Succession Case Study: M&P Mercury Sales Ltd.

Having navigated a two-family partnership buyout over the past decade, M&P Mercury Sales Owner and President Bob Pappajohn has already started planning for the next succession. And it’s not just the next generation of family ownership he’s working on. The company’s new plan is designed to reduce risk in all areas of the business while improving staff morale and providing a proven leadership model.

“We have a number of different levels to our plan,” Pappajohn explains. “We’ve got a succession plan for our individual roles within the dealership, that’s one part of it. And then there’s the big picture beyond that of what’s going to happen with the dealership down the road.”

What’s unique about M&P’s model — which was noted as the best among Boating Industry’s 2010 Top 100 Dealers — is that the complex plan is designed to operate in a single department the same way it may operate down the road for the entire organization. Each management position within the company has its own succession plan, noting who will fill the role should the current employee leave or be moved out of that position. And there are cross-training programs that allow other managers to serve as back-ups.

In addition, individual development plans are prepared for each employee based on the results of their performance evaluations. This includes identifying what and when employees would be available for promotional opportunities, should such opportunities present themselves. An appropriate training program is developed so that the employee can build his/her capabilities in preparation for it.

“We always, consciously, have a plan of where that’s going to go forward,” said Pappajohn. “If we do have a gap, we have a good idea about how we want to fill that role. It’s just one less thing we have worry about.”

Another of the plan’s central features is a fundamental lesson learned during the process of buying out his father and his father’s longtime partner. Pappajohn says the biggest challenges during that process were the heritage and respect for the previous generation that founded the company and built it into an important part of the community.

“My dad and his partner had decided they had worked hard enough,” he explains. “But they wanted to see what they had done go forward and move forward in good hands. The financial side was important (and the fact that two families were involved) but the legacy was a big piece of it. They needed to establish confidence in my leadership going forward. Once we dealt with the legacy issues, things worked out quite well.”

Part of honoring the founders of the company and reassuring them of the future direction of the company came back to the values with which Pappajohn planned to move M&P Mercury Sales forward.

“The key values that make up our company culture are honesty and integrity above anything,” he said. “Treating your customers as friends for life. These were really cornerstones of the business. That was something that we would continue and expand and was really an important part of what helped the succession plan move forward. It was a shared value all the way through. Sure there were certain older practices that worked in the 60s, 70s and 80s but weren’t working any more. But none of that had to do with the fundamental way we do business.”

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