.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: So my.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: My my background is equally circuitous but a different circuit i'm trained originally trained as a physician a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst and in earlier in my career, I worked with eighth graders as well.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Really, well, I was the.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: director of an Inpatient psychiatric facility for children for many years and founded a number of Inpatient children's units and adolescent units and it was really partly by working.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: In the psychiatric facility that I became interested in organizations how organizations work how organizations function, because it was a time of downsizing.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Because managed care had come into health care.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: We were faced with a situation where we were having shorter and shorter lengths of stays with more and more difficult patients.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: And it created a lot of challenges for the for the staff who were very committed and had worked in.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: A situation of you know, long term care with with chronically ill children to overnight having to treat kids for very brief lengths of stay and with limited resources, it really became a challenge as to how to keep up the staff morale so I became very interested in organizational work.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: On the other side, I had a private practice, and I was seeing a lot of.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Entrepreneurs CEOs and family business owners in my private practice and more and more was noticing, especially with the family business owners how I would bring the.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: families of the business owners into therapy, because I was trained as a family therapist as well, and more and more, I began to see that a lot of the problems that the.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: business owners were coming to see me with were connected to their businesses and were inseparable from their businesses, so I became.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: more interested in family businesses from from that perspective and decided to pursue some advanced training and family business advising through family firm Institute and.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: From from that time forward I.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: develop the practice that consists of consulting and advising CEOs entrepreneurs and family business owners on anything really having to do with the psychological aspects of management leadership.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Addressing.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: conflict and any leadership challenges they have, many of which have.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: To do with transitions and succession planning i've also.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: focused on my practice on working with leaders who are facing a personal life crisis or health crisis and how that's impacting their organizations.

 

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Great.

 

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Michael Palumbos: we're going to me today we're talking about the pitfalls, and some of the mistakes that families make and that's where I spend the bulk of our time, but Stephen You said something that I just want to make.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I want i'd like you to share when you are in private practice dealing with entrepreneurs and family business owners, if you had if you had to categorize the top.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Three or four things that were common for people to come in and want to talk about how would you how would you a group those What would you say, those are.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: I would say.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: They have to do with.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: anxiety over being in a leadership position you know, no one no one's prepared.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: To take on a.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: leadership position to the degree to which they have to lead and you can you can educate people, and you can try to prepare, but until they're actually in the role of having the kind of responsibility that.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: That leaders have whether a family business or non family business, you know the phrase it's lonely at the top, it really rings true and it rings true to a lot of people.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: So I see.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: I would say that you see primarily anxiety it's manifest in terms of anxiety uncertainty self doubt, how did I get here, am I really supposed to be here there's sometimes feelings of imposter picture.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: that's very common feeling.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: and

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: that's on the.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: seo side of the business, I would say, on the with the entrepreneurs, there is certainly anxiety, but you'll also see frequently depression and.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Depression because so many startups fail such a high percentage fail, we of course only hear and see the successes there's there's tremendous pressure tremendous pressure on.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: The entrepreneur to succeed and and and tremendous stress associated with that, as well as as depressive feelings when it looks like it really may or may not work out.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Sure, so you are dealing in the vocal world long before it was a thing huh right renee what why don't you kick us off talking about these transition.

 

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Michael Palumbos: mistakes are pitfalls, you are the transition person you're that the rescue person so you've seen these mistakes and and the pitfalls Would you mind just you know let's.

 

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Michael Palumbos: and Steve I want to say thank you because the reason why I asked you for that and I apologize.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I missed saying this is that I want people to know that they're not alone.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Those those things are very common anxiety and the pressure and dealing with uncertainty that's normal part of being in a family business or being an entrepreneur being a CEO, and so I just wanted to.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I wanted to make that real I wanted to make that I wanted to normalize that a little bit for people just to let them know that they're not alone.

 

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Michael Palumbos: The same thing when it comes to these these transition pitfalls and whatnot you've seen so many of these renee that I want people to be aware of what's happening.

 

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Renee Fellman: Well, in terms of mistakes.

 

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Renee Fellman: I had where to start so Steve it actually in our correspondence, it sent an email saying one of the problems is that people just don't plan for it at all.

 

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Renee Fellman: I actually yesterday was just interviewed for a turnaround project, the CEO of the company his parents died within a year of each other and at age 18 with no college and no training became the CEO.

 

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Renee Fellman: This guy has no idea about how to run a company he happens to be extremely talented on the product side so obviously that's one i've had several situations like that, where there was just zero planning, what if something happens to whoever's running the company.

