By Dave Greenhalgh
For a lot of people the process of opening a business is a stressful one marked by a singular goal: starting the business off on the right foot. Then, once they’ve settled down a bit and begin the process of actually running and growing the business, a whole new set of challenges arise that take precedence over anything else. Finally, as retirement looms, an owner’s thoughts invariably go to a thousand different places, largely those of the sundrenched beaches and long days of golf variety.
The point is, a great deal of an entrepreneur’s career as a business owner is focused on the present or not-too-distant future. It’s no surprise then that the concept of mentoring a successor is not high on their list of priorities; after all, a mentor/mentee relationship is predicated on grooming a successor, generally, and what owner has the luxury of looking that far ahead?
But as the mentor to my stepson Sean for the past eight years at my Minuteman Press franchise, a business I’ve run for two decades, I’m here to tell you why it’s advantageous to run a business with sights set early on grooming a successor.
I opened my Minuteman Press location in 1995, servicing Southern Oregon and Northern California with what had become an industry leader in digital print and promotional products. When Sean began working with me—with, not for—he and I devised a five-year business plan. This is the first advantage of having a mentee: an extra element of accountability. With the knowledge that you’re building a business that will one day be left to someone close to you, you’re far more likely to take care to conduct your business with an emphasis on sustained success—you play the long game, in other words.
As I worked with Sean, I gave him less advice, generally, and more support. We knew what we both had to do to achieve our goals and we work hard together to reach objectives. This is another advantage of having a mentee, particularly one already well-versed in meeting the demands of a business: working toward a unified goal while being able to take advantage of another person to bounce ideas off of. Sean is a partner; if he has a suggestion my initial reaction is that if it sounds good, we do it. If for some reason I disagree I will tell him my concerns and we will discuss it further, often with my being convinced. My ego is tied to our success, not to trying to be right.
A good mentor, of course, must first have the right mentee to make the relationship a successful one. Goals must be clearly understood and must have total support from both parties. As a mentor, I would like to believe that I have been a good listener, knowing well that I am not the only one with good ideas. This is the advantage of collaboration.
I am a conceptual person with a good view of the big picture and feel that my strong suit is based on effective business strategies. Sean, meanwhile, is very detail-oriented and an exceptional people person. The fact is, in the years that we have worked together as partners we have yet to have a major disagreement in spite of any of our differences.
When it comes down to it, I’ve enjoyed being a mentor largely because I have the person in place that I want to run my company, and his success is my success. Our values are the same and our ideas for managing our business are the same. It is all about the relationship between mentor and mentee when it comes down to assessing the value of grooming a successor. If you can foster the right relationship, you stand to gain in more ways than just having someone around to help pick up the slack; you also have someone to encourage you, support you and help you reach a level of success not possible on your own.
Dave Greenhalgh owns Minuteman Press of Medford, Oregon, running it with stepson Sean Byrne. Follow @MinutemanIntl.