Succession Case Study: Singleton Marine Group

Austin Singleton knows a good deal about succession planning. As the second-generation owner of Singleton Marine Group, he took the reins of the company in 1996 and has managed it to become one of the leading dealerships in North America.

When his parents Phillip and Linda handed the baton to him, they had already created a strong operation. Today, Austin runs a growing 9-location company spread throughout three states – Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia – that had one of its most profitable years on record in 2010.

As someone who understands the importance of succession planning, Singleton took some significant steps over the last couple years to solidify the future of his namesake’s business. Key among those was the addition of two industry veterans as managing partners in it.

Both with experience in MarineMax leadership, Anthony Aisquith and Scott Cunningham have not only jumped in and provided immediate impacts on the company’s profitability and growth curve, but they’ve also given the company faith in its long-term ownership plan. The duo have helped long-time Singleton staff members step up in key roles, brought in other industry-leading team members, and have helped to create a culture of succession planning. [For further insight, read “Singleton Marine Group innovates to better results” published in the July issue of Boating Industry magazine.]

Singleton says that his team believes in helping its employees have a clear picture of how their career will evolve. The succession plan specifically addresses promotions in addition to how certain events, such as leadership changes or illnesses and deaths, will be handled.

“We have imagined these scenarios for each leadership position that we hope will allow for operations to continue with little or no lag in performance or interruption,” says Singleton. “We do a lot of cross training with the staff, and that produces opportunities for everyone to be extremely versatile and do what it takes to help the company succeed in the event of a change.”

Singleton is also working on a plan designed to make it possible for the general managers of individual locations to buy out the store after five years of running the business on budget and making a profit. After the purchase, Singleton Marine Group would act as a management consultant and carry the floor plan, while the new owner would take over responsibility for all day-to-day operations. The idea behind this strategy is to allow general managers a stake in their own long-term future, while creating the possibility of an exit plan for Singleton Marine Group, should it become necessary.

“As we grow and change, we want to ensure that all of our employees are taken care of and that they have a clear picture of how their career will evolve alongside the company,” Singleton concludes.

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