 

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Michael Palumbos: yeah and.

 

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Michael Palumbos: On that note it's so important right because.

 

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Michael Palumbos: We always think it's going to happen to somebody else.

 

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Michael Palumbos: But it's never going to happen to me it's only happens to other people.

 

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Michael Palumbos: So right yeah so number one is lack of plan.

 

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Renee Fellman: yeah you know planning failing to plan is planning to fail, another is, I would say, picking the wrong successor.

 

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Renee Fellman: And i'd actually be interesting to interested in knowing what Steve thinks about this, I have had several situations in which the son of the founder ends up running the company.

 

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Renee Fellman: And the sons are under assertive my theory, in some cases i've known, the father and some not my theory about that has been that you have very assertive.

 

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Renee Fellman: Father and the sons do this to please them they met sometimes they don't really want to do it, and in the remember I only see the failures I don't see the successes and often they really don't have the skill set.

 

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Renee Fellman: Another is.

 

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Renee Fellman: I.

 

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Renee Fellman: It really has to do it well, another thing that happens is sometimes the founder picks a successor, I had a third generation own packaging company.

 

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Renee Fellman: And the founder decided that his granddaughter should run the company.

 

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Renee Fellman: She always assumed she would be running the company absolutely when I got there, she was not actually no one was running the company when I got there, but again.

 

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Renee Fellman: Just because she was cute and lively didn't mean that she would be the right person to run the company, and so one of the issues I think, is that companies do not step back to think about what are the qualifications to run a company, and if we can we can talk about that a little more.

 

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Renee Fellman: Another is that people have gotten bad advice from their advisors.

 

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Renee Fellman: I in.

 

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Michael Palumbos: You know what I throw into that one renee is you don't know what you don't know, and so we trusted these advisors, to get us to where we are, but those advisors may not be able to get us where we need to go.

 

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Renee Fellman: yeah and so, for example in 2016 I had a second generation family on business and the founder.

 

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Renee Fellman: had two sons and one of them was running the company neither son was qualified nor.

 

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Renee Fellman: able really to run the company and he told me he said I knew I was making a mistake but everybody told me, I had to turn over the reins turn over the reins well, it may be true that it was time to turn over the reins but probably to some.

 

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Renee Fellman: Non family member so that's another thing i've seen another one is there is.

 

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Renee Fellman: A lot of the companies never change the way they did things the third generation family owned business I described, they were doing things exactly the way the grandfather had done them, and you know what things had changed.

 

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Renee Fellman: So those are those are.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Great well.

 

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Renee Fellman: yeah Those are some of the things.

 

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Michael Palumbos: ya know those are those are wonderful and you know it's funny I was just talking with a family that's coming on the show in a future episode.

 

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Michael Palumbos: And they talked about their ability to change through the years dramatically, and that that was what made them successful so they're going into their fifth generation.

 

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Michael Palumbos: yeah they just touched the member of the fifth generation just started working there, and you know if they were still trying to do with the great great grandfather did.

 

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Michael Palumbos: He was in the recycling business of recycling rags.

 

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Michael Palumbos: guess what that's not an industry that even exists any longer, and so you know and renee I think you'll appreciate this we We always talk with clients to say when's the last time you did a.

 

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Michael Palumbos: SWOT analysis with the mini Max and they're like what the heck is that we will swap this you know the strengths weaknesses opportunities and threats, but then you have to on top of doing the SWOT.

 

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Michael Palumbos: You do the mini Max how do I minimize the threats and weaknesses and how do I maximize the opportunities and strengths and if you can, if you're focused on those pieces right.

 

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Michael Palumbos: That it probably helps to go back to like what you said Steve i'm dealing with the uka i'm dealing with uncertainty i'm dealing with change, but if I have that if i'm Thinking forward.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I might be able to see things in the you know coming to at me that I might not have thought about without an exercise like a SWOT analysis and i'm sure you probably take them to the nth degree right.

 

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Renee Fellman: My process is actually a little different but that's a separate topic.

