Eleven work days until graduation. Most call it ‘retirement’. Someone close to me called it ‘graduation’ and I instantly attached to that label, better representing my major leap into something so very new and different. 42 years at the helm of A-1 Builders feels sufficient. Time to pass the baton, but to whom?
I started to think about this 10 years ago. By my side, then and now, is Cindi Landreth, my wife, company VP, manager of Adaptations Design Studio and one of our designers. Ten years ago the economy was tanking, we along with it. Sure, survival was top of mind, but so was imagining a succession plan that fit our goals:
Selling our company to people who could embrace our vision of thinking long term; to people who share our journey towards sustainable building and business practices.
Awarding those who have helped us achieve our state of wellbeing. If workers created this wealth, why should others take it? Selling to an unknown buyer made little sense to us.
Passing along a business whose DNA includes resilience that can likely survive economic downturns and other potential, external shocks, be they natural or man-made.
The worker-owned cooperative model kept floating to the top. Owners [referred to as the cooperative’s Members] pool their resources to operate a member-owned and governed business, that is guided by a set of principles, for common benefit. A model supported by our economy and legal system… a Subchapter -T Corporation. A model driven by a triple-bottom-line approach to commerce, recognizing the need to address profit, people and the planet. Common benefit driven by a set of principles.
In August of 2010 Cindi and I attended the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives conference in Berkeley, CA. From then on our vision had a blueprint. Design was done. It was time to build.
The recession hammered us, but our expertise in deconstruction and renewal allowed us to survive. This hardship empowered our key employees to make some hard choices, creating a hard core group who began to act like owners. The economy helped train them and our vision for more democracy in the work place gathered momentum.
We soon learned that converting a Subchapter-S corporation into a Sub-T version doesn’t have a lot of case studies to choose from, especially here in the fourth corner. So we sought to amass a team of players who could help us learn this dance.Our dance teachers became:
Tom Dorr; Dorr and Associates Consulting; 360-303-3198; firstname.lastname@example.org; our primary business strategist and transition quarterback
Eric Grimstead and CJ Seitz at the Small Business Development Center; 360-778-1762; wsbdc.org; helped us focus upon our key performance indicators [KPIs]
Attorney Mike Jacobson in Seattle [www.mikejacobsonlaw.com] and CPA John Mackey in Pt. Townsend [www.pttaxcpa.com]; referrals from our friends at Bellingham Bay Builders, another worker-owned cooperative here in town
Dance training and practice is almost done. The past two years have been instrumental in this readiness, getting everything down on paper that has resided in our brains… protocols for this, principles for that, refined policies.
So let’s get personal. Who are the folks soon to carry the baton?
Patrick Martin, our General Manager, approaching 13 years here
Shawn Serdahl, Production Manager, approaching 10 years
Bobbi Plata, Office Manager, approaching 13 years
Maggie Bates, Design Manager, approaching 12 years
Justus Peterson, Estimator & Project Management, approaching 8 years
These awesome 5 represent 56 years of combined experience within our culture, dancing our dance. Ultimate policy decisions will be made by them once we formally become a cooperative, but our existing culture, policies and procedures are alive and well, to be managed by the same people who have been doing so for years and years.
We’re aiming for July 1st for this formal transition. Our fingers are crossed for the dust to settle then and by all indications we’ll be able to reach this finish line, baton intact.
Finish line? Well, that depends upon whose perspective. It’s Cindi and my finish line, but their start line. Listen closely for the sound of the starting gun.
I am so proud and confident to pass our baton onto this team. And, thankfully, we’re poised beautifully for this transition:
1. We now have 4 fabulous designers in house with 14 clients on our waiting list
2. Production work is sold through summer, with a next available start date of mid-Sept.
3. Our production team in the field is 11 strong, led by 5 of them as Project Managers
The time is ripe; the stage is set; I’m ready to move on. I’ve danced this dance sufficiently long. Our cooperative’s Members are ready, willing and able to take this business to new and exciting heights and I so look forward to watching their evolution. Succession is at hand..