 

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Michael Palumbos: And okay um so Steve when you talk about pitfalls and mistakes that families make during transitions there anything you'd like to add to what renee was saying.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: yeah I think I think renee outlined a lot of this significant pitfalls fairly well I would drill down on some of them, but first I want to underline her her main comment of.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Failure to plan is planning to fail, I don't know where that phrase originally came from, but it certainly it's certainly appropriate, and I think a lot of the.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: A lot of the difficulties really fall under that that rubric really as well as.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: A failure or a problem with.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Asking the difficult questions and and facing the difficult questions in terms of what does the transition, or what does a succession plan really, really entail and what does it really mean and what does it really mean.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: To to the family.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: So you know when we talk about when we talk about you know planning for these transitions we talk about both contingency plans and succession plans, and of course the contingency plan was what you were referring to before Michael he sudden a sudden change.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know when Jamie diamond gets hit by the bus which, of course, actually happened, as we know, recently when he I think he had a.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: A word again aneurysm that he miraculously survived, but he had an entire plan in place right and and it, you know exactly what was going to happen all during the time that that that he was ill.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: And so, but but few family businesses, in particular, do have those.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: They don't have those plans in place and they they so that the kinds of stories that renee was mentioning about children having to take over a business suddenly even the children who are in the businesses, they they're not really prepared.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: they're they're prepared to work in the business but they're not prepared to run the business, even if they've been in the business, for you know many years.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: So.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know, along along with that, I mean there are many things involved with this question about planning.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: One of course one book, maybe most important is who does the planning and how it, how is, how is that How does that process occur because that gets into the whole question about governance and the whole question about.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: about having a board of directors meaningful board of directors or Board of advisors and how much do does the founder.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: use a board of advisors and and rely on a board of advisors, particularly when there's a question about you know what the succession what the contingency or succession plan should be and one one example.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: I think that fits with what renee was was was bringing up and when you talk about the question about a successor.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Yes, sometimes there's pressure to pick a child who may not really want to be in the business right and they feel this tremendous sense of obligation.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: And you know have have difficulty, saying that they you know don't want to do it, they want to go in another direction they want to do something different, I mean that's.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: that's a dynamic that you see frequently another dynamic that you see in this may be actually more common in non family businesses, but I think it, it also occurs and family businesses.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: A kind of confirmation.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: bias in the sense that the the the CEO.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Either consciously or unconsciously pick someone just like him or herself right right where the business as you were saying Michael the business the needs of the business.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: may really be quite different for what's necessary in the future, but because of that that bias of picking someone there to resemble oneself and that's where of course the the advisory board or.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Steve i'm gonna cut you off for just a second because we're going to talk about those tools and techniques in a second.

 

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Michael Palumbos: And some of the ways to get out there, but what you started to allude to are some of the typical causes.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Of these mistakes that renee brought out renee you know why don't you jump in, and you know if you can add to what else do you see, as some of the other, the common mistakes or the causes, you know, and maybe then we'll we'll go back and forth on how to prevent them.

 

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Renee Fellman: No.

 

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Renee Fellman: it's good no it's frankly as i'm talking I it's just been delightful and I want to thank you, I really wouldn't have known Steve had you not invited us to be here and his perspectives.

 

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Renee Fellman: I guess have enhance some of the things that I.

 

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Renee Fellman: have seen and felt and so it's been really interesting for me, and I hope the people attending will will have the same experience as he was talking, I guess, when you're talking about.

 

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Renee Fellman: Trying to pick a successor who's, just like the founder I think sometimes when people are getting ready to pick the successor, they see the problems of the founder, and so they try to pick somebody who's different instead of stepping back and thinking, what do we need.

 

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Renee Fellman: So that's one another issue that I have seen is.

 

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Renee Fellman: that sometimes the culture of the family becomes the culture of the business.

 

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Renee Fellman: And, of course, depending on whether it's a family that's super Nice or a family that's super competitive, you know that can have but, for example in my turnaround of the year, these people were just there is no one nicer than this family.

 

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Renee Fellman: And I mean they had operations in the US and Canada and.

 

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Renee Fellman: If you were a nice person, you could work at the company.

 

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Michael Palumbos: There was that fit their culture.

 

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Renee Fellman: There was absolutely no accountability.

 

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Renee Fellman: mm hmm no no confrontation and so that's that's another thing i've also as we're you know we've been talking i've been thinking about how.

 

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Renee Fellman: I i'm sort of focusing on what's different what the problems are in family businesses, as opposed to non family businesses, some years ago.

 

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Renee Fellman: I had an employee owned company and I thought, well, this will be great you know everyone will be on the same track it'll be so much easier than a family business wrong.

 

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Renee Fellman: Every employee is a member of the family, but you don't have the issue of the culture of the family becoming the culture of the.

 

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Renee Fellman: Business and and that's the difference another thing when we're talking about failing to plan is planning to fail and this actually goes across all companies, not one of my clients has had a business plan.

 

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Renee Fellman: I have had 38 separate clients, not one has had a plan.

 

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Renee Fellman: You know i've worked with companies with revenues, ranging from a million a year to to over 200 million a year, not one is had a business plan I don't think they know what a business plan is and we We may want to talk about that later, but that's.

 

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Renee Fellman: that's another issue, another is the the new CEO or President comes in and no, there is no established way of evaluating that person's performance.

 

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Renee Fellman: And that can be an issue with if it is a family member or even if it is not even if it's a non family member Co.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Great what you know we so we talked about.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I think you know what Steve what you alluded to, and renee and i'm just kind of taking some of the things that you said and Steve I think at the end of the day, that a lot of the mistakes and tell me, you know feel free to.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Take my words and mesh them, however, you need them to be but a lot of the mistakes and the causes, probably come from the internal biases the psychological side of what we're thinking, would you, would you agree with that that you've seen some things like that.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Or how would you expand upon that maybe make make that make that come up better.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Well, you know it look at it, it may be that the.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Everyone can't do everything and it may be that the personality characteristics that lead someone to you know found and run a company are.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: are different from the you know from from from the personality characteristics that that lead one to say well it's you know that they want to become a.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Essentially, a mentor or an educator or one to think about you know spend time thinking about what's going on and going to you know happen with this business or what's going to happen.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: In the next generation, or they may be people that are prone towards action rather than reflection, you know and they may be focused, you know much more on what what to do with a business next they don't really want to think too much about the messiness of the interpersonal challenges.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: that are associated with with with planning, for you know for the next generation, and you know.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: would like to just leave that for someone else or for another day.

 

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Michael Palumbos: You know a lot of times I think go ahead renee.

 

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Renee Fellman: Well, you you brought up the issue of unconscious bias and I.

 

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Renee Fellman: Steve will know much more about the wise.

 

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Renee Fellman: Or maybe how to fix it but.

 

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Renee Fellman: We all.

 

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Renee Fellman: see things through the lens of our DNA and our personal experiences and that's true of everyone.

 

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Renee Fellman: And so, one of the issues that I have seen and sometimes actually saying family businesses is we're all sitting in the same theater but we're seeing a different movie.

 

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Renee Fellman: And I think that is another source of problems in terms of unconscious bias.

 

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Renee Fellman: Personally I.

 

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Renee Fellman: I wish that there would be more attention focused on this in business, in general, several years ago I read sheryl Sandberg book.

 

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Renee Fellman: And she was really talking about women in business, but she told this, but she cited a case study that was done in the Harvard Business School where they I want to give you an example, I hope, you'll sorry if I go this way it's a little.

 

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Michael Palumbos: off no I mother.

 

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Renee Fellman: Okay, so she there was a case study and they divided this MBA class into two groups both groups had men and women in them.

 

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Renee Fellman: They had two identical case studies, except in one case study the manager was a woman in the other case study the manager was a male.

 

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Renee Fellman: And both groups both groups, even though the facts were the same both groups saw the man man and the woman differently.

 

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Renee Fellman: And I like to think of myself as being very objective right so fast forward a few months later, I met a meeting a business meeting and i'm sitting next to a board member and this woman.

 

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Renee Fellman: from some Canadian company and I spend all my time talking to him guess who the CEO of the company is the woman who I didn't even talk to so we're I think that we are, we all have that and don't realize it and it's a bigger factor than people realize, I think.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I think that's really, really, really important and I and Steve you started to talk about you know the Boards or the Advisory Board earlier and I think that that's kind of if you had to you know between the two of you, what is the role of the board in your opinions for the families.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: I want, I do want to get to that Michael very important, but I just I just don't want to leave this thought, because I think it's important to mention back back to your previous question.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know it's very difficult to I mean think about the difficulty of running and being in a family business, it is a real we I don't I think it's important not to lose sight of.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know, there are clearly tremendous advantages to to having a family business and we talked about patient capital and not having to manage quarter to quarter and that that kind of thing.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: But it is a real challenge, and there are very few families that can pull it off.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: So we we should we should recognize that and we should should realize that you know when we when when we think about you know what are, because it takes an enormous amount of strength, a certain kind of strength and certain kind of ability.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: To do this, but at the same time there, there are these family businesses or that that stay in business for the wrong reason right they stay in business together to keep the family together what we were talking about before and not allow.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Autonomy right, I see this frequently I do some coaching of.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: At the wharton school with young you know mbas who are coming from legacy family businesses, and they are always in turmoil about whether they're going to use their MBA education to return to the to the legacy business or go off on their own and do something quite different.

 

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Michael Palumbos: yeah I you know I you saying that I just want to make a point to the audience real quick I think it's really important I have found not all but many.

 

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Michael Palumbos: coaches or advisors to family business they really, really push that legacy piece and put a lot I think there's added pressure coming from the outside and there's enough pressure coming from the inside.

 

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Michael Palumbos: To maintain that family business to not be the generation that loses it and and there's there's this piece there that's really tough, and so I make sure, and I, you know want people to realize.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Whether your first, second, third 10th generation it doesn't matter be willing to sell the business any at any time, there comes a point where it's that the business.

 

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Michael Palumbos: isn't what's important it's the family that's important so make sure that you're you're balancing that family and business aspect and sometimes you know.

 

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Michael Palumbos: We always talk about the the the business that's a lifestyle business that's run by the family.

 

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Michael Palumbos: And you know they're they're making decisions based on the family ooh jr got divorced he's going to need some extra money to help pay alimony.

 

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Michael Palumbos: versus you know this other thought of the business is just it's so big it's complicated there's 250 employees in here now, and we really don't have anybody.

 

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Michael Palumbos: there to do it, we don't want to bring somebody from the outside, great the now it's time to think about selling and that it can also be considered success, but you just have to get your mind wrapped around that is that.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: yeah I think that's a really important point, and when we talk about pitfalls that's probably that that's one of the biggest pitfalls right and it.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know, it said that the biggest loss of value.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: across.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know across the country is.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: The failure to sell a business at the right time right.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Oh, and if you.

 

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Michael Palumbos: say that one more time because I want people to hear that.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: The biggest loss of value if you if you add up the loss of value.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: It points to businesses that don't sell at the right time, and you know if you think about yellow cab and what how much those medallions used to be worth before uber came along.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know so so the and I also agree, Michael with what you said before that the I have to say that the field of family business advising.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: was part of that problem because.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: The focus has been so much on succession planning and planning for the next generation as if that's what absolutely should happen for for you, then, that defines a successful transition and a Canadian nut I think his name's Tom dean's wrote a book.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: called every everyone's family business it's a widely read book and he really makes the point, the point that you were making that that.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: it's really important for that it's not the family business that important to transition to the next generation but think of it more like you're a business family.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: And what that business is or the knowledge that you're transferring so that the next generation can do something different, as far as business.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know mate is how to find the success and so for him, of course, he was the fourth generation and and his business was consulting the family businesses, and that was the the the iteration of how his family business.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: evolved so very important.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I appreciate that and as a quick side note for those of you that attend our book clubs Tom dean's book is the one that we're doing in September, so thank you okay highly recommend that book as well.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I just find this conversation can go in so many different directions, you know, and I really appreciate what both you bring to the table, I want to start talking about.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Some of the tools and some of the you know it renee one of the things that you said is there's no accountability.

 

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Michael Palumbos: And so I would love for you, I mean you know to me that's one of those tools, how do you implement accountability inside of an organization, what are some of the things that you do to make ensure those things.

 

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Renee Fellman: So.

 

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Renee Fellman: The first thing goes back to what I was talking about having a plan the.

 

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Renee Fellman: First of all, when I get into these situations it's like my patients i'm a doctor my patients are in the emergency room.

 

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Renee Fellman: That means i've got to diagnose the problem and begin treatment immediately and i'm not talking about months i'm talking about days I mean sometimes they have no cash they can't get vendors to ship with them, most of them are in dire straits, and so the first thing I do is I do.

 

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Renee Fellman: interview, the key managers, but I also get permission.

 

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Renee Fellman: it's actually in my engagement letter that I can.

 

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Renee Fellman: conduct an absolutely confidential employee survey.

 

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Renee Fellman: And that means unless an employee says yes, you can share what i'm saying only renee knows, and I find out.

 

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Renee Fellman: All sorts of stuff that is incredibly valuable, then, and this usually happens either the first or second Saturday that i'm there I bring together the management team.

 

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Renee Fellman: And we put we go through the financial statements line item by line item and we asked how can we get more cash increase revenues and decrease costs.

 

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Renee Fellman: And the advantage of hit first of all, most of the time, these people don't even they.

 

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Renee Fellman: almost always they know there's a big problem, but they don't know they haven't seen the numbers and so as we go through.

 

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Renee Fellman: it's possible to develop a plan that is very realistic because let's say the VP of marketing and sales says we could sell liberal and blood this much of this product.

 

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Renee Fellman: and manufacturing says, you know I wish we could, but we just don't have the capacity.

 

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Renee Fellman: But we could make more of these could you sell those so I just use that as an example when every when all of the key managers are sitting in the room together.

 

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Renee Fellman: The cross the interrelationships among the various functions of the company come into play out of that comes a plan so it's a real plan and it's in writing it's not a tome it's bullet points.

 

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Renee Fellman: It has a chart this comes to the accountability piece that shows who you know, an excel spreadsheet who is responsible for doing what, when and.

 

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Renee Fellman: made this.

 

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Renee Fellman: they've made this these commitments in front of all their fellow managers and.

 

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Renee Fellman: Then financial projections, that are the numeric representation of the plan this really becomes the foundation of a system for ensuring accountability for me, or whoever the CFO when i'm actually serving as CEO or whoever the CEO is it's a way of holding.

 

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Renee Fellman: The managers accountable for the board it's gives them a way to hold me if i'm running the company or the see whoever's running the CEO to see whether or not they're on track so that's part of it.

 

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Michael Palumbos: i'm going to pause for just a second because I want to make sure that people understand that one of the ways to make sure that rene's not knocking on your door and that you're calling renee up.

 

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Michael Palumbos: is to put a business plan together and the way that a business plan is put together is getting the leadership team.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Across silos so that we're not siloed and we're not myopic and we're seeing all things and getting a plan in place folks it's really, really not that difficult.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Whether you want to just do it yourself then read the book stealing up or read good to great or read some of these other books that are out there to learn how to do these things.

 

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Michael Palumbos: But if not in the absence of that if you're if you're typically not comfortable doing that then bring in a business coach to help you get a plan in place and renee The other thing that you said that i'm.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Just I like these points that that financial statement if you're not looking at your cash conversion cycle and looking at ways that you can shorten duration times that you can move inventory faster not hold as much.

 

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Michael Palumbos: get things off of the you know it, you know shorten that the amount of pet and shorten the time that it takes for cash to run through your business cash sucks growth and and it really is the number one thing, what do they say.

 

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Michael Palumbos: revenue is vanity profit is sanity but cash is king or Queen.

 

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Michael Palumbos: So thank you renee.

 

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Renee Fellman: yeah actually stay at summit, so the thing about the plan that I would say is you've got to have the right people.

 

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Renee Fellman: And that means that the people who, if you're talking about establishing accountability.

 

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Renee Fellman: it's important to have people who have the right skill set and one of the biggest mistakes that I have seen and i've ended up having to replace people is that.

 

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Renee Fellman: Often, when companies are hiring they look for experience, instead of results i'll give you an example, so I started a new client in dire straits, and the CEO said.

 

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Renee Fellman: We have a great new CFO he has experience in turnarounds I said that's great tell me about him well he went to company, I said what are they doing Oh, they went out of business.

 

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Renee Fellman: Then, then he went to company B, I said, well, and how are they doing Oh, they went out of business, well, you will not be surprised to learn that this guy was one of the first people I let go he couldn't even get financial statements out, and this, you know this was a sizable company.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Right so.

 

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Renee Fellman: Part of it part of it is another part of a staff accountability is you've got to have the right people.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Right seats doing the right things yeah.

 

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Renee Fellman: Another piece is, and I was thinking about this, as you were talking about cash and cash conversion cycle and financial management is in fact critical no doubt about it.

 

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Renee Fellman: But in my experience what appeared to be financial problems are often really operational problems.

 

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Renee Fellman: And so, looking at the people and the processes and the systems can make and fixing those can make a huge difference in the bottom line and we definitely don't have time to get into that today.

 

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Renee Fellman: Right so, then the other piece, though, in terms of accountability.

 

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Renee Fellman: And the thing I see missing often.

 

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Renee Fellman: Is it is critical for companies to think about what are the literally to list, what are the critical functions in our company.

 

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Renee Fellman: And halfway assigned a specific person Have we given is it in somebody's job description that that person has the responsibility and the authority to do that job.

 

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Renee Fellman: I had an F my really my turn around to the year was FDA regulated they make, culture, media, they were having product contamination problems they had dings from the FDA.

 

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Renee Fellman: So one of the first things I did was and this company had a beautiful organization chart I sat down with the Director of quality assurance and the director of governmental affairs, I said which one of you is in charge of FDA compliance, which one, do you think was in charge.

 

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Renee Fellman: Either either one it wasn't in anyone's job description.

 

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Renee Fellman: Alright, so that is another really important.

 

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Renee Fellman: part but then, last but not least, when you've got this plan, then the I think that I think you asked before what's the job of the board, in my view, in a company the job of the board of directors is to hold the CEO accountable.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I love it yeah and then the the simplified version of what you what you said about the process and I totally agree the process accountability chart.

 

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Michael Palumbos: You everybody's like you said they all got their their their you know the org chart but where's the process accountability chart, how do we know who's you know doing those the things inside of a company so that we're not missing important processes that so.

 

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Renee Fellman: yeah and I guess sort of unrelated it'd be would be interesting to know what Steve thinks about this, remember, I only work with troubled companies, so I don't.

 

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Renee Fellman: In my experience, I would say, only about 20% of the people actually get operations.

 

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Renee Fellman: And it's really critical for companies to have.

 

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Renee Fellman: People who are strong in operations and that's another piece I frequently see missing.

 

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Michael Palumbos: love it yeah.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Go ahead Steve.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: I was gonna say, well, I only work with trouble companies also but I work with with the troubled companies, I work with also have you know many, many things that obviously that are doing.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: quite well and that they're doing quite well for sure, and I, but I think that back to the, the issue of the.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: The accountability, as far as family businesses are concerned, because I think that that introduces no several significant wrinkles obviously and.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Some of which you alluded to renee before, which is that you know how do you deal with a problematic family member.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You can have you know we we talked about best practices and we talked about a family, employment policy and things like that, but, of course, those are only as good as they're.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: used and it's not easy it's not easy, you know we talk about best practices, but it's not easy to always.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know, be able to to I mean you do the best that families, I think they do the best they can really try to hold family members, like everyone else, accountable in the same way.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: But it is a, it is a challenge to be able to do that and to help sometimes help leaders of family businesses, as well as some of the family.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: who's employed it to recognize, you know that it may not be the best place for them to be.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: In the family business and the end you know I mean what 111 small things that the actually not not so small, but, but just a policy of making sure that that.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: family members work outside the business, but more they come into the family business I think that's that's a pretty well accepted tenant by you know, most people now but there.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: There are exceptions to that you know there there's definitely exceptions to that, and you know, sometimes it has worked out for the better really sometimes.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know the business may not have read the book, but it has actually worked out because it gave a family member, for example in one situation i'm thinking of.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: It gave a family member, the opportunity to work with with the founder that they otherwise wouldn't would not have had as it turned out so you know, none of these things are absolute but but, in general, obviously.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: In having people work outside the business before they enter the business, and I think most families now most family business and mature family business certainly have that in as part of their governance.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Sure, if you know you were talking about the MBA students that you've worked with and at work, and I just want to.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I think that falls perfectly in place, maybe it with somebody and I don't know if it was you or renee talking about the family culture in the business culture, and so I.

 

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Michael Palumbos: You know, one of the things that I try to teach is that family culture should be about the pursuit of happiness right.

 

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Michael Palumbos: For each family member to be happy for each family member to you know obtain their best, and you know most productive self.

 

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Michael Palumbos: In their role that may or may not be in the family business, and so, if it's not a tenant if it's not a culture of the family business, and I know families that i've worked with where the culture is it's almost shamed upon.

 

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Michael Palumbos: If you're not part of the family business.

 

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Michael Palumbos: And, and so it's it's changing that culture, just like it's the shame of you're the one that you know didn't help didn't the business sold during your your tenure, or you weren't able to you know, do the transition to the next generation properly.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I think there's just some thinking around these areas not you know, we were all in America here and it's you know what is the pursuit of happiness is you know, one of the things on the.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Come on my brain is just doing the declaration of independence right and so why not putting that into our families and making a what is the family's declaration of happiness and culture, I think that's probably an important thing to put together.

 

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Michael Palumbos: So um what else in a we're coming up on the top of the hour, we go, you know go a little bit more what, what do you, you know.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Through this conversation is probably notes or things that you said ooh I don't want to forget about this, what are the What are those things for you that you want to make sure that we don't miss in this conversation.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: Well, just just to underline what we were saying before about a the value of.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know the Board and the board of advisors and really getting to the point of professional icing the family business it, it should make it a lot easier for the founder to make some difficult decisions now it's not always easy for the founder to one to.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: agree to some of these structures and sometimes it makes sense and some sometimes it doesn't but I really try to get the founders, to the point where they look upon.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: transitions and look upon succession planning and try to say you know you have to approach this the way you would every other business decision you have ever made.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: That you really and and not treat it differently and and oftentimes having the the objectivity of of a sounding of the board of advisors is really you know, is really critical to helping.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: to helping founders and CEOs make what are otherwise really, really difficult decisions terms of who's the right person to succeed.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: And whether they do have the right qualities and qualifications.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: that's in the realm of management succession and then there's also the question of ownership succession, which.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: which we really haven't talked a lot about in terms of pitfalls, because that that's another area where you know so many situation there's so many times, where in a desire to be quote fair to the children, the the next generation is saddled with.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: siblings who you know one or two of whom are running the business and the other six of whom are not and that.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know we're out of the business completely and that sets up a significant conflict in terms of you know liquidity and and dividends and what kind of control the the family members that are not not in the business half.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: So you know I working recently with a with a an entrepreneur with a with a founder and.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: You know, he described what the transition for him was like when he took the business over from his father and they work together for many years together seamlessly and they didn't even have to think about these issues at all, it was completely natural he was completely prepared.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: But it was a different world it was a different situation, the demands of the business were obviously very, very different than the complexities because we're not what they what they are now from a family, as well as a business perspective.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Right Steve i'm going to send it over to remain in just a second, but what I mean because it just to wrap up if people wanted to touch base with you how do they do that what's the best way to do that.

 

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STEVEN ROLFE: They can my my website is Rolf Roi Liffey advisory COM or email me at s Ralph Ralph advisory.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Perfect Thank you so much, and renee.

 

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Michael Palumbos: I so enjoy I want to hear what your final wrap up would it would be about all of this, this has been such a great conversation, thank you both.

 

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Renee Fellman: Oh, thank know it's really it's really been fun, I want to follow up I have many things I could say, probably tell i'm pretty.

 

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Renee Fellman: But on the advisor issue, one of my pet peeves is that succession planning and transition planning has been.

 

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Renee Fellman: Co opted, I think, by the attorneys and the accountants and don't get me wrong they have important knowledge which needs to be a part of that process.

 

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Renee Fellman: The reality, however, is that most of those people have never run a business, and I think it is extremely important to have.

 

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Renee Fellman: On the Planning Team people with a variety of skills, who see things from a variety of perspectives and definitely people who will tell it like it is.

 

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Renee Fellman: When you've got a professional advisor they may be reluctant to alienate their client by saying don't do that so that's what I would say in terms of reaching me it would be renee filming.com, which is our E and E fellman F, as in frank E ll ma and.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Perfect perfect and you know.

 

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Renee Fellman: we're on linkedin for them and.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Oh perfect yeah that's right that's a perfect way to do it, and I think it's definitely worth checking out renee rene's website she's got an incredible picture with this giant gigantic I think it's a hammer correct.

 

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Michael Palumbos: That I get a ranch ranch I don't think i've seen a wrench that big ever before, so I.

 

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Renee Fellman: Know it's from a former client.

 

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Michael Palumbos: that's great it's a it sticks in your mind.

 

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Michael Palumbos: folks you have been blessed to listen to some really great advice from people that have been in the trenches working with other family businesses today.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Stephen renee I just want to say thank you very, very much this has been a great conversation I.

 

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Michael Palumbos: know that there will come a time you know, in the future, when I have you both back again whether it's together or separately, because I know we could do this for probably about four hours without stopping.

 

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Michael Palumbos: And, and I really enjoyed the conversation I hope everybody has understood how powerful the messages that you've heard today, our.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Thank you for joining us my name again is Michael Columbus and with family wealth and legacy in Rochester New York.

 

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Michael Palumbos: And if you've loved this episode do us a favor make sure that you hit the like button or hit the five star review or subscribe to the Channel, so that when we have a new episode coming down, we can just drop right down into your.

 

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Michael Palumbos: podcast system for you, and then the other thing is make sure you share this with others that are in.

 

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Michael Palumbos: The family business I know we're a small community, we know other family businesses, it may not be this episode that sparked something for somebody else, but if they know about the podcast, then we can we can help them.

 

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Michael Palumbos: Join us on our next episode and we look forward to speak seeing everybody again have a great day, everybody.

If you’re a family business or a family business consultant and want to be on the show, share your story and help other family businesses, send us an email to producer@thefamilybizshow.com or fill out a contact form here!

*not affiliated with Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp.

Michael Palumbos is a registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., a broker/dealer (member SIPC) and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln affiliates and other fine companies. Family Wealth & Legacy, LLC is not an affiliate of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. and its representatives do not provide legal or tax advice. You may want to consult a legal or tax advisor regarding any legal or tax information as it relates to your personal circumstances.

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